CATASTROPHIST/ESCHATOLOGICAL MOTIFS IN GERMAN SPECULATIVE FICTION, 1895--1925
LEWIS, WILLIAM S.
Doctor of Philosophy
The works of speculative fiction with which this study deals employ the motif of large-scale catastrophe, or of the end of the world in either a literal or figurative sense, in imaginative response to the historical situations in which they were written. Though generically and motivically related, these works form an ideologically diverse group and manifest, in their use of catastrophist or eschatological motifs, quite different meanings, motivations, attitudes, and concerns. In purpurner Finsternis, Michael Georg Conrad's apocalyptic fantasy of national regeneration, combines a left-liberal, populist, and nationalist critique of the "Prussified" Reich with a romantic antimodern repudiation of urban-industrial society. Max Haushofer's Planetenfeuer, despite its vision of cosmic catastrophe, offers reassurance of the survival of bourgeois society; it also vicariously gratifies the wish for violent release from a present perceived as overcivilized and inauthentic. Haushofer's eschatological sketches in An des Daseins Grenzen treat the themes of Weltuntergang and the collapse of civilization according to the sensibilities of the genteel bourgeois salon, thus defusing their subversive potential. The survival rather than the destruction of society is also the covert theme of Bernhard Kellermann's Der Tunnel. Kellermann avoids the more difficult implications of his vision of disaster, economic collapse, and near revolution and reduces his story to a tale in which blind fate, irrational working-class mobs, and a treacherous Jewish financier nearly ruin the good works of the bourgeoisie. Theodor Heinrich Mayer's Rapanui, the story of the end of a fictitious Polynesian race, is an amoral exercise in the aestheticization of destruction and death. However, this lurid tale of a cosmic Wende also gives symbolic expression to the central historical experience of "the generation of 1914," i.e., to the sense of being between two worlds, one dying, the other coming into being. Finally, Johannes R. Becher's Levisite offers an orthodox Leninist account of the coming global war between bourgeoisie and proletariat. Both an anti- Kriegsroman and an exhortation to revolutionary heroism, Becher's novel also served contemporary Party readers as a compensatory fantasy and a consolatory restatement of the Communist millenarian myth.