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Dissertation
ALLEGORICAL RENDERINGS OF THE BIRTH TOPOS: MYTH, TECHNOLOGY, GENDER AND SELFHOOD IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY POETIC PRODUCTION
(2007)
  • Boyd J Petersen
Abstract
In this dissertation, I am concerned with nineteenth-century creation narratives, texts from the 1800s that depict he creation of an artificial being. In particular, I will examine E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Der Sandmann, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Villiers de l’lsle-Adam’s L ’Eve future. I consider each of these texts as an allegorical rendering of the birth topos in which poetic production is metaphorically compared to childbirth. Significantly, each of these texts portrays the creator as male. In each of these texts, I discover a foundation in the philosophy of early Romanticism and a critique of the very nature of the production of art in an increasingly technological era. In the body of this dissertation, I will look at six central issues:

First, I will show how these texts all employ a poetics of confusion, a confusion that is central and necessary to their theme and purpose. Second, I will look at how these creation narratives reflect the changes then taking place in the nineteenth-century print culture and discourse networks, the epistemological transformations described by Friedrich Kittler. Third, I will argue that these texts critique the Romantic philosophical ideal of autoengenderment, the male subject creating himself in and through poetic production. Fourth, I will demonstrate that these are fragmented texts which participate in the Romantic theory of the fragment.

Chapter 1 focuses on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Der Sandmann and looks at how the central character, Nathanael, is positioned between two eras of print technology and discourse networks. Chapter 2 looks at how, in Frankenstein, Mary Shelley critiques the practice of Romantic autoengenderment, while at the same time Shelley is erased from her own text by the patriarchal system of print production. In Chapter 3 , I examine Villiers de l’lsle-Adam’s L ’Eve future as a text that reflects the deep anxieties about the new technologies of representation, one of the first to reflect on both traditional forms like literature and Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.sculpture, but also emerging forms like photography, film, and the phonograph. Finally, I will consider the fifth and sixth issues in the conclusion where I examine the way the texts reject the contemporaneous rhetoric of the technological sublime and simultaneously reaffirm the boundaries established by philosophical discourse on the sublime.
Keywords
  • Creation Narratives,
  • 19th Century Literature,
  • Mary Shelley,
  • Frankenstein,
  • E.T.A. Hoffmann,
  • Der Sandmann,
  • Villiers de l'Isle-Adam,
  • l"Eve future
Disciplines
Publication Date
August, 2007
Degree
Ph.D.
Field of study
Comparative Literature
Department
Languages and Literature
Advisors
Martha Helfer, Esther Rashkin, Christine Jones, Brooke Hopkins, Andrew Franta
Citation Information
Boyd J Petersen. "ALLEGORICAL RENDERINGS OF THE BIRTH TOPOS: MYTH, TECHNOLOGY, GENDER AND SELFHOOD IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY POETIC PRODUCTION" (2007)
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/boyd_petersen/10/