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Theses Doctoral

In the Beginning was the Sign. Literary Modernism and Mathematical Modernity in Carl Einstein and Robert Musil

Franke, Alwin Jorga

My dissertation, In the Beginning was the Sign, examines the entangled histories of literary modernism and mathematical modernity and revisits their claim to a radical rupture with the past. Informed by Lacanian psychoanalysis, media theory, and deconstruction, I trace how the interplay of literary and mathematical form transformed classical imaginations of the human. Authors like Carl Einstein, Robert Musil or Ernst Cassirer challenge the organic concept of subject formation as Bildung with a new and purely symbolic kind of mathematical abstraction that informs their writing on both thematic and formal levels. In the tradition of Plato’s Meno, they adduce these new forms of mathematical knowledge to find genuinely modern answers to the classical question of the good life. Paradoxically, in striving to portray their own time as a radical novelty that was able to break with its cultural heritage, these authors summon the canon at its most canonical. The mathematician Hilbert, for instance, rewrites the opening of the Gospel of John, translating logos as ‘sign’ rather than ‘word.’ Analyzing literary, philosophical, and mathematical texts in German, English, and French, I show that the questioning of the logical foundations of thought in the so-called foundational crisis in mathematics was re-mediated through a new genealogical exploration of the foundations of European rationality in the texts of classical antiquity.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Germanic Languages
Thesis Advisors
Simons, Oliver
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 28, 2021