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Lenz, Georg Büchner’s visionary exploration of an 18th-century playwright’s descent into madness, has been called the inception of European modernist prose. Elias Canetti considered this short novella one of the decisive reading experiences of his life, and writers as various as Paul Celan, Christa Wolff, Peter Schneider, and Gert Hofmann have paid homage to it in their works. Published posthumously in 1839, Lenz provides a taut case study of three weeks in the life of schizophrenic, perhaps the first third-person text ever to be written from the “inside” of insanity. An early experiment in docufiction, Büchner’s textual montage draws on the diary of J.F. Oberlin, the Alsatian pastor who briefly took care of Lenz in 1778, while also refracting Goethe’s memoir of his troubled friendship with the playwright- English versions of both of these historical source texts here accompany Lenz for the first time in this bilingual presentation. Based on the best recent edition of the text, this fresh translation will allow readers to discover why Heiner Müller pronounced Lenz the inaugural example of “21st-century prose.”
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