Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Daphnis: Zeitschrift für Mittlere Deutschen Literatur, band 20, heft 1 (1991), 7–31. Copyright © 1991 Editions Rodopi BV. Used by permission.


Till is the projection of anxieties arising in the face of social instability. Bote, who was witness to just how fragile the given order of patrician rule in Brunswick was, was sensible both to its weaknesses and to its preferability to disorder. The shifting locus of perverseness in TE provides an adequate structure for Bote, who is critical of his society, but uneasy about the forces threatening to tear it apart altogether. The violability of the order is so profound, that at times there seems to be no position which can be defended against parasitic infection. Bote’s admonitory intention thus begins to turn in on itself, and the chapbook assumes a highly ambiguous character. While vice clearly invites disorder, it seems that virtue, too, is subject to parasitic infection. No behavior, no place is immune. Till’s transgressions relativize the given order from top to bottom, inside to out. It is impossible to distill from the chapbook’s many episodes a consistent lesson or moral, because of the constantly shifting locus of perversity.

Derrida’s understanding of iterability and parasitic language provides us with a useful heuristic device in defining ambiguity as a structural principle in the chapbook. It allows the work to vacillate between serious and non-serious language, between history and fiction. Interpreting according to authorial intention alone (SAT) flattens the work by identifying only Bote’s admonitory voice, while overlooking how his anxiety tends to undermine the very norms he intends to uphold. However there are limits to this heuristic device. Derrida’s polemic against Searle is part of a larger philosophical project criticizing certain tendencies within the Western philosophical tradition. He posits structural ambiguity as the condition of all discourse. But I have employed Derrida outside of this philosophical context. The structural ambiguity we have discussed in TE is not a function of the text’s textuality. It is a function of this specific text: its genre, its author, its historical context. The book vacillates between fictionality and historicity by design.