When a literary work proves to be open to ever new (valid) interpretations, we can be certain that it represents a truly great piece of literature. This is the case with the Nibelungenlied which is here viewed in light of modern sociological theory regarding communication and communicative action as defined by Jürgen Habermas, Richard Rorty, and Karl-Otto Apel, among others. Certainly, this epic poem is characterized by its heroic features, as battles, slaughter, destiny, and fate dominate all events. Nevertheless, a close reading of relevant passages also demonstrates that some of the protagonists are seriously concerned about the role of human language and its function within society. The theory of communicative action proves to be surprisingly applicable for the critical examination of the Nibelungenlied and also for the subsequent Diu Klage in which the Armageddon which has befallen the Burgundian heroes, is profoundly mourned. Whereas the former poem illustrates the tragedy when human language is misused, or simply disregarded as an essential vehicle for the communicative community, the latter outlines avenues out of the calamity especially by way of language and a return to this lost community.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Linguistics and Language
- Literature and Literary Theory