Internal Abyss: Lack of Identity in Büchner’s Leonce and Lena (Revised)

In William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Jacques stated the famous line, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” This notion of people going through their lives as nothing more than dramatic actors has been present for a long time. Even in current times, people are often accused of acting “fake” or “artificial,” but is it even truly an act? According to Valerio in Büchner’s Leonce and Lena, the answer to this question is no; rather, people are merely conglomerates of constructed personalities, with no underlying “true self.”

Near the end of the play, Valerio, Leonce’s friend, enters the stateroom wearing several masks. When Leonce’s father, King Peter, asks him who he is, he responds, “I’m not sure I know. Am I this? Or this? Or this? What a frightening thought: if I keep on removing layer after layer, I might peel myself entirely away” (Büchner 104). These words introduce the idea that people are made up of many “masks,” each representing a self-constructed personality used to handle a certain aspect of life. Such masks can be seen in other parts of the play as well as in life. As a textual example, when Leonce asks Valerio what his profession is, he responds, “Sir, my consuming occupation is to be thoroughly idle, I am uncommonly skilled at doing nothing, I have colossal endurance in the realm of laziness.” This response, as well as his apparent obsession with all delicious foods, reveals Valerio’s philosophical standing as a hedonist (Büchner 81). However, Valerio later forsakes his “identity” entirely for a while, donning the mask of an adventurer by agreeing to walk all the way to Italy with Leonce when he decides to run away from home, a strenuous feat that leaves him sweat-drenched and begging for rest (Büchner 93). Likewise, Leonce begins the play with a set personality, revealed to be existentialist by his rambling: “My life gapes at me like a great white sheet of paper that I’m supposed to fill with writing, but I can’t manage even a single letter. My head is an empty dance hall…” (Büchner 86). However, he instantly and completely transforms himself into a romantic whenever he is around women or thinking about a wife. This romantic “mask” is evidenced by Leonce’s use of flowery language, symbols and metaphors (“See the two white roses on her cheeks, the red ones on her breast?”), and popular romantic topics such as death (“The ticking death watch in our breast is slow…our entire life’s a creeping fever.”) (Büchner 85, 96). Both of these characters used a mask to change their personalities in order to match their situations in life. The same is true in real life; people utilize masks to fit into certain roles. A person may mask him/herself to be energetic and respectful during a cashier job, yet be curt and lazy at home. A man may be passionate and kind around his wife and family yet be cold and unreceptive in a work setting. People dynamically change their behavior and personalities in whatever way is needed to get through life in the best possible way.

Some may say that these masks are in fact just reflections of our true selves and that we simply use whichever parts of ourselves work best for every situation. At first, this seems as though it could be true; however, the latter part of Valerio’s aforementioned words of “…if I keep on removing layer after layer, I might peel myself away entirely,” implies that we have no “true self,” but rather only these artificial self-constructions (Büchner 104). Of course, anyone could easily dispute this as false simply because it is the spoken thought of one character.

However, Valerio’s idea produces a strong sense of the uncanny in Peter, who disconcertingly replies, “But surely you must be something?” (Büchner 104). According to Freud’s essay, The Uncanny, the uncanny can be present in three distinct cases: when one sees his/her double, when a seemingly inanimate object comes to life, or (most significantly) when “repressed childhood complexes are revived by some impression” (Freud 155). In this case, Peter’s reaction suggests that he subconsciously already knew or suspected that nobody must be something, that everybody may be nothing. Therefore, though it does not explicitly prove Valerio’s notion, Peter’s reaction seems to heavily imply that there is indeed no “true self.” Further confirmation may come from what Jacques Lacan called the “mirror stage,” which states that we first develop our self-identity by looking at a reflection of ourselves (Lacan 4). For the rest of our lives, we then develop ourselves around this external image of how we see ourselves, thereby by disregarding or even destroying any possible innate self-identity we have. Valerio mentions even this in the stateroom as he states, “Gentlemen, turn the mirrors to the wall, cover your shiny buttons, and don’t look at me like that lest I see my reflection mirrored in your eyes – or I truly won’t know any more who I am” (Büchner 104). Adding the possibility of multiple identities to Lacan’s work, Valerio implies here that, if presented with any of these reflective surfaces, he would be forced to face a new reflection that is incompatible with his current self-identity and would therefore be forced to create a new one.

Without a true identity, though, where do we stand as humans? Assuming we actually create artificial identities for ourselves, are we all merely automatons, as Valerio presented himself, Leonce, and Lena (Büchner 105)? Amazingly, Büchner’s play holds answers to even this question, as everybody in the play is portrayed as automaton-like. The general populace, for instance, is metaphorically compared to a batch of puppets by Leonce in the end (Büchner 108), while the tutor and privy council are only capable of agreeing with whatever they are told, much like robots built to give positive feedback (Büchner 79, 83). These portrayals, though satirical in nature, provide a cohesive image of the nature of humans. Humans are in essence artificial entities, being self-composed of a myriad of artificially constructed personalities and identities.

