The automat

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Automate is a story by ETA Hoffmann , which was written between January 5th and 15th, 1814 and was published in August Mahlmann's Leipzig newspaper for the elegant world from April 7th to 16th of the same year . In 1819 the text in the third section of the second volume of the collection " The Serapion Brothers " was published by G. Reimer in Berlin.

Kempelen's chess Turk was probably the model for ETA Hoffmann's intelligent automaton. In keeping with the fragmentary character of the text, contemporary literary criticism was mostly at a loss. The interpreter in today's age of automatons is no different. So perhaps the emphasis of the interpretation should be placed on the musical instrument theoretical part of the short story.


The automaton that gives the title is a mechanical doll, more precisely a "talking Turk" on display, whose answers to questions whispered in the right ear of the automaton are sometimes astonishing. No one in the whole city has an explanation for the phenomenon. The supervisor, called the artist, is really not a ventriloquist .

Two academic friends, the musician Ludwig and the poet Ferdinand, want to stay away from the fuss, but then go there. Ferdinand asks the talking Turk about his secret East Prussian lover, a beautiful young singer, whose portrait he wears concealed on his chest. The talking Turk inexplicably knows about the body's hiding place and still oracles: “If you see her again, you've lost her!” The poet is horrified and seeks clarification from Mr. X, a well-known professor of physics and chemistry. The hochbejahrte, altfränkisch dressed scholars with the unsympathetic voice and the glare is also a jukebox collector systems. The musical mechanics of his flute player are impressive. But Ludwig thinks that the perfect tone cannot come out of any automaton, but must be close to nature. In the conversation about “higher musical mechanics”, which is based on Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert's “Views from the Night Side of Natural Science”, the Aeolian harp is also discussed , the sound of which “irresistibly grabs our minds”. The two friends “feel an inner horror” when they listen to a concert of nature with Professor X. in the garden: “He [the Professor] walked slowly and measuredly up and down the aisle, but in his movement everything became around him Lively and lively, and everywhere crystalline sounds flickered up from the dark bushes and trees and streamed, united in a wonderful concert, like flames of fire through the air, penetrating into the heart of the mind and igniting it to the highest delight of heavenly anticipations. Twilight had fallen, the professor disappeared into the hedges, and the notes died away in pianissimo. ”The wonderful evening concert is reminiscent of the singing of the beautiful East Prussian. Afterwards, Ludwig agrees with Ferdinand - the professor and Ferdinand's foreign East Prussian lover must be in some mysterious relationship. After Ferdinand was called to East Prussia by his father, he had a strange encounter on the way there. At a post office, the singer is about to marry a Russian officer in the presence of Professor X. The oracle of the speaking Turk has come true.

Ludwig, who learns of the process by letter, can hardly believe it and is concerned about the friend's “shattered state of mind”. Because Professor X. has not left the city.


In 1847 Konrad Schwenck doubts the sense of the story: “The whole thing ... shouldn't have been written.” Kaiser sees the text as something like a haunted story. Ferdinand is attacked by a "foreign power".

Questions about questions remain open. ETA Hoffmann's admiration for the talking Turk does not take the reader one step further: “There is no doubt at all that a human being, by means of hidden and unknown acoustic and optical devices, is in such connection with the questioner that it sees and hears him and whisper answers to him again. The fact that no one, even among our skilled mechanics, has even in the least got on the track of how this connection can be made, shows that the artist's means must be very ingeniously invented, and from this point of view his work of art certainly deserves the greatest Attention."

Segebrecht and Keil express themselves in more detail:

In this regard, Segebrecht refers to the very justified criticism of Serapion's brother Ottmar - alias Julius Eduard Hitzig - at the end of the story: “... is that all? Where is the enlightenment, how did it go with Ferdinand, with Professor X., with the lovely singer, with the Russian officer? ”The author Theodor excuses himself that he only presented a fragment with which he“ the fantasy of the Readers "want to stimulate. Even more, Theodor shares an experience: "Many a fragment of a witty story penetrates deep into my soul." The basic unanswered question is: How did the speaking Turk get the answer: "- turn the picture around!" It seems as if Segebrecht does not want to endorse Carl Georg von Maassen's devastating judgment, according to which ETA Hoffmann the towering technical barrier to the solution of this riddle had "grown over his head, as it were". Rather, Segebrecht speaks out in favor of the antithesis, according to which that unresolved riddle was intended by ETA Hoffmann as he wrote it down. Accordingly, the reader should neither find the solution nor believe in the machine.

