The Border as Regulator of Life: Gustav Freytag's Uncontainable Realism

Jörg Kreienbrock*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


This article expands on Fontane's discussion of borders in Gustav Freytag, analyzing the various critical, aesthetic, geographic, and political modes of containment and their dissolution presented in Soll und Haben. The border region between Germany and Poland is the zone where an unresolvable dialectic of delimitation and expansion is played out. Following Friedrich Ratzel's Anthropogeogaphie, the border must be understood as a living organ, regulating the inner dynamics of nations. It is therefore no coincidence that Karl Haushofer, who in the 1920s and 1930s turned Ratzel's Political Geography into an imperialist Geopolitics, would use Freytag's novel Die Ahnen as a literary example of his slogan "Volk ohne Raum." Freytag's peripheral realism simultaneously depicts "grüne Stellen" (Vischer) in the desert of Poland and scenes of unregulated, uncontainable violence. This ambiguity of this project of a "realist" novel manifests itself in a barely controlled, irregular force, incarnated in "düstere Grenzergestalten" like werewolves and partisans, who rule the Lebensraum of the border. It is here, in the "concrete order" (Carl Schmitt) of the periphery, where the life of nations - as well as that of the novel as a genre - finds its most realistic expression through the "irregular regulator" of the living border.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)204-218
Number of pages15
JournalGermanic Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 3 2015


  • Gustav Freytag
  • borders
  • colonialism
  • geopolitics
  • realism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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