This outcome of humans as artificial beings has a significant impact on what it means to be human or almost human. If humans do not have a “true self,” then we must consider any trace of personality artificial. However, such a claim has not been made universally for the almost human. While some also have artificial personalities (such as an automaton or robot which is programmed to behave in certain ways), other almost humans, such as Homunculus from Goethe’s Faust or the monster from Frankenstein, may have true, defined personalities. In other words, all humans can fit within the parameters of almost humans, but not all almost humans can fit within the parameters of the humans. While “almost humans have consistent, cohesive identities and personalities, humans are lost in an internal abyss, making themselves up externally while they search in vain for a whole sense of self. Therefore, almost humans may actually be considered beyond the scope of humans, meaning we may call them “more than human,” or (more potently) “superhuman.”

 

 

Works Cited

Büchner, Georg, and John Reddick. Leonce and Lena. Complete Plays, Lenz and Other Writings. London: Penguin, 1993. 78-111. Print.

Freud, Sigmund, David McLintock, and Hugh Haughton. The Uncanny. New York: Penguin, 2003. Print.

Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. New York: W.W. Norton &, 1977. Print.

 

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Immortality through Regeneration

Through the years, the field of biotechnology focused more on the engineering side,
such as the mechanics and functions of machines like MRIs and CAT scanners. Recently though, the field has exploded as it fused with the study of genetics. Through the manipulation of genes, biotechnology has become one of the most cutting-edge sciences, and no subset as much as stem cell research. Two types have been extensively studied: embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and adult stem cells (ASCs). The ESCs are much more powerful because they are known to be omnipotent, or able to derive into any specialized cell in the body. ASCs are only semi-potent, meaning they can derive into few types of cells, limited mostly by their point of origin in the body. Scientists have found ways to make ASCs become pluripotent, known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).
However, due to ethical issues, they are debated and not able to be used as effectively as possible. Stem cells, the new frontier in medicine, promise revolutionary medicinal breakthroughs and must be harnessed to their full potential.

The most powerful type of stem cell is embryonic stem cells. They are the origins of the human body, the creators of every cell in the body. To be able to harvest and harness this omnipotence for medicine would be unbelievably useful. No injury would be too severe, no disease would be too lethal, and worn out organs would be replaceable if scientists could grow new organs and tissues at will for the patients. Embryonic stem cells are only in existence for the first few divisions of an embryo which lasts for about a two day period from 3-5 days old. Extraction of the embryonic stem cells also destroys the embryo, which is a main point of contention for people who are against stem cell research. Those that believe life begins at conception therefore consider the destruction of an embryo to be murder, which has led to a number of restrictions on embryonic research. Consequently, the scientific process has been thoroughly disrupted with regard to embryonic research, which hampers the work towards cures for degenerative diseases such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, etc. Instead of being able to directly research how to use ESCs for immediately life-saving applications, scientists have had to spend the majority
of their time researching other, more politically acceptable, alternatives to the embryonic cells.

Adult stem cells are the second and least controversial type of stem cells that are currently being researched. However, most people know little about them due to the political focus on the more contentious embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells, ASCs, are much less appealing to popular culture because they are much less powerful than embryonic stem cells in that they can only differentiate into a few types of cells. They are spread out through the body: “adult stem cells have been found in the bone marrow, blood stream, cornea and retina of the eye, the dental pulp of the tooth, liver, skin, gastrointestinal tract, and pancreas” (Lerner, 2006) There are very few ASCs in the body and their main purpose is repair and maintenance on the skin cells and bone cells. However, they too offer many possible advances in medicine, especially since bone and skin are normally the most
common area of treatable injury. Adult stem cells are limited in potential to only a few different types of cells but the ability to regrow any number of cells that are exact matches to the patients’ existing cells extinguishes the possibility of the immune system rejecting the cells. Medical scientists would be able to grow skin and bone tissue from the patient in a culture before grafting it back onto the victim. Another possible application for adult stem cells that is not linked to humans is the extraction and growth of adult stem cells from animals’ muscles. Grown in a culture, they could continuously divide and provide a renewable, humane, and constant stream of food. The muscle cells formed could even be pseudo-exercised by growing them on a mesh that could be stretched and contracted to mimic the motions of actual muscles. This is an effort that is being pursued by the In Vitro Meat Consortium and New Harvest initiatives. Little progress has been made, but to successfully engineer animal-less flesh would theoretically take four main steps. First, stem cells from farm animals would have to be obtained. Then a process for efficient
differentiation of these into muscles cells and the introduction of the correct growth hormones must be tested and confirmed. Finally, the muscle cells must be arranged in a three-dimensional structure. (Haagsman, 2009). Even the slightly potent adult stem cells offer mind-boggling possibilities and could advance quality of life tenfold, but they still lack the potential that the less accepted embryonic cells promise. Adult stem cells are, however, the closest thing to embryonic stem cells that can be safely acquired, but what if they could be reversed? What if scientists could find a way to turn the clock back
on the adult stem cells and have them become the omnipotent cells that they once were?

