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Image: The Body, Death, Mutilation, And Decay In Zacharias Werner.Saul, Nicholas (1999). The Body, Death, Mutilation, And Decay In Zacharias Werner. German Life and Letters. [Special Number: The Body in German Literature around 1800] 52(2): 255-270.
  • Publication type: Journal Article
  • ISSN/ISBN: 0016-8777

Author(s) from Durham


Here the attitude of the Romantic dramatist Zacharias Werner to death and the body is analysed for the first time. His model, Goethe, stands in the classicist tradition, whereby art celebrates life and the encounter with death and bodily destruction is consciously marginalised. Werner is shown to present versions of an ambiguous critique of this aspect of Goethean classicism in an early lyric from Die Söhne des Thals, his Roman journal, and the last act of Die Mutter der Makkabäer.In the early lyric the marginalisation of death is opposed by a deliberate eroticisation which ends in necrophilia. In the journal and Werner's last play the eroticisation is renounced, but the tendency to celebrate physical destruction as self-fulfilment still subverts his attempt to follow classical norms for the portrayal of violence and death. His poetic discourse is thus a hybrid of Classicism and black Romanticism. Finally, Foucault's reconstruction of the history of corporeal discipline and Ariè's history of death are applied to evaluate these aspects. Werner's texts are attempts to solve the modern problem of death, but they do so by means of regression to pre-modern attitudes and betray an affinity to sadism.