Academic journal article German Quarterly

Broch's 1903: Esch oder die Anarchie: Desiring the Abject Outside

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Broch's 1903: Esch oder die Anarchie: Desiring the Abject Outside

Article excerpt

When Hermann Broch created his trilogy Die Schlafwandler, published in 1930, he did so with a distinct and ambitious aim: to articulate his understanding of a crisis in modern existence, of a profound realignment in the manner in which human beings function in their world and interact with one another. He sought to answer what he conceived of as the fundamental question of modern human existence: "Wohin wirkt die Sehnsucht nach Erweckung und Errettung, wenn sie in einer Zeit des Verfalls und der Auflösung der alten Werthaltungen nicht mehr in diese münden kann" ("Problemkreis" 723)? For, to Broch, the human being in the early part of the 20th century existed in a society that had arrived at the end of a centuries-long process of moral decline, that had lost the stable system of values formerly imposed by a single religion and left the individual adrift. As Broch wrote in reference to the final volume of the trilogy:

Im Mittelpunkt dieses Schlußbandes steht der "Zerfall der Werte," die historische und erkenntnistheoretische Darstellung jenes vierhundertjährigen Prozesses, der unter der Leitung des Rationalen das christlich-platonische Weltbild des mittelalterlichen Europas auflöste, grandioser und fürchterlicher Prozeß, an dessen Ende die völlige Wertzersplitterung, die Entfesselung der Vernunft mit dem gleichzeitigen Durchbruch aller Irrationalität steht. ("Wertzerfall" 734)

Broch thus points to a social process resulting from the gradual dissolution of a single, coherent system of values, a dissolution that began with the Renaissance and the challenge to Catholic ideology's supremacy.1 The loss of this value system fundamentally affects the manner in which the individual experiences life. For human existence, Broch suggests, is governed by two opposing sets of desires, fears, and urges that manifest themselves in what he calls the "Traumhafte," where "der Mensch bloß gesteuert von Uraffekten, kindlichen Haltungen, Erinnerungen, erotischen Wünschen, tierhaft und zeitlos dahintreibt" ("Problemkreis" 723). Existing next to and in tension with these base desires and drives is another set of desires: "Unverloren und nicht minder schlafwandlerisch aber wirkt im Traumhaften die Sehnsucht nach Erweckung ... je nach dem subjektiven Vokabular 'Erlösung,' 'Rettung,' 'Lebenssinn,' 'Gnade' genannt" ("Problemkreis" 723). This opposition was once held in check by religion; irrational elements were defined and regulated through the notion of "Sünde" (Troblemkreis" 723). In an increasingly rational world, where these desires are no longer channeled into the religious and spiritual realm, they emerge ever more clearly into every-day life ("Problemkreis" 724). Drives, desires, and actions, previously ordered and circumscribed by a social imperative based in a single religion, no longer adhere to a stable morality. Instead, those impulses and beliefs that were hitherto reined in by notions of sin are set loose, illustrating the inherently fractured and amoral nature of human existence and subjectivity.

The result of Broch's attempt to articulate this notion is a trilogy both sprawling-in its scope and its characters-and tightly structured. Each section is set in a historical moment that Broch saw as embodying the "Übergang von der ausklingenden Romantik des späten 19. Jahrhunderts zur sogenannten Sachlichkeit der Nachkriegsepoche [after 1918J" ("Der Roman" 719). The individual novels are only loosely connected to one another, chiefly through the reappearance of certain characters. Yet each novel attempts to represent the central problematic that Broch saw as defining modern life: how does the individual discover "Lebenssinn" in a world devoid of a solid value system ("Der Roman" 720)?

The philosophical underpinnings of the trilogy have been analyzed and critiqued by a number of scholars.2 Here, I would like to focus more narrowly on one particular manifestation of the philosophical crisis that I see as crucial to Broch's theory: the expression of the crisis in the sexual realm. …

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