‘Über die allmähliche Verfertigung der Gedanken beim Reden’ (On the Gradual Construction of Thoughts during Speech) is an essay written by Heinrich von Kleist in 1805. In the guise of a letter to his friend, general Otto August Rühle von Lilienstern, Kleist advises to start speaking – to whoever is around – when meditation on a problem brings no solution. The French say “l’appétit vient en mangeant”, Kleist writes in his essay and adds that “l’idée vient en parlant” as well. “I have only to begin boldly and the mind, obliged to find an end for this beginning, transforms my confused concept as I speak into thoughts that are perfectly clear, so that to my surprise, the end of the sentence coincides with the desired knowledge”, Kleist explains and stresses that a sense of danger on the part of the speaker heightens the effect. He gives examples of improvised speeches that either became a turning point in history or saved the speaker’s life, such as the Count of Mirabeau’s improvised speech to the ancient régime’s Master of Ceremonies or the fox’s shrewd improvised plea in La Fontaine’s fable ‘Les animaux malades de la peste’. Speeches like that, Von Kleist formulates, are pure articulated thought.
According to the tradition of his old Prussian artistocratic family, Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811) followed a military career early in life, but retired from the army at the age of twenty-two to study mathematics and physics in Frankfurt on der Oder instead. Kleist held a position at the Prussian Ministry of Economic Affairs in Berlin until 1806, during which period he developed his literary talents and ambitions. After having been arrested by the French authorities as an alleged spy in 1807, Kleist travelled to Dresden on his release from prison and there made the acquaintance of a circle of early Romanticists, among whom Ludwig Tieck and Caspar David Friedrich. Together with another member of the circle, Adam Heinrich Müller, Kleist published in 1808 twelve issues of Phöbus – Ein Journal für die Kunst, in which many of his works appeared in print for the first time. The journal, poorly received by critics and spurned by Goethe, ran into debt that same year and had to be sold. Both Müller and Kleist exchanged Dresden for Berlin, where Kleist started the Berliner Abendblätter in 1810. When his daily newspaper was shut down by the censor a year later, Kleist was left penniless and depressed. Unable to find a job or publish his work and given the cold shoulder by the Prussian aristocracy, Kleist committed suicide in 1811, together with his lover Henriette Vogel.
Frank Diersch (Berlin, 1965) is a painter and draughtsman from Berlin. Diersch was educated at the Akademie der Künste of that town and currently teaches at various art schools himself. He won the Egmont-Schaefer-Preis for Drawing in 1998 and the Brandenburgerischer Kunstförderpreis in 2016 . Diersch’s improvised but thoughtful drawings are a perfect companion to Kleist’s essay.