(My own copy)
Just back from a long train journey, I took the opportunity to read Michael Kohlhaas in German. I can't imagine this text in English; it somehow seems simultaneously modern, and of the time in which the story is set. The actual language hardly intrudes at all, but there are particular words or phrases whose recurrence or juxtaposition hints at darker, hidden meaning; horrible things are described with equanimity, but there is always just a hint of deeper feeling beneath the surface. The foreword coins the phrase "anti-rhetoric"- a deliberate toning down of the descriptive passages, in order to focus attention on single moments, character's reactions, or a gesture.
Anyone who cannot find happiness on earth is unlikely to find it at the book fair either. If we imagine Heinrich von Kleist in one of the trade-fair halls, if only for a second, then that famous sentence comes to mind that Kleist wrote to his brother-in-law: „I ask God for death, and you I ask for money." There is no more concise and drastic a way of describing the drama of the artist twixt a wish for salvation and a fear of impoverishment, between transcendence and dull life in the here and now, the poet's soul tossed hither and thither.
Back in he day, I remember as many as three biographies attempting to shed light on the Kleist phenomenon. Brief, sound and with pointed quill, the effort by Herbert Kraft („Kleist". Live and Works, Aschendoff Verlag), while Jens Bisky declares Kleist with great passion and stylistic verve to be the „greatest German political poet" and tries to show in what delicate constellations the ideals of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution found their way into Kleist's life and works. Gerhard Schulz is interested more in the life than the work, („Kleist". A Biography, C. H. Beck), treating this and that enigma in the poet's biography, such as the nebulous trip to Würzburg, as mere balloons: Easily he deflates them. For all the cold logic as regards the details of Kleist's life, Gerhard Schulz preserves his respect for the secrets of poet's life as a whole.