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Schaefer, M. (1975). Kleist's “About the Puppet Theater” and the Narcissism of the Artist. Am. Imago, 32(4):366-388.

(1975). American Imago, 32(4):366-388

Kleist's “About the Puppet Theater” and the Narcissism of the Artist

Margret Schaefer, Ph.D.

Although Kleist's “About the Puppet Theater” has been the subject of voluminous commentary by German writers, critics, and philosophers, it is little known in English speaking circles. Yet this short dialogue, ostensibly about the nature of grace and its relationship to consciousness, which argues that lifeless marionettes and men with artificial legs are more graceful than normal human beings can ever hope to be, is a fascinating and enigmatic piece. Few works have so puzzled yet so intrigued readers. Rilke called it a “master-piece, which continually impresses me;” Hofmannsthal considered it the equal of one of Plato's dialogues; painters, actors, and directors have recreated it on canvas, on stage, radio, and on recordings; yet there is little agreement as to what the dialogue is about. Although it is generally considered central to an undertanding of Kleist—“Rune and Symbol” of him as Hanna Hellmann claimed in her famous essay of 1911—it has been interpreted as everything from a parable of Romantic aesthetics, an allegory of the Christian doctrine of justification, a revelation of hermetic gnostic teachings, a coded key to Kleist's other works, to a satire on the Berlin ballet.

Literary critics have treated the work primarily as an intellectual statement, philosophical argument, or allegory of moral or aesthetic ideas, not as a piece of imaginative fiction.

1 In sequence: Rainer Maria Rilke, Letter to Marie v.

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