Last weekend and the two weeks leading up to it, I have done something I don’t normally do: I have been keeping busy learning about the author Heinrich von Kleist, his life, opus and impact. He is a very interesting character and I wanted to use this article to share my experience.
The picture above shows some of the material I used for my research. From top to bottom these are:
- Kleist – Ein Lebensmonolog aus den Briefen: audiobook of selected letters written by Kleist mostly to his sister, whom he was very close with, and his fiancé about important events in his life
- Die Akte Kleist: documentary re-telling Kleist’s life as a criminal case based on an investigation into his suicide
- Heinrich von Kleist – Leben, Werk, Wirkung: a very compact account of Kleist’s life, work and impact on later generations
- Kleist in meiner Küche: Wonderful novel inspired by Kleist’s life (more details below)
- Penthesilea – Werkstatt Theater: book detailing the production of Kleist’s play Penthesilea by my school’s drama group in 2003 (including a short chapter on my light design :-)).
There are also a couple of other online resources that I found very useful. These include the full text of his letters, interviews with Kleist experts on their attitude towards the author as well as the full text of all his plays, novels and other work. While the biography mentioned above is very compact and has all the important facts, there is also Kennst du Heinrich von Kleist? which is more suitable for younger readers, as it is written at a somewhat lower reading level (sample chapter).
Of all these, the book I found the most interesting was Kleist in meiner Küche (literally: “Kleist in my kitchen”). It is a novel set in the present day and starts off with Heinrich von Kleist showing up in the kitchen of the female protagonist one morning. Incidentally, she is a 24 year old literature student writing a paper on Kleist.
I rarely read fiction (as you can tell from books in my library), however, this was well worth making an exception. For one, it is written in a language that is very easy to read, as it is informal, using a a lot of colloquial expressions, basically the vernacular of my generation. This allowed me to finish it in only three nights. And even though it is a work of fiction, the Kleist character in the book is very true to the historical original. Having read his biography prior to this book, I was seeing parallels everywhere; which helped a lot in memorizing his character.
Since this is sort of a technology blog, let me also add something on the technology I used in my research. Obviously, the most important research tool is a web browser; Firefox 5 in my case. I love its ability to bookmark a page with a single click, adding the page to a special folder of ”Unsorted Bookmarks” that I can get back to later. This is so much easier than bookmarking in other browsers I have used.
The second most important tool has been Microsoft OneNote which I use to hold all my notes, collect snippets from the web and basically organize everything in one place. I love that fact that when pasting something from the web, OneNote automatically includes the URL of the page I pasted from, so I can easily go back to the original page later on. It has also been extremely helpful that OneNote on my PC is synced up with the mobile version on my Windows Phone. As I was listening to the audio book mentioned above while on the go, I wrote down a sentence in mobile OneNote whenever I came a cross an interesting passage. As I came home, these notes showed up in the same notebook where I keep all my other Kleist notes and I could easily find the full text of the letter I had listened to before.
My Kindle has also been very handy. Since Kleist’s work is public domain, it is available for free in the Kindle store. One night when I lay in bed and couldn’t fall asleep, I just turned on Wi-Fi on my Kindle, downloaded one his novellas form the store and within a minute I had new reading material. I should add, though, that that novella was The Earthquake in Chile, which contains some extremely graphic violence and was therefore probably a poor choice as a late night read.