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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The paradox of sovereignty in modern German history plays
by Zelic, Tomislav, Ph.D., Columbia University, 2009, 301; 3348441
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation is the first attempt to read key history plays in the tradition of modern German literature with regards to the paradox of sovereignty. The paradox of sovereignty is that political entities break the law in order to protect the legal order in critical situations. In critical situations, political entities paradoxically break laws in order to protect the legal order. The investigation of modern German history plays ties in with the classical formulation of the paradox of sovereignty in order to enrich the conceptual framework for literary interpretations. It will be explored how history plays expose rulers whose symbolically political performances make the inevitable paradoxes of sovereignty invisible. It analyzes the theatrical and poetic character of verbal and nonverbal performative acts as represented in modern German history plays from the French Revolution to German Reunification. The question is how logical, legal, political, and ethical paradoxes arise from individual or collective claims to absolute sovereignty in different historical situations and constellations and what aesthetic procedures history plays use in order to criticize or affirm the historical and political discourse of absolute sovereignty that conceals underlying paradoxes.

The main part traces the paradox of sovereignty in selected modern German history plays from the early eighteenth through the twentieth century, from Kleist through Grabbe and Büchner to Brecht and Müller. It revolves around historical and dramatic figures of sovereignty from Hermann through Frederick William Elector of Brandenburg, Frederick II King of Prussia, and Napoleon I Emperor of France to Adolf Hitler, German Reichsführer, and Josef Stalin, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It deals with the foundation of the Germanic-German nation-state and the rise of Prussia in Kleist's patriotic plays Die Hermannsschlacht (Hermann's Battle) (1808) and Prinz Friedrich von Homburg (Prince Frederick of Homburg) (1811) in the first two chapters. It reconstructs the diversification of absolute sovereignty in Grabbe's Vormärz drama Napoleon oder die hundert Tage (Napoleone or the Hundred Days) (1830) in the third chapter and the permanent crisis of popular sovereignty during the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution in Bachner's Dantons Tod (Danton's Death) (1835) in the fourth chapter. It reconstructs the satire against absolute sovereignty in Brecht's Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui (The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui) (1941) in the fifth chapter and deals with the problem of popular sovereignty in divided Germany as presented in Müller's Germania Tod in Berlin (Germania Death in Berlin) (1971) in the sixth chapter. The conclusion draws together various strings of the previous chapters and presents some thoughts on the reasons why history plays and political drama about German Reunification do not deal with the paradox of absolute sovereignty.

The investigation into the paradox of sovereignty in history plays can teach us a lesson about modern nation-states, opportunities and risks, hopes and fears, successes and failures attached to it. It will elucidate the aesthetic dimension of rhetoric, poetics, and theatrics in political communication. It may help us in demystifying the phantasm of absolute sovereignty in the history of the past and present. Before analyzing selected history plays in detail, a few preliminary remarks will outline the project and introduce the main concepts. First, there is the paradox of sovereignty as theorized in early modern political theory since the Renaissance, and secondly, performative, or more precisely, declarative acts as theorized in the philosophy of language, and finally theatricality and performativity of sovereignty as theorized in theater studies.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Mueller, Harro
School: Columbia University
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 70/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Germanic literature, Philosophy, Theater, Modern history
Keywords: German literature, Germany, History, History plays, Philosophy, Politics, Sovereignty
Publication Number: 3348441
ISBN: 978-1-109-04165-1
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