A Bursting zero of unknowing: Overcoming the paradox of infinite knowledge in heinrich von kleist's "über das marionettentheater" and Robert Walser's Jakob von Gunten

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If to attain infinite knowledge is to relinquish the finite act of knowing, which necessarily divides and distinguishes, then pure knowing must be closer to a mode of unknowing. This paradox animates both Kleist's "Über das Marionettentheater" and Walser's Jakob von Gunten, each of which suggests that to access the absolute requires emptying oneself of thought so as to become like a puppet, which is no different than becoming a god. Using Kleist as an intertextual source, this article reads the "riddle" of Jakob von Gunten as an instantiation of this negative knowledge, which Walser deploys as both the philosophical and narrative engine of his novel. In analyzing the novel's rhetorical and narrative experiments, the article shows how these enact its titular figure's overcoming of the paradox of absolute knowing. Ultimately, this analysis also introduces a paradigm for reading the critical features of Walser's idiosyncratic work as a whole.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)375-390
Number of pages16
JournalGermanic Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2013


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory

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