Reading “Das öde Haus”: E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Urban Hermeneutics

Robert Mcfarland


In a story titled “Das öde Haus” from his 1817 collection Nachtstücke, E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776–1822) creates a hermeneutic problem in the streets of Berlin. No matter how hard the story’s protagonist tries to use his powers of observation and his imagination to solve the mystery behind the façade of a dilapidated old house, he is repeatedly frustrated. This article connects “Das öde Haus” to early nineteenth-century aesthetic discourses about hermeneutics, vision, and the developing modern urban landscape. While engaging elements of Enlightenment and Romantic hermeneutic traditions, Hoffmann’s story ultimately points toward a more modern exegesis based upon the aesthetic value of incomprehensibility. (RM)

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