Nature and/as Theory

Peter Gilgen is an associate professor of German studies at Cornell University. He works on philosophy and literature in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and has also published numerous essays on aesthetics; lyric poetry from the Middle Ages to the 21st century; contemporary theory (especially systems theory); and the university. Books: Lektüren der Erinnerung: Lessing Kant Hegel (Munich: Fink, 2012); Unterlandschaft (Eggingen: Edition Isele, 1999).

Intimations of the Posthuman: Kant’s Natural Beauty - My paper argues that Kant’s account of natural beauty charts a course that avoids the pitfalls of the art-centered aesthetics that arose in his wake, and which has dominated aesthetic theorizing ever since. Whereas Kant’s epistemology has been charged by posthumanist thinkers with the cardinal error of having succumbed to correlationism—the division of the world into mind and being—his aesthetic theory and especially its account of natural beauty have been revived and revised by posthumanists as a remedy against traditional, humanist aesthetics. Yet Kant’s investigation of aesthetic judgment and the beauty of nature also offers a necessary corrective to the problematic lack of distinctions in posthumanist theories, not without adumbrating the constitutive and profoundly posthuman alienness of the natural aesthetic object.

Johannes Wankhammer is an Assistant Professor at Princeton University. He holds a PhD in German Studies from Cornell University (2016) and an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Binghamton University (2009). Johannes currently works on a monograph on the eighteenth-century fascination with attention, which excavates a transdisciplinary discourse on Aufmerksamkeit (attention) that was critical both to early scientific method and to the emergence of aesthetics as a discipline from Baumgarten to Herder. Published projects in this context include articles on Johann Jakob Breitinger’s poetics of attention and on the concept of contingency at the intersection of eighteenth-century cosmology and poetics.

The Nature of Critique — My paper explores the entanglement of the concepts of “nature” and “critique.” I argue that (1) the modern concept of critique is defined by an opposition to nature in the sense of the merely given that continues to animate contemporary critical projects. I then diagnose that (2) traditional critique is ill-equipped to deal with social and ecological crises that rather seem to call for reasoned objection to the infinite malleability of human and non-human natures. The talk concludes by outlining (3) a self-critique of critique by means of rethinking critique’s relation to givens of nature.

Marius Reisener: 2006–2009 Bachelor-Studium der Literatur, Kultur und Medien Wissenschaften an der Universität Siegen; 2010–2014 Master-Studium in Neuerer deutscher Literatur an der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin; seit 2014 Promotion an der HU Berlin mit Aufenthalten an der Cornell University zum Thema „Gender und Genre. Metaphern der Männlichkeit in Romanpoetiken des 19. Jahrhunderts“; seit 2015 Mitglied des internationalen Doktorand_inne-Netzwerks „PhD-Net: Das Wissen der Literatur“; seit 2017 Stipendiat der fazit-Stiftung; seit September 2017 Research Fellow an der Cornell University als DAAD Stipendiat.

"Wahr ist’s, das Leben schwebt gern in der Mitte". Poietische und Lebens-Formen zwischen den Geschlechtern bei Friedrich Schlegel — In meinem Vortrag gehe ich einerseits der frühromantischen Praxis der Symphilosophie als Formungsprozess von Poesie durch Emergenz nach. Andererseits zeige ich, wie das dort kommunizierte Ideal von Lebens- und Geschlechterformen nicht in der Auflösung der Geschlechter, sondern in ihrer dialektischen Selbst-Überschreitung besteht. Indem ich F.Schlegels Gespräch über die Poesie (1800) und Über die Philosophie. An Dorothea (1799) zueinander in Dialog setze, zeige ich, dass ein transgressiver und emphatischer Geschlechterbegriff, der der „Natur/Kultur“-Unterscheidung von Geschlechtlichkeit eine Perspektive der Zukünftigkeit und des Werdens von Geschlecht entgegenstellt, der Motor Schlegels Ästhetik ist, die sich auch auf die Konzeptionalisierung des Romans, seiner Formen und denen des Lebens auswirkt.

Goethe's Nature

Jennifer Caisley is a first-year PhD student within the Department of German and Dutch at the University of Cambridge (UK) where she is supervised by Dr. Charlotte Lee. She completed her undergraduate and MPhil degrees within the same department, and now researches the interplay between literary and scientific texts during the Long Eighteenth Century. Her previous conference experience includes a presentation on Hoffmann and the Unheimliche at the National German Undergraduate Conference in Cambridge (UK), where she has also acted as a mentor and panel chair, a paper given at NYU (USA) on the seductive narrative techniques used in Goethe’s novel Die Wahlverwandtschaften, and the organisation of the Peterhouse Graduate Symposium in Cambridge (UK).