Researchers are working to find ways to create stem cells that are as powerful as embryonic stem cells from adult cells, known as induced pluripotent stem cells or iPSCs. These cells are derived from adult stem cells by inserting different genes into adult stem cells through an engineered virus which simulate early development and push the cell back towards its omnipotent origins. The cells are not quite omnipotent, but pluripotent, meaning they can differentiate into almost all of the different types of cells, but not all. The
benefits of such a cell are immediately visible in the medical field. From a regenerative medicine standpoint, such cells could be engineered and kept on hand for every person to allow for quick and perhaps lifesaving replacements after terrible accidents or for swift healing of a wound that would otherwise require much more inconvenient treatment. Much like the adult stem cells, immune rejection would not be a concern because the cells would be taken from the person’s own body in the first place. From an engineering standpoint, work is being done on creating biological printers that can print sheets of cells to a ‘blueprint’. This also implies a possibility of printed, functioning organs
(but that is another topic for another day) which would be dramatically more plausible with the integration of working induced pluripotent stem cells. Another area in which iPSCs would be extremely useful is disease study. Researchers would be able to directly study the effects of certain diseases and possible cures on very specific parts of the body without putting anyone at risk. The greatest weapon against disease and injury is knowledge, and induced pluripotent stem cells could be the answer that would strike the killing blow on these menaces. There are quite a few scientific issues with iPSCs. Scientists are still not quite exactly sure of the exact process for reverse engineering the stem cells, and once they succeed, the cells are not as stable as they were before. This is a consequence of the reverse engineering and the uncertain procedures that are a result of insufficient study. The instability of the cells could lead to dangerous mutations and possibly cancer, which would completely cancel out any positive effects of the research and most likely throw the ill-informed pubic into an anti-stem cell frenzy, further delaying
and disrupting the amazing medical potential that is stem cell research.

The ethical debate on stem cell research, whether it should be embraced and funded or turned away from in disgust and never touched again, revolves around a few important ideas. Many people believe that the process in which scientists obtain embryonic stem cells is morally wrong. The cells are harvested from in vitro embryos, meaning from an egg that was fertilized in a laboratory. As discussed earlier, this can be construed as murder depending on one’s opinion on when life actually begins: “[embryonic harvesting is] the destruction of developing human beings” (Keiper, 2010). Additionally, the argument can be made that to use embryonic stem cells is to modify the natural order of things and that the scientists are ‘playing God’ by creating and using living cells. This argument is very closely linked to that of the dissenters on cloning, saying that humans cannot become creators of life due to various religious beliefs. Induced pluripotent stem cells occupy a much less contested space in the political life due to the fact that they can be taken without destroying life and can be agreed to by the subject. The only reason iPSC research exists in the first place is to avoid those two unsavory side effects of embryonic research. The ability to choose whether or not the process of creating iPSCs takes place makes it like any other medical procedure instead of a radical operation.  One issue to be aware of is the applications in disease study. Human testing is on very shaky ground ethically and using someone’s grown organs or tissues to study the effects of dangerous diseases tiptoes on a very thin line between human experimentation and medical research. However, these ethical issues should not be allowed to stop the development and discovery of the most powerful medical tool available to mankind.

The body is an organic machine. To operate and run correctly, it must have the right pieces in the right spot and under the right conditions. All of this is developed through growth from one incredibly potent cell. The cells that follow are equally potent stem cells that can become anything in the body. If these cells can be acquired, through embryonic harvesting or through induced pluripotent stem cells, the possibilities of regeneration and maintenance are almost incalculable. Many ethical issues against stem cell research, mostly from religious institutions that do not believe men should have that type of power, but the potential to do good with stem cell technology is too great to pass over. Stem cells need to be researched and understood to the point that they can be unleashed to their full
potential, regardless of the cost.

Works
Cited

Keiper, Adam, and Yuval, Levin. “Federal Funds Should Not Be Used for
Research That Destroys Embryos.” Stem Cells. Jacqueline Langwith.
Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2012. Opposing Viewpoints. Rpt. from “Stem
Cells, Life, and the Law.” National Review (25 Aug. 2010). Opposing
Viewpoints In Context
. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.

Lerner, Ed and Lerner, Brenda “Stem Cells: Scientific Progress and Future
Research Directions.” Medicine, Health, and Bioethics: Essential
Primary Sources
. Detroit: Gale, 2006. 72-75. Opposing Viewpoints In
Context
. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.

Svendsen, Clive N., and
Allison D. Ebert. Encyclopedia of Stem Cell Research. Thousand Oaks, CA:
SAGE Publications, Inc., 2008. SAGE knowledge. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.

In Vitro Meat
Consortium. http://invitromeat.org/

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The Socially Constructed Prison (Revised)

Art has long been a means to present a social commentary to the masses, and Büchner’s
masterpiece “Leonce and Lena” seamlessly melds very important social issues into a comedic story. Büchner’s focus is to critique the monarchy through Leonce, a dramatic and existentialist prince, Peter, a thoughtful but mindless king, and Valerio, a sly and hedonistic drunkard. The play also serves as a warning for future ruling bodies. Büchner was quite an activist through hiswriting and he was even declared a criminal due to another work, “The Hessian Messenger”, in which he continues to attack the immobile and unproductive ruling system. Büchner develops a feeling of stagnation in his play “Leonce and Lena” and uses it to warn against future dangers of government without popular
representation.

