<b>Pfister's Spill? Narratives of Failure in and around Wilhelm Raabe’s 1883 Eco-novel</b> // ¿El vertido de Pfister? Narrativas del fracaso en y en torno a la eco-novela de 1883 de Wilhelm Raabe

  • Agnes Kneitz Renmin University of China, China
Keywords: Wilhelm Raabe, pollution, narrative, science, public discourse, socio-natural site // Wilhelm Raabe, contaminación, narrativa, ciencia, discurso público, enclave socio-natural


      This paper explores different aspects and layers of failure in Wilhelm Raabe’s Pfister’s Mill and its cultural context, which is closely related to German discourse on the environment in the second half of the nineteenth century. Raabe sought to draw attention to and inspire solutions for a pressing environmental problem of the day by conveying perceptions of everyday sensual experience in culturally communicable form. His aim was to use the novel as a means of communication about the processes whereby “socio-natural sites” affected by industrial pollution were being transformed. The author’s ultimate inability to realize this aim, the paper argues, should be understood less as a failure of literary form than as a consequence of an inherent feature of the public discourse on political ecology of the time: the tension between popular support for progress and industrial development on the one hand and growing environmental awareness within a limited range of political action on the other. Drawing not only on literary, but also historical sources, the paper seeks to (dis)entangle the complex net of relations around a classic of German environmental literature.



      Este trabajo explora diferentes aspectos y secciones relativas al fracaso en la obra de Wilhelm Raabe Pfister’s Mill y su contexto histórico, el cual está estrechamente relacionado con el discurso alemán sobre el medio ambiente en la segunda mitad del siglo XIX. Raabe trató de llamar la atención y esbozar soluciones respecto a un problema medioambiental de alta importancia para aquellos días, siendo su objetivo transmitir y analizar las percepciones a través de experiencias cotidianas de carácter sensorial que se hacen manifiestas culturalmente mediante la comunicación. Su objetivo es utilizar la novela como un medio de comunicación de los procesos que provocan transformaciones en “enclaves socio-naturales” afectados por contaminación industrial. La incapacidad en última instancia del autor para alcanzar este objetivo hace que el presente ensayo no deba entenderse como un fracaso de la forma literaria, sino como una característica inherente al discurso público sobre la ecología política de la época: que se fundamenta en el cambio de percepción popular del medio ambiente. Se refiere no sólo a documentes literarios, sino también a fuentes históricas, este trabajo pretende desentrañar una compleja red de relaciones en torno una obra clásica de literatura ecológica alemana.


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Author Biography

Agnes Kneitz, Renmin University of China, China
Agnes Kneitz is assistant professor at the department for world history at Renmin University in China, where she teaches courses on western civilization,  environmental, and cultural history. She graduated from LMU Munich in 2013, as a member of the interdisciplinary doctoral program “Environment and Society” of the Rachel Carson Center, where she worked as a research and communications associate since 2009. Her doctoral thesis explores the intersection of environmental and social history of the out-going long 19th century, analyzing the role of literature as a cultural agent in creating environmental awareness in the face of increasing industrial pollution. Her main fields of interest lie in the environmental humanities, mainly environmental justice, public health, food security, and systems theory.
Articles: General Section