The Poetics of Precarity: Representations of the Worker in German Literature in the Aftermath of the “Great Depression” (1873-1914)
The financial and economic collapse in 2007/2008 has increased the interest for the literary reflection on economic crises and their social consequences. This project takes this contemporary sensibility and the ways in which it is reflected in contemporary political theory as a vantage point to look back at the German social novels in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 1873. By focusing on the literary representation of the worker in his/her living and working conditions, this project will describe and analyse the poetics of precarity. In order to shed new light on the discussions of the workers’ representation in naturalism, an exemplary sampling of social novels written by naturalist writers, social-democrats, priests and workers will be confronted. Moreover, the social novels will be studied as interventions within a broader intertextual and contextual dialogue. The project will illuminate how the social novels not only respond to a socio-economic reality, but also to existing representations of the precarious worker. Specific attention will go to the ways social norms and models of world-changing action are rendered through narrative, heroised figures of the worker. Thus this project will not only reconstruct the various debates on the representation of the worker in literary discourse, but will, by way of doing this, also contribute to a better understanding of German naturalism in general.