The play’s main protagonist, Leonce, is a prince that isn’t interested in the
trivialities of life.

“A terrible idleness teems on every hand. –Idleness is thefount of all the vices. – The things people do out of sheer boredom! They study out of boredom; they pray out of boredom; they fall in love, get married and reproduce out of boredom; in the end they die out of boredom” (80).

This quote is from one of Leonce’s many monologues, in which he states his belief that the struggles and achievements in life areunnecessary in the end. In his opinion, life is about time wasting; therefore wasted time is not so bad of a thing. This mentality fits well with a Democritus quote: “Nothing exists except for atoms and empty space, everything else is opinion.” Büchner portrays him as a slightly depressed individual and one who should definitely not be allowed to lead: “My life gapes at me like a great white sheet of paper that I’m supposed to fill with writing, but I can’t manage even a single letter. My head is an empty dance hall, on its floor a few wiltedroses and crumpled ribbons” (86). This level of empty-headedness implies Büchner’s discontent with the central characteristic of a monarchy: that leadership is passed by blood rather than by ability. He postulates that this
system can lead to having the wrong person in power, which can be very bad for the people. When he is informed that he should be taking over the throne after he is married, he says: “I shall attend to everything save that which I shall ignore, which however will be decidedly less than if it were twice as much” (89). Leonce appears to be very unconcerned about the humongous responsibility of ruling which further adds to Büchner’s criticism of aloof monarchs. That he is to take over for his father, King Peter, would be a fearsome prospect had Peter himself not been so inept.

Peter is the definition of a distant ruler. He is scatterbrained beyond belief and
spends the majority of his time thinking about thinking. “Man must think, and I must think for my subjects, for they never think at all, they never think at all” (82). This comment seems very deep and even fatherly for a ruler to say in seriousness, but the staging has him running around like a madman while being dressed which implies a touch of insanity. Additionally, making the statement that his subjects never think at all is a direct insult and expresses Büchner’s view that the royalty is completely out of touch with the common men. During this monologue in Act I Scene II, Büchner makes the dressing of King Peter into a symbol for the ruling style of Büchner’s time: “Now it’s the turn of my
attributes, accidents, properties, and modifications: where is my shirt, where are my trousers? – Stop, how disgusting, free will is a wide open issue down there. Where is morality: where are my shirt-cuffs?” (82). Büchner directly states here that free will is being actively suppressed and that morality has been taken from the people by the rulers. Also, the fact that this all takes place during a dressing ritual implies an artificiality of the leaders. This idea could be Büchner’s belief that all of the attributes, accidents,
properties, and modifications that are accredited to a monarch are insincere and hollow actions meant only to keep the people from rebelling. However, Büchner carefully refrains from making Peter actually malicious towards the people, instead making him seem completely incompetent of ruling. This approach allows the play to be sold as a comedy, which would appeal to a larger group of people, while still displaying the monarchy as incapable of leading and caring for the people.

Valerio fills a role not unlike the Shakespearean fool, in that he seems to be the only
character who understands the absurdity of the situation. He is the only main character who is not of the royal machine. Leonce’s clever companion remarks: “No. The way to the madhouse is not so long, it’s easy to find, I know every footpath, side-road and highway. Already I can see [Leonce] heading that way…He’s mad, quite mad” (97). Valerio’s statement after yet another of Leonce’s melancholy monologues shows that he knows the system is faulty but he doesn’t seem to want to fix anything. In fact, Valerio is also a foil to Leonce because while he also sees that life is a series of pointless tasks, but
instead of despairing in that mentality, he enjoys activities that Leonce considers menial and time wasting. Valerio then appears to be rather hedonist, reinforced by the fact that he is quite often drunk which indicates a willingness to give in to vice. He is also the only person that takes advantage of the situation he finds himself in for his own personal benefit. “Listen, Prince, will you make me Chief Minister if, this very day and in the presence of your father, you are fully, formally, and officially spliced to this
nameless, ineffable wonder? Word of honour?” (100). The former drunkard Valerio was able to manipulate himself into a position of power through cunning and the use of the prince’s inability to control his whim to marry Lena, exactly whom Leonce had tried to avoid. Valerio manages to integrate himself into the political machine and expresses his plans to allow the kingdom to continue to run itself into the ground.

Büchner’s “Leonce and Lena” is a very obvious political critique, but it also serves as a
warning towards the future. A play with a comedic structure normally ends in marriage and rejoicing, however Büchner adds a short section to the end. Leonce first gives a short speech in which he says to the common folk who were at the castle to celebrate the wedding: “Your position is so pitiful that we should not wish at any price to make you withstand any more standing. Go home now, but don’t go forgetting your speeches, your sermons, your verses, for tomorrow we shall calmly and quietly do the whole farce again from beginning to end” (108). This casts a rather grim shadow over the ending, because it implies that the people will be no better off under Leonce than they were under King Peter. Büchner’s motive behind this particular monologue is to spread the suggestion that under the current style of government in which the people have no power under an absolute monarch will never allow for progress. The marriage and transfer of power to Leonce symbolizes a change of the play’s application from a critique of the present to a warning for the future.

