Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Germanic Languages & Literatures


Paul Oppenheimer

Committee Members

Andre Aciman

Christa Spreizer

Subject Categories

German Language and Literature


German literature; Comparative literature; Science history


The relationship between science and literature is an expanding area of scholarly interest which remains underrepresented within the field of Germanistik. This dissertation will attempt to close the gap by focusing on the interactions between the selected works of Franz Kafka, Rainer Maria Rilke, Thomas Mann, and Robert Musil, and the scientific outlooks which began to emerge in the nineteenth century primarily by focusing on the concept of observation. Observation is a concept important for the period of my investigation because it signified a major shift in consciousness. The prior facile division into impartial experimenter and observed phenomenon, so characteristic of the empirical science of the nineteenth century, gave way to a world-picture in which observed phenomena were understood as no longer independent of one's will but as to some extent at least contingent upon the observer's position with respect to these phenomena, and goals, tools, and methods of investigation.

A discussion of the problem of the relations between science and literature as a historically contingent phenomenon, in the introduction, precedes chapters delineating the connections of specific literary texts to the ideas of particular scientists. An example of such a pairing is the proposed exploration of Kafka's short story "The Report to the Academy" in the light of Darwin's treatment of the relationship between biological observer and specimen (the object of observation). Other scientists central to my study, and whose methods will also be treated in tandem with relevant literary works, are Ernst Mach, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Einstein.

This interdisciplinary study will show in new detail that literary texts do not simply reflect the ideas, desires, and fears produced by science; instead that both the literature and science of the period under investigation are permeated by similar sets of underlying assumptions about the world and man's place in it.


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.