A completely different explanation is based on the assumption that the musician ETA Hoffmann is actually pondering about the production of the ideal tone or sound through instruments and not so much about automata. Keil claims that the singer, whose voice Ferdinand had so impressed in East Prussia, is the daughter of Professor X. And as the head behind the talking Turk, you don't have to be that artist, but the professor who collects or collects music machines can also be built, imagine.

Schulz gives a summary. Segebrecht names works by Dietrich Kreplin (Bonn 1957), Bernhild Boie (1981), William Arctander O'Brien (1989), Peter Gendolla (Heidelberg 1992) and Christine Maillard (1992).


The first edition in the Serapion Brothers

  • The automata in: The Serapion Brothers. Collected stories and fairy tales. Published by ETA Hoffmann. Second volume. Berlin 1819. With G. Reimer. 614 pp.

Used edition

  • ETA Hoffmann: Die Automate S. 396-429 in: Wulf Segebrecht (Ed.): ETA Hoffmann: The Serapions Brothers. German classic publisher in paperback. Vol. 28. Frankfurt am Main 2008, ISBN 978-3-618-68028-4 (corresponds to: Vol. 4 in: Wulf Segebrecht (Ed.): "ETA Hoffmann: Complete Works in Seven Volumes", Frankfurt am Main 2001)

Secondary literature

  • Gerhard R. Kaiser: ETA Hoffmann. Metzler, Stuttgart 1988, ISBN 3-476-10243-2 . (Metzler Collection; 243; realities on literature)
  • Gerhard Schulz : The German literature between the French Revolution and the restoration. Part 2. The Age of the Napoleonic Wars and the Restoration: 1806–1830. C. H. Beck, Munich 1989, ISBN 3-406-09399-X .
  • Werner Keil: The automatic machines. S. 332–337 in: Detlef Kremer (Ed.): ETA Hoffmann. Life - work - effect. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-11-018382-5


  1. ETA Hoffmann means the plural in the title: Die Automaten.
  2. ↑ In favor of the father-daughter relationship, the professor stands in the wedding scene at the post office behind the bridal-clad singer and can catch her when she faints and sinks (edition used, p. 427, 1st Zvo).

Individual evidence

  1. Segebrecht, p. 1377 middle
  2. Segebrecht, p. 1390, 13. Zvo
  3. Segebrecht, p. 1221, 4. Zvo and p. 1681 middle
  4. Keil cited on p. 333, 15. Zvo: Peter Gendolla: Anatomien deruppe . On the history of the machine people at Jean Paul , ETA Hoffmann, Villiers de L'Isle-Adam and Hans Bellmer . Heidelberg 1992 and Claudia Lieb: The Asked Turk. Wolfgang von Kempelen's machines and ETA Hoffmann's story “Die Automate”. Hoffmann Yearbook 2008, p. 82.
  5. Keil, p. 332, 6th Zvu
  6. quoted in Keil, pp. 333,14. Zvu: Lothar Pikulik: ETA Hoffmann as the narrator. A comment on the "Serapions Brothers". Göttingen 1987, p. 122
  7. Keil, p. 332, 10th Zvu
  8. Edition used, p. 408, 14. Zvo
  9. ^ Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert: Views from the night side of natural science. Arnoldische Buchhandlung, Dresden 1808. ( digitized versionhttp: //vorlage_digitalisat.test/ double-sided%3D~LT%3D~ PUR% 3D )
  10. Edition used, pp. 424, 37. Zvo
  11. Schwenck, quoted in Segebrecht, p. 1391, 18. Zvo
  12. Kaiser, p. 70, 18. Zvu
  13. Edition used, p. 400, 8. Zvo
  14. Segebrecht, pp. 1377-1398
  15. Segebrecht, p. 1393 above
  16. Edition used, p. 427, 31. Zvo to p. 428, 29. Zvo
  17. Edition used, p. 408, 8. Zvo
  18. quoted in Segebrecht: CG von Maassen: ETA Hoffmann. Complete Works. Historical-critical edition with introductions, notes and readings. Vol. 6, foreword pp. XL-XLIII. 9 volumes. Georg Müller, Munich 1908–1928
  19. Segebrecht, p. 1392, 6. Zvo
  20. Segebrecht, p. 1393, 3. Zvo
  21. Keil, p. 336 below
  22. Edition used, p. 396, 27. Zvo
  23. Schulz, p. 438, 8. Zvo
  24. Segebrecht, p. 1671, under "Die Automate"
  25. Segebrecht in the edition used, p. 1221 above

Web links