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Title: Eschatology and the Reinvention of History: Theological Interventions in German Modernism, 1920-1938
Authors: McGillen, Michael J.
Advisors: Jennings, Michael W.
Contributors: German Department
Keywords: Aesthetics
Subjects: Germanic literature
Philosophy of Religion
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Following a long process of the historicization of thought from Schiller and Hegel through nineteenth-century historicism, a critical point was reached in the 1920s in Germany: the status of history as such--its representability, its narrative structure, the way that it informs thought and experience--emerged as a pressing cultural problem. This study shows how a new concept of eschatology in the theological discourse of Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Franz Rosenzweig, Rudolf Bultmann, and Martin Heidegger played a pivotal role in the crisis and reinvention of history in German modernism. These writers produced an array of new temporal and historical concepts--from kairos, to contemporaneity, to the eschatological now, to the reversal of beginning and end--that radically challenged the historicist understanding of history as a teleologically-driven process of linear development that forms a totality. This theological intervention in the construction of history is a crucial moment in German modernism, one that stands in dialogue with secular cultural formations from historiography, to literature, to the arts. Uncovering the affinities of theological discourse with the art of Russian Constructivism and the Neue Sachlichkeit, the theory of historiography of Karl Mannheim and Ernst Troeltsch, and the literary work of Bertolt Brecht, Ernst Bloch, and Georg Lukács, this study shows how German theology in the 1920s plays a key role in the modernist avant-garde that has yet to be recognized. Drawing on modernist principles of spatial construction and non-objective modes of representation, Barth, Tillich, Rosenzweig, Bultmann, and Heidegger produced a modernist concept of eschatology that is fundamentally incommensurable with history and could no longer be secularized as the telos of world history or the "end of time." Instead, eschatology was understood as the "limit" of history that stands in dialectical tension to each moment, one that exposes the groundlessness of historical experience and its disjunction with itself. Such a negative theology called into question the continuity and developmental logic of history. Yet it also pointed to new possibilities for the construction of the present moment as a moment without history, a space for self-reflection cut loose from the narrative of history.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:German

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