"Da ist für mich nichts Neues zu erfahren": Re-Visiting Goethe's Geological Writings — Geology (or, more specifically, Goethe’s writings on geology) is allegedly uninspiring, outdated and static: this is the view often taken both by characters within Goethe’s fiction works and critics on the Geologische Schriften themselves. However, by focusing on the transient, rather than the permanent, elements of the geological writings, it is possible to view these writings as a cutting-edge exploration of the immateriality inherent in the material environment which surrounds us. This paper draws on contemporary (im)material culture studies to investigate the timelessness of geological objects, and, by extension, their modernity.

May Mergenthaler (Ph.D. Princeton University, 2007) is Associate Professor in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at Ohio State University. Her research and teaching currently focuses on literature, culture, and thought of Romanticism and the Goethezeit; poetry; the public sphere as concept and practice; and Ecocriticism and Environmental Humanities. Currently, May Mergenthaler is working a monograph (working title: Zwischen Klima und Kosmos: Lyrische Sonnenfiguren) that investigates representations of the sun in German poetry of the late 18th and early 19th centuries (Goethe, Hölderlin, Novalis, Günderrode), combining ecocritical with other critical and traditional approaches to literature. She has published Zwischen Eros und Mitteilung: Die Frühromantik im Symposion der “Athenaeums-Fragmente” (Paderborn et al.: Schöningh, 2012) explores the project of Early Romanticism as a collaborative writing endeavor between members of Jena Romantic circle, modeled on and critically adapting Plato’s Symposium, as well as articles and reviews in her research areas. Together with Bernd Fischer, she has edited a volume on Cultural Transformations of the Public Sphere (Oxford et al.: Lang, 2015) that explores tensions between the perceived need for a public, universally accessible sphere of rational discourse as a means of creating consensus in society and controlling state governments (as conceived by Jürgen Habermas), on the one hand, and individual identities, cultures, or belief systems, on the other.

Ecocriticism and Literary History: Goethe's Figures of Light — Focusing on the example of the figure of sunlight in Goethe’s “Maifest,” the paradigmatic poem of the modern, Romantic lyric (Wellbery 1997), this paper will present the (to my knowledge) first ecopoetic interpretation of this poem that avoids subsuming it anachronistically to a contemporary agenda, or to a quest for “knowledge” (Wissen), while avoiding a return to New Criticism’s immanent, formalistic approach, or to calls for a subjective aesthetic experience. “Maifest” will emerge from this analysis as a complex adaptation of various literary, cultural, and scientific traditions.

Nature and Media

Thomas Beebee is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of German and Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University - University Park. His specializations include epistolarity, eighteenth-century literature, translation (theory, practice, and literary mimesis), mental maps in literature, law and literature, bibliotrauma and bibliomachia. His most recent books are Conjunctions and Disjunctions of German Law and Literature (Continuum 2011), Transmesis: Inside Translation’s Black Box (Palgrave-MacMillan, 2012), and the edited volume German Literature as World Literature (Bloomsbury, 2014). Beebee is editor-in-chief of the journal Comparative Literature Studies, and general editor of the Bloomsbury series, Literatures as World Literature.

Vampyroteuthis infernalis and You: the Biosemiotics of Vilém Flusser — Environmentalism, ecocriticism, and anthropocene studies suffer from the same, singular paradox: the concern for nature and the environment that gives these approaches their power and sense of urgency comes from and addresses human rationality and emotion, rather than deriving from the natural world that humans are abusing. The natural world only rarely sends distress signals that humans can read as directly accusatory towards their own activity or as moral directives; there are instead two closed loops of communication, cultural and natural. Posthumanism in at least one of its stylings gives one response to this dilemma, inasmuch as it seeks to trouble the boundary between human and animal. A provocative effort in this direction is Vilém Flusser and Louis Bec's Vampyroteuthis Infernalis: Eine Abhandlung Samt Befund Des Institut Scientifique De Recherche Paranaturaliste (Göttingen: Immatrix, 1987), in which ecoinformatics serves an umbrella concept for eco-art, posthumanism, and scientific parody. While the animal in the title, a type of deep-sea squid, is real, the Institute of Paranatural Science is not. Para- here means "parallel" in the sense that links are always drawn between the squid and human activity. The confounding of genres and media -- Bec's contributions are paintings of imagined sea creatures -- grounds the reversal of perspective, as the vampire squid is ventriloquized to contemplate humans, and fragile cultural memory pales before the robustness of genetic memory, and both become footnotes in the larger theme of anti-entropic ecoinformatics. This paper will address the Kantian sublimity of Flusser's approach, and the possibilities it gives for an alternative eco-criticism.

