Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Many of Hoffmann’s most prominent stylistic devices can be identified in this, his first tale. Central among these is what has been called his style of two worlds: the unmediated juxtaposition of the ordinary and the extraordinary, the everyday and the uncanny. Again and again, Hoffmann lures the unsuspecting reader with descriptions of great precision into chains of perceptions that, in the end, leave him or her helplessly stranded in a world of fantastic unreality. The figure of the curious Ritter Gluck is only the most obvious instance of Hoffmann’s grotesque integration of mutually exclusive perspectives. Is this man a figment of the narrator’s imagination, is he the ghost of the historical Gluck, or is he simply a deranged artist? Evidence is presented in support of each of these contradictory explanations.

In the same vein, Hoffmann blurs the distinction between the arts. That he uses words to describe a musical world seems unavoidable. However, when he conveys the ultimate mysteries of musical harmony in the highly visual images of sun and flower, he consciously aims at an artistic vision that would transcend the limits of a person’s divided sensorium.

The narrative technique with which “Ritter Gluck” is told seems only to intensify the resulting disorientation. Though the story provides few actions, the speed with which dialogues develop and scenes follow one another provides a dramatic tension that leaves the reader breathless in bewilderment. For Hoffmann, in everything there lurks its opposite: sanity in madness, madness in sanity. It is the unhappy fate of the sensitive soul to be torn apart by being attuned to the fiendish transparence of all reality. Clear outline and identity, mainstays of a secure existence, reveal themselves from this vantage point as nothing but the dubious prerogatives of one-dimensional mediocrity.