Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Erratic: Fictions of Movement in Goethe, Stifter, and Benjamin
by Groves, Jason Nathaniel van Nostrand, Ph.D., Yale University, 2012, 216; 3525212
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation aggravates the problem of an unarticulated ground in the tradition of the literary walk. It registers a turn in modern German literature from a well-documented reception of monolithic landforms and catastrophic events to an overlooked reception by this literature of the microliths, erratic blocks, and unconsolidated heaps of debris that not only become the subject of intense scrutiny in the geosciences around 1800 but also become the instigators and receptors of shifting aesthetic regimes. As it unfolds on the following pages, however, the "erratic" extends beyond the constraints of a naturalistic object in order to support inquiry into a range of discontinuous movements of bodies and time. At the basis of this operation is a poetics of the step and the stepwise, which promises to shake up established poetologies of walking.

In order to address the highly unsettled and deeply unsettling experience of an erratic terrain, the thesis unearths an alternative mode of shock revitalized by Walter Benjamin in the word Erschütterung. Capitalizing on Benjamin's argument that this form of shock can be resolved into the structurally deficient word schütter ("thin" or "sparse"), section 2 looks at presentations of unconsolidated mineral formations in Adalbert Stifter's stories as a displaced form of shock—a repressed reaction to the mass uprisings in 1848, for example. Section 1 traces a shift in Goethe's geological writings from his early texts on the unshakeability of granite to the later writings dealing exclusively with those displaced blocks of granite terminologically defined as "erratics." While the erratic never secures a stabile place in Goethe's theory of the earth, nor in his vocabulary, the repressed returns in other iterations: the sprawling novel "Wilhelm Meister's Journeyman Years" [Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre] (1821/1829) accommodates and articulates the very discontinuity that Goethe's more straightforwardly discursive writings would not admit. In section 3 the shuddering steps taken by an unnamed mountaineer shatters the shape of time in Benjamin's prose miniature "Downhill" [Bergab], succinctly articulating in a body and image space the erratic temporality, aberrant movements, and unarticulated ground that are traced throughout a detailed account of his poetics of the step.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Nagele, Rainer
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 73/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Germanic literature
Keywords: Benjamin, Walter, Geopoetics, Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, Language, Stifter, Adalbert, Walking
Publication Number: 3525212
ISBN: 978-1-267-57501-2
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