Büchner was a very active political critic shown in “Leonce and Lena” as well as his
other works. One of his polemic texts, “The Hessian Messenger”, was particularly severe and resulted in his co-writer Ludwig Weidig being executed by the authorities. They present the argument that the peasants and burghers do all of the work and suffer great hardship so that the gentry can live comfortable lives in fancy houses. Logically, the answer to such a problem would be to replace those in power with a person who would be motivated to help lighten the burdens of the common folk. However, Büchner and Weidig reason that such a person does not exist who could do such in the current system: “any
honest man who joins a Council of State is unfailingly ousted. Even if an honest man were these days to become and remain a minister, the way things are in Germany he could only be a puppet manipulated by the prince, himself a ridiculous puppet manipulated in his turn by a valet” (171). This idea of immediate corruption and control of even the most honest and benevolent men in government is mirrored in Büchner’s “Leonce and Lena” when Valerio becomes the Chief Minister and says: “That poor devil Valerio most humbly takes leave of His Ministerial Excellency Lord Valerio of Valerium” (101). Büchner argues that every member of the ruling class becomes a puppet to the customary order of
things and cannot, or will not, change.

The inability or absence of motivation for progress in “Leonce and Lena” leads to a forced feeling of stagnation in the kingdom. The general lethargy forces Leonce into movement, yet he ends up back where he began; symbolizing the inability to break from the cycle of bad government that Büchner wants to draw attention to in his comedy. Büchner uses the character Valerio to show that anyone can be corrupted when inducted into the political machine, a point also stressed in his other work “The Hessian Messenger”. King Peter embodies all of the flaws Büchner sees in his current governmental system in Germany. According to many political philosophers, it is not only the right but the duty of the people to rise up and overthrow an oppressive government. Büchner expresses this opinion
in his play “Leonce and Lena”, which is not only a critique of the system in place, but a warning to the future of Germany: If the cycle is not broken, the countless kingdoms that made up the German people would find themselves as the prisoners and puppets of their own leaders.

 

Works Cited

Büchner, Georg. “Leonce and Lena.” Georg Büchner. Complete
Plays, Lenz and Other
Writings. Trans. and ed. John Reddick. London: Penguin. 1993. 75-108.
Print.

–“The Hessian Messenger” Georg Büchner. Complete Plays,
Lenz and Other Writings. Trans. and ed. John Reddick. London: Penguin. 1993. 167-179.
Print

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A Bleak Paradise: Georg Büchner‘s “Leonce and Lena” (Revised)

Impoverished peasants without a voice, an increasingly socially, politically, and economically oppressed working class, wealthy nobility garbed in fine silks and satins perched high in their castles; such was the societal landscape of Germany in the years 1815 to 1848. These years, deemed Pre-March, were the those leading up to the failed German Revolution. Following the defeat of Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo, the association of German princes that comprised the German Confederation sought to once again establish the pre-revolutionary system of power previously exercised in Germany. These autocratic authority figures aimed to suppress the political activities of their subjects and distribute all forms of power into the hands of the few nobility. Georg Büchner was an activist whose political stance aligned with that of the German bourgeois, and his writing serves as a definite reflection of his nationalistic and liberal way of thinking. Büchner‘s “Leonce and Lena,” published during the Pre-March years, served as a revolutionary warning for the people of the German Confederation regarding the bleak future of Germany, should omnipotent yet idle monarchial rulers such as Leonce and King Peter be in power.

Leonce is established as a privileged prince who neither wants nor works for anything. He is an existentialist with an irresponsible philosophical position on life. “What bliss to be someone else for once! If only for a single minute! – My God, how the fellow runs! If only I knew of a single thing in the world that could still make me run” (Büchner, Leonce, 80).  At the play’s opening Leonce’s idealist mentality is unappealing and relatively annoying to the reader. However, Leonce’s consistent use of puns and his act of running away from his planned marriage serve as evidence of spontaneity and a certain degree of free will. His resistance to his father’s wishes makes the reader not entirely unsympathetic to Leonce’s character. “Kindly inform his supreme Willynillyness that I shall attend to everything save that which I shall ignore, which however will be decidedly less than if it were twice as much…Lazzaroni, Valerio, let’s be lazzaroni! It’s Italy we’ll go to!” (Büchner, Leonce, 91). The reader relates to and ultimately craves such sparks of spontaneity and resistance from the characters of the play. It is these moments that reflect the nationalistic and liberal thinking of the German revolutionaries and that promote an active and upwardly motile political system.