Paul Dobryden is Assistant Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia. He has published essays on Weimar cinema, amusement park culture, and the avant- garde, and co-edited the volume Hans Richters ‘Rhythmus 21’: Schlüsselfilm der Moderne (Königshausen & Neumann, 2012). His most recent essay, on artificial environments in the writing of Paul Scheerbart, was published in the volume Phänomene der Atmosphäre: Ein Kompendium literarischer Meterologie. He is currently working on a manuscript titled Industrial Light and Air: German Cinema in the Age of Hygiene, which explores intersections between silent film culture and efforts to manage urban environments.

Teaching Urban Hygiene: Kulturfilm and the Nature of the City — This paper examines two educational films (Kulturfilme) of the Weimar period in relation to the applied science of Stadthygiene, or “urban hygiene.” Proponents and practitioners of this discipline aimed to mitigate the effects on industrialization on the urban population through infrastructure, green spaces, and other initiatives. Films made to educate audiences about urban hygiene included Im Strudel des Verkehrs (1925), on urban traffic, and Die Stadt von Morgen. Ein Film vom Städtebau (1930), which offered a planner’s perspective. Together the films addressed two crucial aspects of urban hygiene—environmental adaptation and ecological management.

Nature, Mediated

Jeroen Gerrits is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Binghamton University, where he teaching courses on intersections between film, new media, literature and philosophy. Jeroen's book manuscript, entitled Cinematic Skepticism: Across Digital and Global Turns, connects the film philosophies of Gilles Deleuze and Stanley Cavell, evaluating them in light of recent developments in the field. It is currently under review with SUNY Press. He also published a variety of essays on cinema, TV series, and film-philosophy.

Grizzly Man, Or: The Nature of the Nature Film in the Digital Age — In his 2004 docufiction film Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog documents the actual life and death of Timothy Treadwell, a man eaten alive by one of the bears he set out to record and protect in a remote Alaskan peninsula. In so doing, Herzog contrasts Treadwell’s romantic view of nature with his own darker version of it. In this paper I will argue that, beyond these contrasting views on the nature of nature, we can find a more implicit reflection on the nature of (the nature-) film in the digital age.

Harald Höbusch received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine, in 1996. He is currently an Associate Professor of German at the University of Kentucky. He is a co-editor for Colloquia Germanica. His research focuses on 20th century German Cultural Studies, especially sports history (mountaineering). In 2016, he published Mountain of Destiny: Nanga Parbat and Its Path into the German Imagination (Rochester, NY: Camden House).

Beyond the Precipice: The Amplification of Nature —- In March 2007, the Grand Canyon Skywalk opened at the South Rim of one of the largest geological features on Earth. Since then, similar structures have been built around the world, primarily in the European Alps, but also in Norway, Canada, and China, featuring either a glass floor or a perforated walking surface through which the spectator may gain a view of the deep below, thereby combining a natural geological feature with an artificial, man-made structure. In my presentation I intend to make sense of this skywalk phenomenon by approaching it from four different angles: the pressures of economic/touristic development, Kant’s notion of the sublime, the concept of the simulacrum, and the phenomenon of the hyperreal. My intent with this presentation is to trigger further reflection upon and discussion of this recent “amplification of nature.”

Ecopoetics and Literature

Brian McInnis is Lecturer of German at the Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. His research interests span from 1700 to the present and include the discourse of body and soul in the long eighteenth century, Lessing as a cultural critic, and the interplay of science and literature from 1700 to the present. He is currently writing an essay on Johanna Charlotte Unzer. He has presented at conferences organized by ASECS, ISECS, the GSA, and the MLA.

Franz Hohler's Popular Ecopoetics -- This paper analyzes Hohler's short form environmental thriller Die Rückeroberung according to how Western dualisms alienate humans from their community, including the natural world. In the essay "Ecological Thought and Literature in Europe and Germany," Hubert Zapf argues that literature not only represents and negotiates the culture-nature relationship, but as an aesthetic product transforms human experience within discourses on culture. Zapf proposes that this cultural ecology of literature promotes a triadic model of a cultural-critical discourse, an imaginative counterdiscourse, and a reintegrative interdiscourse. This talk evaluates how ecocriticism and cultural ecology inform Hohler's culture-nature conflict.

