Nicholas Saul is Professor of German at the University of Durham. He has held Guest Professorships at Cologne and Vermont. His chief scholarly interests are Romanticism, Realisms, Classical Modernism, Romanies and literary Darwinisms. He has published essays on writers from Wilhelm Bölsche to Wilkie Collins, Frederick the Great of Prussia, Goethe, Wilhelm Raabe and Bram Stoker, also on suicide, death and utopias. Recent books are »Gypsies and Orientalism in German Literature and Anthropology of the Long Nineteenth Century« (2007), »The Cambridge Companion to German Romanticism« (2009), »The Evolution of Literature« (2011, with Simon J. James), and »Realism and Romanticism in German Literature« (2013, with Dirk Göttsche). He led a project »The Experience of Emergence« at the Durham Institute of Advanced Study 2014-2015, and is currently writing a monograph Interrogations of Evolutionism in German Literature 1859-2008.
»Progressive Phylogenie«. Von der Biographie der Natur zur Biographie des Menschen: Die Beschreibung des Lebens in der deutschen Literatur seit Darwin
My project reconstructs and evaluates how Darwinian evolutionism was deployed in narrative in German literature to represent and perform the ontogeny and socialisation of the individual from the middle of the C19 to to the present.
First, the new, post-classical conceptualisation of narrative is outlined. In recent scholarship classical aesthetic narrative theory has been synthesised with neurological research and evolutionary psychology. In consequence the two cultures division between natural science and humanities has been bridged, the social-cognitive potential of narration acknowledged. Narration has a dual social-cognitive function: as means of individual and collection socialisation and as tool of cultural evolution. Darwin’s theory can only be conceptualised and functionalised as a narrative. Evolutionism can only reflected upon in cultural history as narrative, specifically through the novel as the established ontological model of self-construction.
Thus the monograph reconstructs form and content of narrative reflections on evolutionism in a representative selection of German novels from 1859-2008: from Raabe, Jensen and Bölsche in a first phase around 1900, to Hans Grimm and Ernst Jünger in a second around the middle of the C20, to Botho Strauß, Franz Hohler and Dietmar Dath in today’s generation.
Finally the outcomes of these reconstructions are evaluated. In the first phase of evolutionist narration the reader is offered forms of identity which consist in compensatory interpretations of Darwinian evolution understood pessimistically as immersion in the brutal struggle for existence: dissolution of the self in aesthetic transcendence (Bölsche) or self-sacrifice in the cause of the race (Grimm). In the second half of the C20 however evolutionism is liberated from its inherited ideological ballast. It is construed not uncritically but positively, as offering humanity emancipatory possibilities: the power to channel the vital energy of evolution in the service of radically new self-realisations. This occurs in specifically narrative modes. Raabe had already experimented with alternative narrative models for the evolutionary re-constitution of self-understanding. Strauß offers a set of narrative instruments for manifesting the plural self. Hohler argues for the agency of narrative (emergence) in reconfiguring the relation of system and environment after eco-apocalypse. Dath welcomes the potential of the posthuman embodied self, capable at will of self-reconstitution and catalysing the emergence of a meta-species ethos.