Though Leonce experiences a brief moment of redemption during his period of defiance, by the play’s close he ultimately establishes himself as a model successor to his father. Büchner indicates that under the rulers of the time, Germany was in a stagnant state, moving in no direction at all. This is most evident at the end of the play. Following Leonce’s return to the Kingdom of Bum with Princess Lena, his bride to be, he proclaims, “’We’ll have all the clocks in the kingdom destroyed, all calendars banned, then measure the hours and months by the flower-clock alone, by the rhythms of blossom and fruit…in summer we’ll have the warmth of Capri and Ischia…’”; Valerio, his hedonistic sidekick then adds, “’…we shall all lie down in the shade and pray God for macaroni, melons and figs….’” (Büchner, Leonce, 107). The future that they describe indicates that they are content with the establishment of a classical paradise. When Leonce is ultimately granted the title of King, his plans for the future mirror the present state of the country under the rule of his father, King Peter.

The root of the political problem addressed by Büchner in “Leonce and Lena” is the fact that the German Confederation ignores the needs of its people. Leconce’s father, King Peter of Bum, epitomizes such ignorance. King Peter speaks in a confused, nonsensical manner and manages to address everything about nothing whatsoever. “What does this knot in my handkerchief mean? …What did I desire to remind myself? … Yes, that’s it, that’s it – I wanted to remind myself of my people” (Büchner, Leonce, 83). King Peter, a reflection of the princes of the German Confederation, had forgotten his people. The people in whose hands rested all political, economic, and social power, did not intend to improve the wellbeing of their subjects. Instead, Büchner argues, they served as self-righteous political figureheads content with their personal state of being and thus not motivated to further progress German society. In fact, King Peter recognizes the oppressed state of his subjects but believes such inferiority to be the natural working order of society: Thus, he does not concern himself with responding to their needs. “Man must think, and I must think for my subjects, for they never think at all, they never think at
all” (Büchner, Leonce, 82).

Some may argue that the play does not serve as any sort of warning, but that it is merely a parody of nobility. It is true that “Leonce and Lena” mocks monarchial figures in what initially appears to be an innocent manner. However, if one looks at the historical context, the play’s radical political statement becomes evident. The future of Germany is bleak if it remains under the control of idle idealists like those represented by Leonce and King Peter. Büchner, a known political activist of the period, published a number of other literary works critiquing Germany’s damaged political system.

“The Hessian Messenger,” explicitly criticizes the monarchial figures of the German Confederation. At its opening, “The Hessian Messenger” is set up as a pamphlet in which Büchner warns the reader, “The aim of this pamphlet is to convey the truth to the people of Hessen, but they that speak the truth are hanged; yes, even they that read the truth may well suffer punishment from perfidious judges” (Büchner, Messenger, 167). In this politically radical and forward-thinking text of the time, Büchner verbally obliterates the German monarchial political system in a direct and entirely non-discrete manner representing the German Confederation as the Grand Duke of Hessen.

Even if an honest man were to become and remain a minister, the way things are in Germany he could only be a puppet manipulated by the prince, himself a ridiculous puppet manipulated in turn by a valet or coachman or the coachman’s wife and her lover or the coachman’s stepbrother or all of them together…Woe upon you, you idolaters! You are like the heathen who worship the crocodile that tears them limb from limb. (Büchner, Messenger, 172)

In a milder manner of attack, Büchner sends the reader the same warning in “Leonce and Lena.”

The peasants of “Leonce and Lena” have no voice, and therefore the political unrest of the bourgeois is not nearly as evident as it is in “The Hessian Messenger.” However, the policies and culture promoted by Leonce and King Peter are the same as those of the Grand Duke of Hessen, indicating that Büchner is not only mocking such a political system, but also warning the peasant class of the impending societal doom that awaits Germany if action is not taken to remove such “idle idolaters” from political power.

As discussed above, Büchner‘s “Leonce and Lena” served as a warning to the German people that cultural destruction would ensue, should non-democratic monarchial rulers such as Leonce and King Peter remain in power. While this political message of the play was not as strongly conveyed in “Leonce and Lena” as it was in Büchner’s “The Hessian Messenger,” the same warning exists: if action is not taken to restore power to the bourgeois, Germany will enter a period of stagnation and the working class will be continually oppressed. The clock-less, eternally summer, Italian reminiscent country of which Leonce spoke was far from the forward-thinking, progressive society desired by Germany’s working class. Büchner’s warning in “Leonce and Lena” restates in literary terms the the revolutionary call-to-arms in his “The Hessian Messenger.” “You have labored all your life digging the soil, now you shall dig your tyrants’ grave. You built their fortresses, now you shall destroy them and build the house of freedom” (Büchner, Messenger, 178). The political unrest would soon boil over and liberal-minded people would attempt to reform the monarchy in the German Revolution. “’Lord, destroy the rods of our oppressors and let Thy kingdom come unto us, the kingdom of justice. Amen’” (Büchner, Messenger, 179). Büchner passed away in 1837, ten years before the attempted German Revolution. As a strong voice against the political structure under the German Confederation could Büchner’s presence and participation have made a difference in the outcome of the Revolution of 1848?

