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The Poetics of Space, Movement and Character in Frank Wedekind’s Theater


Jennifer Ham

Frequenting circuses in Paris and Berlin, Frank Wedekind, best known for Spring Awakening and the Lulu plays, learned that trapeze artists and tightrope walkers rely on different artificial reference points in space, in order to maintain their balance and orient themselves and to create their own sensorial and phenomenal worlds. This lesson in radical perspectivism and constructivism is a key to Wedekind’s practice as a playwright, and it links the Munich dramatist’s work to the thought of Schopenhauer, who first used the term Elastizität in a philosophical sense; Darwin, who considered adaptability to be a primordial characteristic of life; Nietzsche, whose commentary on acrobats in Also sprach Zarathustra announces the Overman; and Freud, who used the term to describe the reactive, conservative nature of the instincts. Taking Elastizität and the modern notion of adaptability as its point of departure, this book explores Wedekind’s construction of space, movement and character in his plays, pantomimes, ballets and theoretical writings as a means of understanding both the structural consistencies and the ideological incongruities that permeate his fiction and nearly all layers of his works. This work also disengages Wedekind from traditional discussions of the dramatist as controversial social critic and reintroduces him into more productive discussions of his connection to nineteenth-century philosophical debates surrounding determinism, dualism and perception, on the one hand, and modern notions of risk, danger and precarity on the other.