Thomas Eder, Literaturwissenschaftler, lebt in Wien. Leiter des Referats für Publikationen im Bundeskanzleramt der Republik Österreich, Lehrbeauftragter am Institut für Germanistik der Universität Wien, Leiter der Sparte Literatur im kunsthaus muerzzuschlag, redaktionelle Mitarbeit in der Zeitschrift »Wespennest«. Forschungsschwerpunkte: Kognitive Poetik, Literaturtheorie und Sprachphilosophie, literarische Moderne und Dichtung der (Neo-)Avantgarde. Zahlreiche Publikationen, zuletzt: Franz Josef Czernin. Hg. München: edition text + kritik 2017 (Neo-Avantgarden Bd.7), Selbstbeobachtung. Oswald Wieners Denkpsychologie. Hg. mit Thomas Raab, Berlin: Suhrkamp 2015, Konrad Bayer. Texte, Bilder, Sounds. Hg. mit Klaus Kastberger, Wien: Zsolnay 2015. Auszeichnungen: U. a. erhielt Eder den Wissenschaftspreis der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Germanistik (für seine Reinhard-Priessnitz-Monografie Unterschiedenes ist / gut, 2003 im Wilhelm Fink Verlag), zuletzt den Förderungspreis für Wissenschaft der Stadt Wien (2008).

Poeticizing the Mesh: Zu Franz Josef Czernins natur-gedichten -- Franz Josef Czernins natur-gedichte (1996) können als verkörperte romantische Reflexion der Natur- und Gegenstandserkenntnis, wie sie sich aus den Fragmenten der Frühromantiker, vor allem des Novalis und auch Friedrich Schlegels ableiten lässt, gelesen werden. Mit dieser romantischen Fassung der Gegenstandserkenntnis wird zum einen sowohl der Begriff "Natur" in unterschiedlichen Aspekten ausgeleuchtet als auch zum anderen sein sprachliches Festgehaltenwerden und zugleich seine Evokation durch die Sprache im Gedicht. Dies zu detaillieren und anhand des ersten Gedichts "zentrum", mit Blick auf den den Gedichten beigegebenen Essay ("Kleine Vor- oder Nachschule zur Ästhetik, auch der natur-gedichte") zu exemplifizieren ist das Ziel meines Beitrags.

Christian Sinn teaches at the Pädagogische Hochschule St. Gallen, where he is the Director of Studies in Language and Literature. Graduation Konstanz 1993 (Jean Paul. Hinführung zu seiner Semiologie der Wissenschaft 1995); Habilitation Konstanz 2001 (Dichten und Denken. Entwurf zu einer Grundlegung der Entdeckungslogik in den exakten und ‚schönen’ Wissenschaften 2001). His research focuses on the early modern period, the age of Goethe, and romanticism, as well as the history and methodology of the humanities, literary ethics, and anthropology. Publications: Scott Loren / Christian Sinn: "Anstössige Bilder? Medienstrategien der Interkulturalität." In: Zwischen Kulturen und Medien. Zur medialen Inszenierung von Interkulturalität. Hg. von K. Schenk, R. Cornejo, L. V. Szabo. Wien 2016, S. 275-291; "Literatur als Erkenntnismodell der Philosophie? Skeptische Anmerkungen zu Chancen und Risiken gegenwärtiger Germanistik als Kulturwissenschaft im Kontext der Lehrerinnen- und Lehrerbildung." In: Sebastian Hüsch/Sikander Singh (Hg.): Literatur als philosophisches Erkenntnismodell. Tübingen 2016, S. 87-100.

Haselstrauch / der gestikuliert / vielbeschäftigt. Zu einer schweizerischen Korrektur des Unbegriffs ‘Naturlyrik’ noch vor dem 21. Jahrhundert -- Throughout history, nature poetry has been a constant phenomenon. In fact, in the long run no culture can survive without reflecting on its relation to nature. While philosophy, science, politics etc. consider nature as well, nature poetry is hearing nature as a consequence of transitory and complex processes of phonological intermixing and spaces of "between." The news from nature poetry is that an effort must be made to listen to the “Hyperspace consisting of quietness” / “Hyperraum aus Leisen” (Peter Waterhouse).

