PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Mark FordLetters And So It Goes
Letters from Young Mr Grace
(aka John Ashbery)

(PN Review 239)
Henry Kingon Toby Martinez de las Rivas
(PN Review 244)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Subha Mukherji Dying and Living with De la Mare Carl Phillips Fall Colors and other poems Alex Wylie The Bureaucratic Sublime: on the secret joys of contemporary poetry Marilyn Hacker Montpeyroux Sonnets David Herman Memories of Raymond Williams
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PNR 250 Poetry Archive Banner
PN Review New Issue

This article is taken from PN Review 34, Volume 10 Number 2, November - December 1983.

The Ragged Edge Idris Parry

HEINRICH von Kleist describes a minor character in his story 'The Beggarwoman of Locarno' as 'a Florentine nobleman'. That's all we know about him. An academic person once told me this description is ridiculous. Why 'Florentine'? Florence plays no part in the story, so the word Florentine is irrelevant, the man could have come from anywhere. But 'anywhere' is not a place known to humanity. Kleist is of course making the point that his character comes from a particular and nameable place, as we all do. Our surroundings are exact. Kleist gives his man life by giving him a place to live.

In another story, the longest of his stories, 'Michael Kohlhaas', about a sixteenth-century horse-dealer who suffers injustices, Kleist describes how a man steps over a pile of horse manure in a yard. I haven't yet found any philosophical significance in that pile of horse manure. It's superfluous to the horse, and my academic friend would no doubt argue it's superfluous to the story too. But it stays with me. It has nothing to do with the story, if we want to be logical. It has everything to do with the story, if what we are looking for is life.

Our logic has a habit of falling short. We like things to be tidy, and we make them tidy as far as we can in our minds, in our concepts. But life as we experience it isn't quite like that. We come across absurdities ...

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image