How are we to consider Hermann Broch’s theory of values in Die Schlafwandler? The answer is, at least partly, to be found in the analysis of the nature of the Zerfall der Werte itself and the overall theory contained in the novel, raising the question of Essayismus.
This paper will focus, first, on the reasons why the Zerfall der Werte chapters have been considered as an “essay”, through a comparison with essays published in Europe during the 1910’s-1930’s, to establish what these and the essayistic sequences have in common, and the differences between the latter and the narrative; yet it will appear that one cannot conclude that the essayistic chapters belong to a genre other than the novel in which they are inserted.
In consequence, the question of the fictional nature of the Zerfall der Werte chapters will be raised, through an analysis of other forms of theory in the same novel, of the interaction between the story and the essayistic chapters, of the unique I which is in charge of the story and the essayistic discourse in Die Schlafwandler, and finally of the examples borrowed by the essayistic sequences from the stories. At last, this paper will evoke the importance and the limits of this form of “essay” in Die Schlafwandler, its relationship to modernity and the historical moment, its movement towards totality, and its capacity to approach knowledge.