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"Kleist's Four Causes: Narration and Etiology in Das Erdbeben in Chili"


Ellwood Wiggins, "Kleist's Four Causes: Narration and Etiology in Das Erdbeben in ChiliMLN 130.3 (2015): 580-606.

Das Erdbeben in Chili is framed by two catastrophes, which first dismantle and then reform the institutions of society. This essay is a reading of Kleist’s tale that pays close attention to the connections between narratology and sociology. It identifies four successive registers of assigning causation to events through which the narrative voice moves. These four Kleistian causes provide a surprisingly complete etiology for the modern world. Kleist’s story effectively re-charts Aristotle’s famous four causes from his Physics, and does so by incorporating them with an understanding of the world informed by Aristotle’s Poetics. The essay claims that, instead of merely replacing ancient (or Enlightenment) teleology with modern skepticism, as most scholars maintain, Erdbeben suggestively yokes ancient and idealist cosmologies together in a symbiotic complex. 

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