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Die zweite Geburt: Figuren des Jugendlichen in der Literatur des 20. Jahrhunderts, 2 vols.

Peter Grotzer's principal interest in this broadly conceived comparative study is how the concepts of 'youth'/'youthfulness' are translated into literary characters and what their metaphorical function is. He deliberately avoids widening the discussion into psychology and sociology, placing his emphasis squarely on literary history and textual analysis. Without discounting the obvious autobiographical impetus of much of the writing he considers, he is more fascinated by his authors' fictions and their use of 'das Jugendliche' as a common and compelling paradigm. The concept of 'die zweite Geburt' is thus used as a hermeneutical tool to explore the interrelated themes of revolt, conformity and death. 'Re-birth' as a notion is seen as a fundamental breaking-out of constriction, a complex challenge to accepted societal norms. Grotzer's method is to apply the concept to each of his texts and to demonstrate by close reading that, irrespective of fictive consequences, 'die zweite Geburt' is essential for individual emancipation. Thankfully, he avoids heavy theorizing and writes with a commendable clarity. His eleven texts are chosen with an eclectic bravura: Rimbaud's Le Bateau ivre, Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Musil's Die Verwirrung des Zoglings Torless, Hesse's Unterm Rad and Demian, Sartre's L'Enfance d'un chef and Les Mots, Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, Plenzdorf s Die neuen Leiden des Jungen W., Bernanos's Nouvelle Histoire de Mouchette and Roth's Der blinde Spiegel. Grotzer himself anticipates feminist criticism by at least pointing to the need to bring into the debate work by women writers. Indeed, he concludes his study with an all too brief glance at Simone de Beauvoir and, more interestingly, with some shrewd comments on Christa Wolfs Kindheitsmuster. Despite the great variety of textual, linguistic and cultural differences, Grotzer succeeds in establishing a common pattern in his authors' concerns. All are fascinated by nodal points of radical change and prefer literary explorations of the individual journey itself to representation of any concrete or utopian goal. In each case youthful revolt is seen to be the prerequisite for any genuine location of identity. Though Grotzer's succinct analyses are not always particularly original, they are invariably judicious and thoughtful. Scholars working in this area of comparative studies will be particularly grateful for the 'Forschungsbericht' and bibliography which make up the second volume. It should prove both a stimulating and convenient starting point for further research.

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Author:Butler, Michael
Publication:Journal of European Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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