Beyond Naturalism: Embodiment, Agency & Aesthetics of Natural Forces in Art, Literature and Sciences
Dr. Adrian Renner: Beyond Naturalism: Embodiment, Agency and Aesthetics of Natural Forces in Art, Literature and Sciences (1850-1920)
As a result of new scientific developments in chemistry, physics and physiology and the thermodynamic principle of the conservation of energy from 1840 onwards, nature is regarded as set of quantities whose laws are described through mathematical models or material processes. However, nature is equally conceived as force in qualitative terms within the cultural reception of natural sciences and within art and literature. Especially the literary movement of Naturalism relies on notions of natural forces in order to grasp social and cultural dynamics that determine individual behavior and the laws of cultural development. On the one hand, Nature as a dynamic and active forces is articulated as an energetic reservoir that can be accessed and appropriated by human culture; on the other hand, nature is seen as a dark, powerful or unconscious counterforce to human life.
The valorization of natural forces during the age of industrialization and societal change at the late 19th century hinges on aesthetic assumptions and transfers between natural and cultural phenomena. Using the conceptual analysis of nature as force within the natural sciences and the representation of nature within naturalism as its point of departure, the research projects investigates the aesthetic investment with forces within literature, the natural sciences and cultural theories of modernity during the late 19th century. The project seeks to delineate the aesthetic strategies of embodiment, agency and cultural transfers by which forces acquire a life of their own: Within modernism, forces become embodied, oftenly strongly gendered agents situated on the boundaries nature and culture, surrounding the modern human being as nature and acting within or against him or her within society. By setting questions of aesthetics, literary form and set by side with the history of natural science and their implicit aesthetic and poetic assumptions, the research project aims at writing a genealogy of natural forces as a central modernist category ranging from thermodynamics, physiology and Nietzschean philosophy to Naturalism, Symbolism and the Lebensreform movements.