 

 

Works Cited

 

Büchner, Georg. “Leonce and Lena.” Georg Büchner. Complete Plays, Lenz and Other

Writings. Trans. and Ed. John Reddick. London: Penguin. 1993. 75-108. Print.

—. “The Hessian Messenger.” 167-179. Print.

 

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Star-Crossed Lovers: Fate in Buchner’s Leonce and Lena (Revised)

A bizarre fiction of power and obedience; a ludicrous tale of politics and love. Georg Buchner’s Leonce and Lena depicts a tale of two royal youths, determined to flee the futures that have been laid out for them by their handlers, who find their rebellious intentions intercepted by fate. While some may argue that fate— best defined by Dictionary.com as “the universal principle or ultimate agency by which the order of things is presumably prescribed”— plays a minimal or even nonexistent role in the lives of human beings, Buchner strives throughout his tale to assert the idea that fate is the driving force in the events of our lives. Buchner’s Leonce and Lena serves not only to entertain readers with a tale of two star-crossed lovers, but also to inspire readers to believe that human lives are controlled not by chance but by fate.

Fate as the controlling factor in human lives is a concept that has been prevalent in literature for the entirety of its existence. From the philosophical works of Origen and Cicero— a theologian and a philosopher/statesman, respectively— to Shakespearean tragedies such as Romeo and Juliet to modern works like the Game of Thrones series, fate has been used as the primary medium by which people meet and events occur. Characters fall in love because it is their “destiny” to do so, and worlds collide because the fates make it so. The literary prevalence of the theme of fate being in control of human life suggests that this is true not only for characters in novels, but for human beings in general. That writers so often include themes of fate and destiny in their works conveys their belief in the powers of fate not only in fiction but in life as well. This is no less true for Buchner as he writes Leonce and Lena, conveying the reoccurring theme of fate as the primary control over the events in human lives.

At the beginning of Leonce and Lena, King Peter declares that his son Leonce must marry in order to inherit his royal station. Leonce, a silly and dreamy man with a childish disposition, clearly does not desire to take part in an arranged marriage with the woman to whom he is betrothed, so he resolves to run away from his kingdom with his lazy and irreverent friend Valerio. The first indication that fate is at work in the play is that just after Leonce resolves to flee his kingdom and his arranged marriage, Buchner introduces Lena, who also wishes to escape the confines of the arranged marriage that she is being subjected to. While she does not seem to find the institution of marriage as problematic in itself, she is reasonably apprehensive of marrying “a man for which [she] feel[s] no love”, likening the ring on her finger to a “viper’s sting” and questioning why one should “drive a nail through hands that never sought each other?” (Buchner 91). The parallel attitudes towards arranged marriage expressed by Leonce and Lena are very telling of what may happen later on in the play, especially considering how both characters and their ideas are introduced one after the other, suggesting that their shared attitudes will collide further into the action of the play. That Lena also decides to flee and escape the situation is also quite telling, and it represents another instance in which Leonce and Lena exhibit the same wills and behaviors. The presentation of the characters and their situations allows the reader to see the already existing connection between the two characters as they attempt to run from their fates, directly into each other’s arms.

Another strong indication of the role of fate as the driving force in Leonce and Lena’s lives is the abundant foreshadowing in the play. The myriad instances of foreshadowing serve as blatant indications of the events to come, as characters unwittingly call the fates to draw Leonce and Lena together. For example, after Lena flees with her governess to the countryside, they spend time musing over their experience and wondering what is to come. At one point, the governess expresses her frustration with the situation, exclaiming that there was “[…] not the slightest chance of a wandering prince” in the area that they were, meaning that their efforts to find a man for Lena to love were in vain (94). This serves as both dramatic irony—as readers know that Leonce is also wandering in search of a beautiful woman—and clear foretelling, highlighting future events that are now evident in the eyes of the readers. Due to this prefiguring readers can now anticipate the eventual meeting of Leonce and Lena and the love that will result from it. The governess’s words arouse the reader suspicion that there is already a predetermined end to the searches of Leonce and Lena in which the two will find each other and fall in love. At the end of the play when Leonce and Lena are married and the unlikely events of their meeting are brought to light, readers are reminded of the governess’s foreshadowing as she exclaims that Lena did find her “wandering prince,” thus bringing the play full circle and highlighting the role of the signs of destiny.

Additionally, foreshadowing is employed as the play indicates works of fate in Leonce and Lena when the two royals finally encounter each other in the inn. At the time Valerio muses about his belief that he and Leonce are merely playing cards in the games of God and the Devil. He declares himself the Jack and Leonce the King, and states “all we need is […] a beautiful Queen[…],” and at that very moment Lena walks in with her governess; a more blatant suggestion of fate at play could hardly be conceived (96). That Lena would walk in at the very moment Valerio called on a beautiful woman could not be more telling, and the metaphor of the characters as playing cards of God is a clever way for Buchner to solidify his inclusion of fate, often controlled by a higher power, as the driving force in Leonce and Lena’s meeting. This metaphor suggests that God brought the two together and that it was their destiny to meet each other under these circumstances, despite trying to escape lives predetermined for them by their handlers.

