Theses Doctoral

Animistic Fictions: German Modernism, Film, and the Animation of Things

Henkel, Brook

This dissertation investigates representations of animated objects in German modernist literature and film between roughly 1900 and 1930. Rainer Maria Rilke's 1902 remark that "all community has withdrawn from things and humans" corresponds to a more general reflection in German literary modernism on a new estrangement and distance between human subjects and the external object-world. Responding to this perceived crisis, modernist texts by Rilke, Franz Kafka, and others present an animated life of things as a highly ambivalent fiction, posing both a distorted and potentially recuperative relationship between humans and things.

Alongside textual representations of animated things in Kafka's stories and Rilke's poetry and prose, the new medium of cinema also presented a visual life of things in early stop-motion animation films around 1910 as well as in the experimental films of the 1920s avant-garde. In contrast to nineteenth-century theories on the subjective, psychological origins of animistic experience, literature and film after 1900 approached the animation of things as a matter of external, artificial production. Focusing on the literary works of Rilke and Kafka, and the writings and films of German avant-garde artist Hans Richter, this dissertation argues for an understanding of modernist representations of animated things as "animistic fictions," aimed at producing the effects of animistic experience, while also foregrounding and self-reflecting upon their artificial status.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Germanic Languages
Thesis Advisors
Andriopoulos, Stefan
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 18, 2013