Bad News from Nature

Eckhard Kuhn-Osius studied in Germany, Great Britain, and the United States and obtained a Ph.D. in German from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1978 with a dissertation titled On Understanding Narrative Texts: Epistemological and Semiological Prolegomena for a Methodology of Literary Scholarship. He taught at the University of Colorado, Vassar College, Princeton University, Columbia University before coming to Hunter College in 1984. At Hunter he has been involved in various grant-related activities to reconfigure the German program along proficiency principles to make the study of German accessible to non-heritage students. From 1990 till 2012 he served as the Chair of the National German Examination Commission of the American Association of Teachers of German and has worked in various capacities on the German Advanced Placement Test and other standardized tests. He has published numerous articles and reviews on literary and pedagogical topics. He has written an introductory textbook series which has been used at Hunter and other universities for over fifteen years. His literary research focuses mainly on the right-wing response to the experience of World War I and questions of hermeneutics and epistemology. He presently directs the Hunter College summer program in Kassel.

Nature Strikes Back: Fate and Statistics in Max Frisch's Homo Faber -- In the numerous studies about Max Frisch's widely read Homo Faber, relatively scant attention has been paid to one of the fundamental documents of Faber's career, namely his dissertation, which he did not complete. Faber was going to get his doctorate on the topic of 'Maxwell's demon', a theoretical construct that James Clerk Maxwell devised in the context of the second law of thermodynamics. The demon would be a mechanism that could control the inevitable progress of entropy, the eventual equalization of energetic differentiation, which became known in the 1950s and 60s as the "Wärmetod" (and Frisch himself refers to entropy in Bin oder die Reise nach Peking). In the process of his research, Faber can have found only one result, namely that Maxwell's demon does not exist. There is no way one can stop the system-wide process of entropy. Faber's often noticed triumphalism and defensiveness about science and progress must thus be interpreted as an attempt to mitigate and postpone the unavoidable entropic event for him and all of humanity, namely death. The conflict between order and chaos, technology and the jungle informs the geographic 'program' of Homo Faber where New York stands as the epitome of technology trying to deny entropy, the jungle stands for entropic chaos, and Cuba stands for the notion of a life between the two, a human existence in the face of entropy.

Thomas P. David is a Lecturer in the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities. He received his Ph.D. in Germanic Studies from the University of Minnesota with a dissertation on the science fiction of the GDR and Globalization. He is currently working on an article that examines the relationship between the Strategic Defense Initiative and its science-fictional namesake "Star Wars" that was, at least from the GDR's perspective, one of a concerted propaganda effort to win support for the militarization of space during the renewed arms race of the Reagan era.

An Ökothriller of the Other Kind: Nature’s Revenge in the GDR SF of Aktion Erde - This paper investigates the moral dimensions and societal implications of human interaction with the natural world—an equation of unequal proportions and unintended consequences—through the analytical lens of the world of Aktion Erde (1988). From the early 1970s on, GDR science fiction engaged with questions of the environmental impact of industrial development. This novel is an example of such concern that remains completely contemporary in its exposition of the reciprocal costs of human civilization—to itself and its environment. It serves as a warning of the consequences of environmental suicide at the same time that it provides a coded critique of the GDR.

Simone Klapper has been a DAAD-lecturer at the National University of Ireland, Galway since 2016 where she also completed her PhD in 2014. She is a graduate of the University of Siegen and the ZfsL Bonn (Centre for teaching training Bonn, 2. Staatsexamen). Before coming back to Galway in 2016, she taught German literature, language and philosophy in Bonn. Her research is primarily in the area of 20th century German literature, Psychoanalysis, suicide and literature, Gender Studies and Post-War German Literature and Posthumanism. Her current research focuses on parasitic aesthetics in literature and film.

Innovative Invasions: Parasitic logic in Upstream Color, Jordskott and The Girl with all the Gifts - Characterized by their ability to create and occupy spaces by inhabiting, colonializing, and cultivating their host’s bodies, parasites evoke fear and fascinate at the same time. This presentation highlights the parasite’s creative potential in transgressing the boundary between nature and culture, human and animal, individual and collective in Carruth’s film Upstream Color, Henrik Björn’s series Jordskott and Mike Carey’s novel The Girl with All the Gifts. The parasite challenges the ontological claims of anthropocentric dualism and a necropolitical economy on the one hand while on the other it triggers a foundation of a new posthuman order and ethics.