Redefining experience in the age of political catastrophe : Ernst Jünger, Adolf Eichmann and Jean Améry / by Kristen Louise Kramer
Includes bibliographical references (p. 250-270)
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Electronic version from ProQuest
Experience is a concept which collects the dynamic relationship between the individual and the world and the meaning ostensibly immanent to that intersection. This definition bears the instinctual goals of the nineteenth century understanding of experience as a seamless, all-encompassing, and reconciling category, an understanding that was shattered with the existential and metaphysical crisis of the Great War. This dissertation traces the various attempts at reconstructing this fractured sense of experience in Germany over the decades of the short twentieth century---the age of political catastrophe in Europe which began with the Great War and came to an end with the human destruction of the Holocaust.At the turn of the century, the fracturing of experience was theorized as a discursively bound epistemological problem, and thus as a problem to be reconciled aesthetically. Attending to the theorization of experience as an aesthetic category by the early twentieth century thinkers Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Georg Lukács, Walter Benjamin, and John Dewey, this dissertation examines how experience was re-imagined in an historical period of shattering violence and existential and metaphysical crisis. How experience was aesthetically created in its absence so as to approximate a sense of normality, is investigated through specific expressions of experience in the narratives of three disparate figures representative of their time: Ernst Jünger, Adolf Eichmann, and Jean Améry.This dissertation analyzes the narrative strategies employed in the texts produced by these figures through the lens of theories on experience, tracing how the aesthetic was used to compensate for discontinuities. It examines how Jünger's discourse aesthetically reconciled experience through an invigoration and expansion of metaphysical categories. This movement towards a reinvigorated and all-encompassing metaphysics, one which could overwhelm and reorder the discrete and private character of material experiences found its apotheosis in the totalizing Weltanschauung of the Third Reich, expressed by Eichmann through his self-serving language on the stand. Jean Améry's texts articulate the ramifications of this aesthetic reconciliation, giving expression to Theodor W. Adorno's observation that the Holocaust made "a mockery of the construction of immanence as endowed with a meaning radiated by an affirmatively posited transcendence." Améry's rejection of the ideal of totalized experience, (and with it the compensatory role of metaphysics), is radicalized through an assertion of the utterly private character of experience, that form of experience already so anxiously glimpsed at the turn of the century, that only with the Holocaust became fully realized.
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