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Project D6

Heroically Waiting – Awaited Heroes: Heroic Anticipation in German Literature of the Early 20th Century


Prof. Dr. Achim Aurnhammer
apl. Prof Dr. Hanna Klessinger
Jun.Prof. Dr. Nicolas Detering (University of Konstanz)
Isabell Oberle
Laura Hagen

German Department

This project focuses on the phenomenon of "heroic anticipation" in German literature in the first third of the 20th century. The idea of anticipation incorporates the heroization of waiting, perseverance and endurance and offers a prophetic model of heroic expectation and longing. Between 1900s and 1930s, anticipation redefined heroic characteristics as "internal" qualities – especially when regarding voluntary action and the Messianic evocation of the future as a heroic merit in a meaningless present. This project differentiates between various configurations of anticipation in German literature between 1900 and 1945. Messianic poetry, poetry from the front in the First World War, dramas from around 1920, essays critical of the culture of the Weimar Republic as well as scenes of waiting in exile and in Nazi Germany all serve as examples for this study, which focuses on the three following aspects.

First, this project discusses how "heroic agency" is ascribed as a prerequisite in the construction of heroes. Further analysis explores competing concepts of "anticipative agency" (i.e. how the ability to act heroically relates to waiting and how this represents an alternative model of the heroic) in which a figure's lack of scope of action constitutes their heroic behavior. In addition to the victimization of the martyr-hero, which has been placed in opposition to the hero of action since antiquity, the heroization of "holding one's ground" has also emerged as just such heroic model with limited agency.

Secondly, this project analyzes figurations of anticipative agency through the lens of heroic temporality. In literary waiting scenes, the relationship between the experience of time and historical meaning is thus a central theme. This focus includes spatial and temporal metaphors ("maturation period," "waiting lounge," "levee") that become linked in literature to the portrayal of situational waiting, which historical philosophy has diagnosed as a Conditio humana moderna, as well as narrative strategies for stretching time with which authors distinguished their style from the dynamic patterns of narration of the 19th century.

The third aspect concerns aspects heroic temporality: What literary forms successfully distinguish the heroic as a medium for reflecting on the present? Anticipative literature no longer only presented the hero, but also discursively reflected heroic qualities. Prophetic texts in particular oscillated between pre-figuration and projection, between references to heroic paradigms (Alexander the Great, Christ, Napoleon) and the establishment of newer, more contemporary characteristics of what will come. In what way did the evocation of earlier heroic models, whose return is expected, contribute to the stabilization or destabilization of contemporary political leaders? The relationship between role model and ideal touches on historical philosophical premises (cyclic, theological or typological understandings of history), according to which forms and tendencies of heroic anticipation can be heuristically logically ordered. How are the present and the future, experience and expectation, structurally related to one another?

The research associate of the project will address these questions in a book on heroic anticipation in German literature between 1900 and 1945, and the project leader will write a number of smaller studies on a range of themes, including the continuity of heroic anticipation strategies in Stefan George's work, the reception of George's poetry during National Socialism and figures of messianic fulfillment in National Socialist literature.