Copyright 1996 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
"The Sleepwalkers" (published when the author was 40) is a trilogy, a three-dimensional work with one underlying philosophical unit. The first book, "The Romantic" portrays 19th century realism with von Pasenow as main character, a Prussian aristocrat clinging to ethical values considered outdated. The second book, "The Anarchist," portrays the accountant Esch who is in search of a "balance" of values in unstable pre-war Germany. Both characters will meet in the third book "The Realist," and will find hope in a fanatical religious sect, which foresees the coming of a Redeemer (fascism, Hitler). They will be defeated by Huguenau, an army deserter and opportunist, representing the new ethical standards of a society free of values or to put it correctly "with no values." There are several parallel plots, a number of alienated characters, and cumbrous symbolism. To make things a bit more complex and elaborate, there are 16 chapters of poetry, and 10 chapters (Desintegration of Values) of sound and intensive philosophy.
According to Broch, "sleepwalkers" refer to a gap between the death of an ethical system and the birth of another, as much as a somnambulist finds himself in a state between sleep and awake. The novel reflects the disintegration of values in Germany between 1880 and 1920, the psychological distress and disorientation of interwar Germany in which Nazism set its foot. Broch views the Renaissance as the starting point of disintegration of a unified Christian world into a multifaceted society with no ethical roots.
This is a massive piece of literature, one that wil be viewed as lenghthy and boring if the reader is not willing to go beyond the "first layer of the onion peel;" it requires patience and perseverance. For any reader who wishes to crack down on Broch's literary work, "Hermann Broch" by Ernestine Schlant is a good suggestion.
"The Sleepwalkers", by Hermann Broch, is one of the great
cultual achievements of the 20th Century. Today, over
60 years after its original publication (and almost
50 years after the English translation was published),
its insights are perhaps even more relevant than before,
due to the advent of so-called "Post-Modernism", which
has made a "virtue" out of the disintegration of values
and the breakdown of life-forms in our society. Broch,
in contrast, was committed to the task of finding
a way through to meaningful life for all persons in
"The Sleepwalkers" offers diagnostic case-studies of
the problem (often with a subtle wit), and, at the
end of the book, briefly but powerfully points to a
solution, in a renewal of community in inclusive discourse.
Personally, when I first read "The Sleepwalkers", ca. 1972, it
it showed me why words might deserve to exist, and I felt
that, if I was who I wished I was, I would have written
Broch's words. I was and remained struck by the
"ekstatic" condition with which he must have been
graced to write this work (and other of his works,
e.g., "The Death of Virgil").
Perhaps the ending words of "The Virgil" characterize,
in a way different from how they are there meant,
Broch's achievement: "It was the word beyond speech".
Since a subsequent reviewer has mentioned Broch's "political activities", perhaps it is relevant here to quote... Read more