Landscape, Life, Form

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Anthropocene Poetics in Contemporary German Fiction


Principal Investigator: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Eva Horn

Researchers: Dr. Vera Thomann

Former Researchers: Dr. Stephanie Langer

Student assistant: Florian Ronc

Funding: FWF, 01/09/2020 - 31/08/2025

Stack of books (selected works related to the 'Anthropocene Poetics' project), arranged in front of a globe

Selection of primary texts (Photo © Stephanie Langer)

The much-discussed concept of the "Anthropocene" – the name for the geological epoch of the present – conveys the consciousness that humans have become a force of nature that severely affects the Earth system. Nature proves to be profoundly transformed by humans on a global scale. The term therefore calls for redefining the relationship between humans and nature: to live in the Anthropocene involves a new form of being-in-the-world. Taking this new understanding of a human being-in-the-world as our general framework, the projects asks for the aesthetical and poetic implications of the Anthropocene. How can literature present and narrate this new mode of existence? Which literary forms are able to address this insight and represent the new understanding of nature?

The project’s basic assumption is that such a poetics of the Anthropocene is above all a reflection on form: natural forms (organisms, landscapes) but also literary form (genre, narrative forms, style). The project’s corpus ranges from Döblin, Handke, Frisch and Sebald to the most recent work of Schrott, Ruoff, Jirgl, C. Enzensberger, Dath and Weiss, and will be, if necessary, supplemented with new publications in the course of the project. We address these texts under two aspects: (1) we ask how forms of nature – landscapes and organisms – are addressed and which scientific theories of geology and evolution they take up and re-write; (2) we analyze the experiments in form – the play of genres, narrative modes, types of text, etc. – that literary texts engage in with regard to the Anthropocene.

On the basis of these elements of form, our goal is to elaborate a poetics of the Anthropocene. Our assumption is that the Anthropocene not only changes the human relationship to nature and the world, but also solicits a literary self-reflection that gives rise to an extensive exploration of literary forms and genres. The project aims to analyze the different forms this literary self-reflection takes. We wish to demonstrate how literature itself becomes a medium for reflection on the relation between humans and nature in the Anthropocene.

 Related Material

In this article published in Die Presse, Prof Eva Horn and Dr Stephanie Langer present their project and explain how fiction writers create Anthropocene narratives by experimenting with genre, form and style.