Other Literary Forms
Literary history recognizes Arno Holz as the cofounder and first important author and theorist of Naturalism in Germany. In the novella, Papa Hamlet (1889; coauthored with Johannes Schlaf, under the pseudonym Bjarne P. Holmsen), Holz contrasts the horrid living conditions and death of an unemployed Shakespearean actor and his family with the idealistic verses which the actor constantly recites. His play, Die Familie Selicke (pr., pb. 1890), is a bleak tragedy, ridiculed by traditional critics as “primitive animal grunts of an ape theater,” which presents the misery of an impoverished family, on Christmas Eve, bitterly awaiting the arrival home of the drunken father with his already spent paycheck, while the youngest child is dying.
Holz’s significant theoretical writings are Revolution der Lyrik (1899), which rejects rhyme, meter, and all artificial stratagems of traditional poetry in favor of the natural rhythms of Holz’s own Mittelachsendichtung (central-axis poetry), which is based “on the natural rhythms of things themselves”; and Die Kunst: Ihr Wesen und ihre Gesetze (1891-1893), which seeks to develop and present a new “natural-scientific” aesthetic.
Holz also wrote four monumental plays: Sozialaristokraten (pb. 1896), one of the few successful Naturalistic comedies; Die Blechschmiede (pb. 1902; the sheet metal workshop), a 754-page satirical verse-drama with a dramatis personae of more than 3,200 characters; Sonnenfinsternis (pb. 1908; eclipse of the sun), the tragedy of a Naturalist painter who has mastered the “most complex precision-machinery of artistic technique” but cannot produce a masterpiece until his insight is heightened by the breakup of his marriage; and, finally, Ignorabimus: Tragödie (pb. 1913), an epistemological tragedy that pits natural-scientific positivism against Haeckelian cosmic monism.