E.T.A. Hoffmann’s capriccio Princess Brambilla explores a narrative realm of liminality and metamorphosis that reveals the fundamental instability of our most basic epistemological distinctions. Set during the irreverent days of the Roman carnival, Brambilla delights in a disorienting chaos of masks, costumes, dream images and hallucinations as Hoffmann pulls all the stops in a fantastical narrative of extraordinary complexity. The text unfolds a carnivalesque universe that – in the spirit of Early German Romantic irony – plays with the inescapable mediatory “distortions” brought about by the structures of human consciousness itself. Just as the carnival is a ritual of life-affirming renewal, Hoffmann’s self-reflexive narrative, too, is a story of change and healing, in which the self comes to understand that it has no access to a stable and unmediated self-knowledge. If this moment of insight initially appears as a near-psychotic threat to the very basis of identity, the laughter it triggers is ultimately a laughter of liberation. The self, now reconstituted in the mirror of laughter, the textual movement of meta-narrative irony, comes to embrace itself as a process of continuous change, a recognition that then allows it to be made whole in the mediatory gaze of another.
Schlutz, Alexander. "The Mirror of Laughter: Mediation, Self-Reflection, and Healing in E.T.A. Hoffmann's Princess Brambilla." European Romantic Review 22, no.3 (June 2011): 415-22.