It is within the realm of possibility that some readers may dispute the idea that Leonce and Lena were brought together by fate, and thus the idea that Buchner was asserting that fate is the driving force in the lives of human beings. Some may argue that the events in Leonce and Lena’s lives—their running away at the same time, trying to escape each other but unwittingly running towards each other—were simply chance events. That Buchner paralleled the feelings towards arranged marriages of both characters, as well as their decisions to run away, could be written off as a stylistic choice taken by Buchner in order to introduce both characters in a way that would be both interesting and memorable to the readers. Likewise, the instances of seemingly blatant foreshadowing could simply have been included for the purpose of suggesting the events to come in the play, thereby adding suspense and encouraging the reader to anticipate what could happen next in the adventures of Leonce and Lena. While these counterarguments are valid, the idea that Buchner was in fact trying to highlight the idea of fate as the driving force in the story and in human lives in general is far more plausible due to the aforementioned detail and methods that he uses in the plot.

When it is revealed that the “automata” used to marry Leonce and Lena in effigy are actually the royals themselves, Valerio makes a statement that most effectively calls the idea of fate into question. He declares, “By chance your highnesses happen to have happened on each other” (107). Some readers may interpret this statement as a suggestion that Buchner himself believed that it was purely by chance that Leonce and Lena fell in love. However, one must remember that the character of Valerio is often crass and irreverent, and therefore his usage of the words “chance” and “happen” is merely his flippant way of addressing the surprising turn of events in the play. Readers must remember all of the instances in which Buchner strongly indicates the effects of fate in the lives of his characters in order to be able to discount Valerio’s word choice as part of his characterization and move forward with the idea of the role of fate in human lives.

When looking at the tale of Leonce and Lena as a whole, the idea of fate as the driving force in human lives is evident, as it permeates the piece not only through its organization but also through Buchner’s use of foreshadowing. That Buchner introduced the characters of Leonce and Lena, as well as their feelings on their arranged marriage and their decision to run away, in a parallel structure is a strong indication of the fates aligning in order to bring Leonce and Lena together. Additionally, the prefiguring of their eventual meeting through the musings of the governess and Valerio further suggest the workings of fate, especially when Valerio likens them to playing cards in God’s games. This metaphor is the most blatant suggestion of the fates at work, as God brings Leonce and Lena together in the game of life that he is believed to so frequently play with human beings. While some may argue as to the validity of these points, the evidence in Buchner’s play that supports the idea of fate as the driving force in human life is very clear throughout the piece. The tale of Leonce and Lena serves as one of many literary reminders of the influence and inescapability of fate, a theme that has permeated both fictional and non-fictional works of literature since its advent and will continue to do so for centuries to come.

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Is Frankenstein’s Monster human?

I would say that Frankenstein’s monster most certainly isn’t human. While some may argue against this because the monster is made up of human parts, it is important to remember that just because a being has human parts does not make it human. The monster is patchwork, animated by some unclear process. He was not born or otherwise developed from human cells, so he cannot be considered human.

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Modern Times

Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times”, an entertainment piece at the surface, also serves as a political commentary criticizing the flourishing industrialization and commoditization of big-business America, which has developed at the expense of it’s workers.

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Thank you!

Thank you Dr. Lawrence for coming in to speak with us about stem-cells. I really enjoyed your presentation, and it proved to be very helpful for contributing to my understanding of the concept. I learned many things about stem-cells and stem-cell research that I didn not know before, and those things really helped me to write a good stem-cell research paper. Thank you so much!

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“The Sandman” Thesis Statement

The status of Nathaniel’s being in E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Sandman” is an issue that is never clarified in the sci-fi tale. While the reader initially assumes that Nathaniel is human, various small plot-points within the novel— such as Coppelius dislocating Nathaniel’s joints and intending to burn out his eyes, and Nathaniel’s head “shattering” like glass at the end of the tale— suggest that Nathaniel could very well be an automaton himself, and his constant confusion and apparent malfunction at the end of the tale (yelling “Beautiful eyes! Beautiful eyes!” before jumping to his death) seem to support this theory.

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How Artificial Are We?

How Artificial Are We?

Over the last several decades, the human race has made extreme strides technologically. First world countries such as the United States, China, and Japan have developed various technologies that have changed the way humans deal with bodily illness and decay. The advent of these technologies, such as bionic limbs and pacemakers, has altered the organic nature of the human body, so now it can in some ways be considered artificial.

For example, when a person loses an appendage such as an arm or a leg in an accident, a bionic limb can be installed in place of their lost appendage, allowing them to remain mobile. Likewise, an aging person with a faulty heart can have a pacemaker installed to keep their heart beating, therefore lengthening what might have been a shortened life for that individual. In this respect, the human body can definitely be seen as at least partially artificial, and as time goes on and technology becomes more advanced, technology and the human body will intersect even further. It is certainly plausible that eventually the human body will be extremely, if not completely, artificial.

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