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The Technological Unconscious in German Modernist Literature

The Technological Unconscious in German Modernist Literature: Nature in Rilke, Benn, Brecht, and Döblin

Larson Powell
Volume: 20
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    The Technological Unconscious in German Modernist Literature
    Book Description:

    Even after the end of modernism and postmodernism, grandiose fantasies of artifice and self-reference still resonate in the "social constructivism" of current literary and cultural theory: in the idea that we can perform or construct "identities" or social roles without external constraint, as if we had consumer choice of self. Larson Powell's book posits nature as a limit to such fantasies, redefining aesthetic modernity's conception of and relation to nature and therefore its relation to reality. Powell's term "the Technological Unconscious" refers both to the intersection between psychoanalysis and theories of modernism and to the philosophical mediation between history and nature, a motif important from Kant to Adorno. The book's four chapters center on the representation of nature in German prose and -- especially -- poetry by Rilke, Benn, Brecht, and Döblin from the years 1900 to 1945. In connection with these works, Powell analyzes the conceptions of subject and system in the theories of Adorno, Luhmann, and Lacan and their relation to their complement, nature. 'The Technological Unconscious' is thus an important polemical intervention both in the debates over interdisciplinarity and in those between eclectic "culturalist" theories such as New Historicism and postcolonialism on the one hand and systems theory and psychoanalysis on the other. Larson Powell is assistant professor of German at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-807-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    L. P.
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    Our current horizon of ecological disaster has made catastrophe theory into something far more immediate than a mathematical problem. After decades of cyberfashion and grandiose claims for virtual reality and post-history, Nature has returned to History in a form as apocalyptic as was the Cold War threat of nuclear destruction. Even in commercial cinema, the sublime fantasy of disaster films now includes the destructive effects of global warming (in Roland Emmerich’s 2004 The Day After Tomorrow). Theories of a supposed “clash of civilizations” must then coexist with theories of the perishability of all human civilization as such. So Jared Diamond,...

  5. 1: The Limits of Technocracy
    (pp. 20-65)

    Near the end of his life, in the 1990s, Niklas Luhmann¹ was shocked at the sight of the Brazilian favelas, a sight that appeared to shatter the confines of theoretical explanation or even simple description. For a moment, Luhmann was forced to step out of the jumbo jet of high theory and adopt the low-level eyewitness perspective of an ethnographer:

    Anyone who dares to make a trip to the favelas of the big South American cities and succeeds in leaving them alive can attest to this. [. . .] Even a trip to the settlements left behind as a result...

  6. 2: Rilke’s Unnatural Things: From the End of Landscape to the Dinggedicht
    (pp. 66-96)

    The breakthrough into painterly abstraction around 1900 is associated with the concrete names of local natural places: L’Estaque, Murnau, and earliest of all, Worpswede. In the wide open space of Worpswede’s heather and moor, nature itself seemed to strain toward its expression in pure abstract spaces of light and color, spaces whose bareness suggest the subjectivity of Stimmung or mood. “For a few years around the turn of the century, it seemed as if nature painting and avantgarde modernism could enter into a productive liaison.”¹ The liaison took the form of what Adorno would later call a Kulturlandschaft, a landscape...

  7. 3: Nature on Stage: Gottfried Benn — Beyond the Aesthetics of Shock?
    (pp. 97-133)

    That the pleasures of nature may have been, in the German case, guilty ones was overtly acknowledged in Gottfried Benn’s Morgue und andere Gedichte (1912). This first published collection, which established his literary reputation straightway, begins with a famously sardonic burial of a little aster inside a human corpse during an autopsy.

    Ein ersoffener Bierfahrer wurde auf den Tisch gestemmt. Irgendeiner hatt ihm eine dunkelhellila Aster Zwischen die Zähne geklemmt. Als ich von der Brust aus unter der Haut mit einem langen Messer Zunge und Gaumen herausschnitt, muss ich sie angestossen haben, denn sie glitt in das nebenliegende Gehirn.Ich packte...

  8. 4: The Limits of Violence: Döblin’s Colonial Nature
    (pp. 134-177)

    Few modern German writers have been as extensively occupied with non-European cultures as Alfred Döblin. From the Expressionist China of Die drei Sprünge des Wang-lun (1915) to the Marinetti-influenced African passages of Berge Meere und Giganten (1924), the rewriting of Indian myth in Manas (1927), and the explicitly colonial epic of Amazonas (1937/8–1947/8), along with countless literary and philosophical essays drawing on Asian religious traditions, Döblin transformed the exoticist and Orientalist inheritance of the turn of the century into a specifically historical investigation of other cultures, in their relation to European and technological modernity. Moreover, this tension is one...

  9. 5: Nature as Paradox: Brecht’s Exile Lyric
    (pp. 178-226)

    Working between disciplines ought not to mean simply blurring their boundaries, or worse, colonizing one discipline by means of another. Yet this is what a great deal of recent literary studies has done, indulging in deluded assertions of juridical omnipotence over other fields, which grow all the louder the more quixotically isolated and jargonridden literary scholarship becomes. Against this tendency, interdisciplinarity ought to serve as a healthy curb to those sorts of totalizing fantasies, as a gentle reminder of the limits of purely rhetorical analysis. History and society are not, after all, just texts.

    The by now considerable field of...

  10. Appendix: Niklas Luhmann
    (pp. 227-230)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 231-250)
  12. Index
    (pp. 251-256)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-257)