Doing drag in blackface hermeneutical challenges and infelicitous subjectivity in Courasche, or: Is Grimmelshausen still worth reading?
Grimmelshausen’s novels fit the category now called autofiction: they offer a bottom-up perspective on central European life during the Thirty Years’ War. That gives them a clear historical value. Students, however, normally encounter the texts (primarily the picaresque novels Simplicissimus Teutsch and Courasche) as literature; that is, as part of a cultural reservoir of stories deemed ‘worth reading’. In the face of the gendered and racialised issues raised by Courasche in particular, to leave that categorisation unchallenged would seem to imply that sexism and racism are inevitable historical details in the ‘great’ work of a canonical writer; that they are of only minor ethical and no aesthetic importance. In what follows I will not in fact suggest that Grimmelshausen is now not worth reading, though I accept that others might disagree and I welcome those discussions. Here I want to propose that if “ethics and aesthetics are one” (to quote another canonical writer), and if the work is to be read and taught as literature by scholars who see that term, as I do, not least as marker of ethical value, then it becomes necessary to acknowledge ethical problems in the work, and to explore and give reasons for its continued aesthetic categorisation as literature.