Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Germanic Languages and Literatures

First Advisor

Wetters, Kirk


This dissertation traces moments in the German intellectual tradition in which poetic or aesthetic pursuits find themselves confronted with the question of the political: during the period of Weimar Classicism, the Weimar Republic, and after the Shoah. I illuminate the underlying progression from a sharp separation between politics and poetics to a revision of what it means to be human: away from the notions of autonomy and universality and towards those of plurality and alterity. I first explore the frame narrative of Goethe’s "Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten" (1795), arguing that its specific textual complexity subverts its apparent narrative of positing a program of sociability and founding a closed community based on it. I then examine the dual program of aesthetic autonomy and political abstinence posited by Friedrich Schiller in his Announcement for his journal "Die Horen" (1794), for which Goethe’s Unterhaltungen were written. Through a close reading of both texts, I show that Goethe’s frame narrative subverts the gestures of autonomy and foundation that are central to Schiller’s program. Turning next to the Weimar Republic, I investigate the paradoxical reversal of Gottfried Benn’s poetics of artistic autonomy into a subordination of art to political ends in 1933. Arguing that this reversal amounts to Benn’s misguided aestheticization of politics, I also examine the implications of public address in Benn’s 1933 poetics. In the second part of my dissertation, I consider three authors profoundly informed by their experience of exile. For a critical, post-Shoah revision of the relationship between intellectuality and politics, I examine Hannah Arendt’s two pivotal texts written about or for the postwar Germany: her 1950 article “The Aftermath of Nazi Rule. Report from Germany” and her 1959 Lessing prize acceptance speech “Von der Menschlichkeit in finsteren Zeiten.” I show that in these two texts, Arendt offers a political theory that revises the very notion of human existence, illuminating its irreducible plurality and difference. I then turn to Osip Mandelstam’s 1913 essay “About an Interlocutor,” in which he highlights an in-between space inherent to poetry as address and encounter. With Mandelstam in the background, I then consider Paul Celan’s 1960 radio essay “Die Dichtung Ossip Mandelstamms,” in which the poet begins to articulate his own groundbreaking poetics of alterity.