Destructive Force of Nature
Laura Isengard, M.A.: Destructive Force of Nature: the Narrated Catastrophe in the Literature of Poetic Realism
Especially in comparison with the rest of European literatures, the narrative texts of German-language realism are often accused of a so-called 'retreat into inwardness', the deliberate fading out of social tendencies in favor of a focus on individual fates, which are thus spatially limited to the domestic sphere. Nevertheless, one can observe repeatedly bursts of eruptive forces of nature in the literary works of that epoch.
As a genuinely liminal phenomenon between nature and culture, the narrative catastrophe not only initiates collective, at times specifically national coping strategies, as has already been stated repeatedly in literary research, but also appears as a literary topos reflecting on the balance of power between humankind and nature.
A striking parallel becomes apparent between scientific discourse and programmatic literary claims in the 19th century: in both cases the principles presumed to govern sensually perceivable phenomena are the central focus of interest.
Regarding the programmic writings, the question is: How can recurring postulations of regularity and the confirmation of potency of the realist fiction, which was at times instrumentalized in a determined distancing from Romantic fantasies, reveal the true forces behind the only superficially perceptible phenomena? How can they be applied against a seemingly contingent and destructive natural force?
Through which narrative procedures do the texts stage the divergence of human perception of an eruptive force of nature and the assumed laws of nature? How are perceptual discontinuities deployed in literary texts in order to reintegrate the absolute unlikelihood of a catastrophe into the assumed regularity and thus affirm it? To what extent does the narrated catastrophe, which always marks the exact point where knowledge and ignorance respectively not yet-knowledge intersect, on the one hand become a literary topos, where the texts allow to draw conclusions about the specific relationship between realism and fantasy? On the other hand, might it become a point of reflection on a genuinely poetic (cognitive) force in an age of increasing empiricism?
Natural catastrophes, which have been a prominently investigated subject in the cultural sciences and humanities for some time now, will be examined further in this project: Natural disasters will be examined in particular along the horizon of an emerging risk awareness in the 19th century, as well as regarding materialistic approaches to the relationship between humankind and nature, which manifest themselves in the narrative texts.