Politics of the Creature: Geological Figures of German Modernism

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This dissertation examines the return of an emphatic understanding of natural history in German literary texts from the Weimar Republic and the post-war period. Natural history in these texts emerges as a paradoxical temporal scheme that allows for deciphering the present and divining the future by reconstructing the remote past in disciplines as diverse as geology, ecology, and genetics. Specifically, I survey the frequent references to nonhuman time embedded in philosophical and literary texts from the 1920s-1970s through the trope of the Kreatur: a “creaturely” condition that inscribes “nature” within new forms of temporality conceptualized in analogy with Earth's phenomena. As I argue, Modernist articulations of “the creature” propose a conceptual interrelation of evolutionary time, the cosmos, and political events that, in philosophical texts collected in the Weimar-era journal Die Kreatur (1926-1930), literary criticism by Walter Benjamin, and poetry by Paul Celan, describes both human and non-human vulnerability to catastrophic violence. As a figure of human dispossession whose range spans mental distress, corporeal frailty, and poverty, the Modernist creature offers a useful index for theorizing our temporal perception of the environment today. Overall, the creaturely trope functions as a means for displacing anthropocentric historical narratives and for offering a new perception of the environment that draws on deep geological time. Focusing on its framing through deep time, I reconstruct a cultural history of the creature based on the emergence of deep time in philosophical practices.

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creature; creaturely life; history of ideas; Kreatur; modernism; Walter Benjamin


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McBride, Patrizia

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Fleming, Paul
Pinkus, Karen

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Germanic Studies

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Ph. D., Germanic Studies

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International


dissertation or thesis

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