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The Astrological Imaginary in Early Twentieth-Century German Culture


My dissertation focuses on astrological discourses in early twentieth-century Germany. In four chapters, I examine films, literary texts, and selected academic and intellectual prose that engage astrology and its symbolism as a response to the experience of modernity in Germany. Often this response is couched within the context of a return to early modern German culture, the historical period when astrology last had popular validity. Proceeding from the understanding of astrology as a multiplicity of practices with their own histories, my dissertation analyzes the specific forms of astrological discourse that are taken up in early twentieth-century German culture. In my first chapter I examine the revival of astrology in Germany from the perspective of Oscar A. H. Schmitz (1873-1931), who galvanized a community of astrologers to use the term Erfahrungswissenschaft to promote astrology diagnostically, as an art of discursive subject formation. In my second chapter, I discuss how Paul Wegener's Golem film cycle both responds to and intensifies the astrological and the occult revivals. As the revivals gain momentum, Wegener explicitly depicts seventeenth-century astrological and occult practices with the intention of generating a "purely filmic" experience. I provide new insight into Wegener's last Golem film through the film architect Hans Poelzig's personal investment in both baroque architecture and contemporary astrology. My third chapter explores Aby M. Warburg's lifelong preoccupation with the investigation of astrological symbolism in art. This pursuit led him to create an institution that has played a pivotal role in the material conditions of possibility for people to study the history of astrology, even today. In my fourth chapter, I investigate the many references to astrological phenomena in Walter Benjamin's intellectual work. I read his work on mimesis and experience alongside his practice of graphology in order to situate him in the debates brought up in the first chapter on the idea of astrology as an Erfahrungswissenschaft. My dissertation reveals how aspects of astrological discourse--specifically its approaches to issues of legibility and interpretation--constructively informed and shaped the middle brow (Schmitz) and the high brow (Warburg), the cinematic (Wegener) and the literary (Schmitz), the institutional (Warburg) and the philosophical (Benjamin) realms of early twentieth-century German culture.

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