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Ein solch unertraegliches Gemisch von Helldunkel: Krankheit und Tragikomisches Genie bei J. M. R. Lenz
Despite increased scholarly attention, the framework within which the oeuvre of eighteenth-century German poet Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz (1751-1792) is being received is still very narrow. Lenz who in German literary history remained in the shadow of his famous contemporary Johann Wolfgang Goethe for much of the last two hundred years is now seen as an artist in his own right. Lenz has at the same time become a much mythologized figure for his mental illness. The relative inaccessability of Lenz' later works, as well as artistic adaptions of his biography and work contribute to a fascinating yet distorted image of Lenz. I argue that our perception of his illness plays a significant role for the critical assessment of his work as scholars continue to focus only on the short period between between 1772-1778. It is widely believed that a mental breakdown in 1778 abruptly ended his career, and consequently the reception breaks off after this point. Biographical research, however, suggests that Lenz remained active as a writer and intellectual during his later years while also struggling with episodes of his illness. In this interdisciplinary study, I examine how literary and medical research dealt with Lenz' mental illness and contributed to the prevailing myth of his sudden descent into "madness." I show how posthumous diagnoses of schizophrenia in Lenz' case are generally based on incomplete biographical data for the later part of his life. By incorporating recent research on psychoses, I suggest instead that Lenz may have suffered from manic-depressive illness which would explain the documented episodes of his later life and at the same time allow for continued creative work. I also trace the myth surrounding Lenz' illness back to the eighteenth century by locating his case within contemporary discourses of insanity. My analysis finally considers how Lenz' life and search for artistic identity were informed by the experiences of manic-depressive illness throughout his life, and traces poetic representations of illness in his dramas and prose.
Bamberger, Uta, "Ein solch unertraegliches Gemisch von Helldunkel: Krankheit und Tragikomisches Genie bei J. M. R. Lenz" (1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9809305.