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Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

Wilhelminian Apparitions: ghosts and desire between science, religion and art in the German nineteenth-century novel from Raabe to Fritz

19th January 2016, 18:15 to 19:15, Elvet Riverside 140, Professor Nicholas Saul

Part of the Institute of Advanced Study's 'Evidence of Spirits' lecture series.

With the advent of Darwinism and the triumph of exact science in the latter half of the nineteenth century, German society faced religious and cultural crisis. In the re-established Empire the received religious truths embodied in the master narrative of the Bible had been usurped by the new master narrative of The Origin of Species, the dethroning of humankind from its supremacy over creation, and the materialistic struggle for existence. Thus the new American movement of spiritualism answered German needs. It seemed to offer objective evidence of spirit interventions and manifestations, so that the demands of science were satisfied, and the cherished doctrines of afterlife could re-emerge in a form apparently legitimated by the new epistemological authority. But what actually emerged was desire – the desire to deny loss and replace the lost in a newly-threatening world.

In a series of late nineteenth-century Wilhelmine novels the cult of the spirit was gradually unmasked as the need to believe in illusion itself, and that need was eventually identified with an Orphic and Pygmalionic vision of the artist as secular priest. The scene was set for modernist aestheticism. And spiritualism becomes a cipher for an Empire based on denial of the death of the past.

Contact m.r.sandy@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.

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