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Reflexion - Narration: Wege zum 'Willehalm' Wolframs von Eschenbach.

This admirable book confirms in detail what has long been known: that Willehalm is complex, problematic and resistant to interpretation. It also gives us much more, for its starting-point is the question whether what is true of Parzival (the role of the narrator in what has been termed a |Meditations-geflecht') may not also apply to its companion work. Where others have listed and categorized the occasions when the narrator appears in Willehalm, Dr Kiening goes a decisive step further in enquiring into his function.

The book is divided into five sections. Section A discusses problems raised by past research and isolates for this undertaking the relationship between the diachronic nature of narrative and the synchronic dimension of the narrative and reflection. The importance of the narrator has been stressed by Wolf and Curschmann in particular, and Kiening agrees with them in seeing him, as distinct from the author, as possible only with the transition from oral to written communication. Section B deals with the prologue and Book I of Willehalm. The former it places in the context not merely of Early Middle High German clerical literature, but also of contemporary court literature, whilst in the latter the narrator is revealed as somewhat like a skilled cameraman, intertwining action and commentary dynamically so as to highlight the problems of both aspects.

Section C is orientated on four topics: literature, language, communication, themes. Within the first topic the narrator's comments on other works are discussed, mainly the Rolandslied, the poet's own Parzival and Veldeke's Eneide. Of particular importance is the demonstraion (pp. 99ff.) that Wolfram can relativize the poetic symbol of the grail in his earlier work, showing it as deficient in face of the theme of religious warfare. The topic language is bound up with a work transposed from one language to another, but is mainly dealt with, as fruitfully as by F. Wessel for Gottfried's Tristan, in terms of metaphorical transpositions by Wolfram (the more grotesque the metaphor, the greater the desperate straits of the Christians in battle and also the poet's difficulties in coping with his task). With the topic communication, we revert to the relationship between narrator and audience earlier discussed for Book I, with valuable suggestions that the communication situation is not confined to the text alone, but presupposes an actual performance. Lastly in this section, the thematic horizons of love, religion, kindred and truth, opened up in narratorial digressions, are discussed briefly with examples.

Section D deals with Book IX, so that, taken together with Section B, it rounds off this book symmetrically. Instead of speculating on the open ending of Willehalm (was it intentional or accidental?), it more fruitfully discusses the problems of closing a work of such complexity. In the short final Section E Kiening draws a convincing parallel between the difficulties encountered by Wolfram in finding an explanatory conclusion for his recalcitrant theme and those of the modern interpreter in seeking unity within a complex, many-layered narrative.

We may take this parallel further. Just as the wealth of Wolfram's work resides in the tension and problematic interplay between narrative and reflection, so does Kiening invite us constantly and repeatedly to turn from his argument to Wolfram's text and back again. His book requires slow and careful reading, but such reading is richly rewarded.
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Author:Green, D.H.
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1992
Previous Article:'Carmina Burana': Texte und Ubersetzungen, Mit den Miniaturen aus der Handschrift.
Next Article:The Medieval Translator, vol. 2.

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