It is usually assumed that “Michael Kohlhaas” represents a moral paradox: can a radical fighter against injustice himself lapse into injustice? The relevance of this moral theme, which Friedrich Schiller treated in his drama “The Robbers”, will be examined through, on the one hand, Kleist’s representation of the deadly injustice inflicted upon Kohlhaas by the upper class and the state, and on the other, Kleist’s representation of Kohlhaas’ campaign of vengeance against a corrupt society. As Kohlhaas’ revenge becomes an apocalyptic-chiliastic symbol, it seems to confirm the moral paradox of the world reformer gone astray. But this perspective is corrected through Kleist’s style and mode of presentation, because the analysis of narcissism in the name of duty and virtue (Kant) is surpassed by the emphatic evelation of the soul as an organon of existence that cannot be revealed.
Karl Heinz Bohrer is Professor emer. for Literature. He studied History, Philosophy, German literature, and Sociology. In 1962 he completed his studies with a doctoral thesis on the Geschichtsphilosophie of the German Romantics at the University of Heidelberg, followed in 1978 by a Habilitation at the University of Bielefeld with a study on the early works of Ernst Jünger. Until 1974, Bohrer was literary editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, thereafter he worked for the same paper as a foreign correspondent in London. The Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung awarded him its Johann Heinrich Merck Prize for his London essays. In 1982 he was appointed Professor for Modern German Literary History at the University of Bielefeld and in 1983 he succeeded Hans Schwab-Felisch as editor of Merkur. The recipient of the 2007 Heinrich-Mann Prize now lives in Paris and London. Among his many publications are Granatsplitter (2012); Selbstdenker und Systemdenker (2011); Das Tragische (2009); Großer Stil (2007); Temporalität und Form (2004) and Imaginationen des Bösen (2004).