The Value Form: Economies of Prose in Tieck, Keller, and Walser
Taylor, Nathan James
This dissertation explores literary economies of prose in German-language literature from the 1830s to the early twentieth century, granting particular focus to questions of economic value. The problem of value, this study argues, becomes a central literary concern after the end of the Kunstperiode (Heine) when the question of literature’s relation to everyday life – the central problem of prosaic art – turns into a reflection on the value of literature as art, as commodity, as work. While value remains an elusive problem in aesthetic, economic, and moral discourses of the nineteenth and early-twentieth century, literary authors such as Ludwig Tieck, Gottfried Keller, and Robert Walser generate an arsenal of value forms (Marx) that, in different ways, interrogate and shape relations between literature and the world, life and art, work and play, and, most of all, the status of the economic in literary texts. I analyze three value forms in Tieck, Keller, and Walser: lack and surplus; credit and debt; performance (Leistung) and invention. The problem of prose’s value is literalized in Ludwig Tieck’s novella Des Lebens Überfluß (1838), which documents how a last-resort Romantic attempt to turn the lack of poetry in a prosaic world into surplus runs up against value’s sine qua non: finitude or, in Tieck’s novella, need. I then analyze relations of credit and debt in Gottfried Keller’s 1874 novella Kleider machen Leute, which, I argue, engages central discussions about what constitutes value in late-nineteenth-century political economy, philosophy, and aesthetics as it reframes the older narrative trope of fortune in terms of a capitalist transfiguration: the risky turn from insolvency to solvency and vice versa. A last chapter argues for a subtype of literary genre, which I call the Leistungsroman, and which I trace specifically to Robert Walser’s novel Der Gehülfe (1908). Walser’s novel about clerical work and the insolvency of an entrepreneurial engineer pivots not around the question of Bildung but around the clerical employee’s (often written) job performance in the context of a division of labor between invention and performance (Leistung). The move to a Leistungsroman enacts a transvaluation of the modern novel, and the values of human and literary innovation and productivity that underwrite it, by reconfiguring the novel’s relation to work, action, and invention.
Economy; Form; Life; Ninteenth Century; Prose; German literature; Economic theory; value
Fleming, Paul A.
Waite, Geoffrey Carter W; Adelson, Leslie Allen; McBride, Patrizia C.
Ph. D., Germanic Studies
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis