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A Mytho-poetic Study of Hermann Broch’s Novels

Author SongGenCheng
Tutor GaoJiHai
School Henan University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords myth ego subject the Logos aesthetics redemption
CLC I712.074
Type PhD thesis
Year 2013
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Hermann Broch, the Austro-American novelist in the late modernism, is cheered by some critics as agreat modernist like James Joyce or Thomas Mann. However, due to certain historical reasons, Broch hasbeen ignored by the majority of both scholarship and readership of the world. The three novels of Broch’slifetime: The Sleepwalkers, The Death of Virgil and The Guiltless are generally acknowledged asmasterpieces that can better represent his artistic and ideological achievements, dedicated to describing a"no longer, not yet" era of crisis. He believed that the old myth of Christianity that had dominatedEuropean minds has been collapsing since the start of the medieval ages, and a new myth is yet to comeand a world of totality will appear on the earth. Therefore, myth became the terminal direction of Broch’sliterary creation and mythic and symbolic theories stand at the core of his literary criticism. This promptedthe writing of this dissertation from the double perspective of mythical criticism and psychoanalysis.This dissertation consists of eight parts, and adopts the theories of Freudianism, Jungian Criticism andLacan’s Mirror stage theories to conduct an all-round analysis upon the spiritual pilgrimage of the modernego or self, which constitutes the core of Broch’s mythic poetics.The introduction first presents the definitions of poetics and mythic works. Then it conducts a briefreview of Hermann Broch’s life and writing career. The summary of the three novels in terms of plots andthemes is presented subsequently. A literature review and reception of Broch’s works are related in thescope of readership and scholarship in countries from the UK, to the US, Japan, France and China. A briefyet concise presentation of research purpose, significance and approach follows to conclude this part.Chapter One summarizes the epochal settings against which the school of psychoanalysis rose,mythical writing revived and mythical criticism came into being in the early20thcentury. Modern Europein the late19thcentury was entrapped into an unprecedented epochal crisis: the religious crisis, which wasmanifested in Nietzsche’s direct statement of "God is dead"; philosophy had reduced itself to a tool ofadvocating philistinism on the road of pursuing absolute reason; the double face of science wasacknowledged as enlightenment and blackmail. Hopefully, literature was trusted to should up the hope ofcreating a new myth: a mythward movement grew into the mainstream of epoch. Spurred by the new discoveries in the field of psychoanalysis, modernism entered into the era of mythic revival, witnessing therise of a great many leading artists and writers with their myth-oriented works, such as T.S. Eliot’sWasteland, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, Hermann Broch’s The Death ofVirgil as well as Picasso’s cubic paintings, etc. As a representative of late modernism, Broch applied hisown mythic theories to his novel writing. He stressed the concepts of myth, totality, the Logos, the style ofolder age as well as individual personality in his works of literary criticism and novels.Chapter Two focuses on the analysis of archetypal characterizations of Broch’s three novels. Withinthe framework of Jungian criticism, this part explores the archetypal sources of Brochian protagonists andheroes, thereby analyzing the coherence between themes and mythical archetypes.Almost all the figures are characterized in more than one single image, which reflects Broch’sendeavor to capture the epochal spirit in general. The multiple mythic images of archetypes may propel theformation of the mythical dimension of stories, which sends forth a magic and weird illumination on thelevel of inner experience around the themes of crime and punishment.Chapter Three formulates the relationships between the abundant yet abstract significance of symbolicimages and the inner experiences of characters, and intends further to interpret the epochal style of a "nolonger and not yet" era. According to Frye, symbol is a relation linking two metaphors. If a symbolic imagerecurs throughout the text, the association of its symbolic connotation can establish the inner structuraltotality. Hence, this part discusses symbols in terms of two categories: one is the images that pertain to onebook and recur throughout it; the other is those that transcend through all the three novels.The research shows that the symbols and images under Brochs’ pen can be divided into two stagesaccording to whether their connotations have evolved or not: the stage of concrete representation and thestage of abstract cognition. The former is represented by The Sleepwalkers, and the latter is represented byThe Death of Virgil as a starting line, including The Guiltless. This shift of symbolism convincingly provesa thing: The Death of Virgil marks the maturity of Broch and his entry into the style of older age.Chapter Four attributes the quest for true self as the impetus of social and domestic life of both thewriter and his characters. Within the framework of Freud’s complex and Lacan’s theory of the Mirror stageand three orders: the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real, this part seeks to identify the modes of theprotagonists pursuing their own subjectivity. Motherly love, eroticism and bridal mysticism are analyzed in association with the characters’ personalities and tragic fates. Inspired by the fatherward movement ofJesus, this part contributes an original interpretation to the process of ego development of the maincharacters in the three novels. Their trajectories of growth, seen from the perspective of Lacanism, aremarked respectively by motherward, fatherward and windward movements.The writer of this dissertation argues here that Hermann Broch had practiced Lacanian theories ofthree stages well ahead of him in an artistic medium.Chapter Five aims at an elaboration upon Broch’s blueprint of myth or a world of totality. Broch hadbeen very nostalgic and sentimental about the disintegration of the totality of Christian world establishedsince the Medieval Era. However, the urgent sense of mission as a modern writer did not allow him tolinger too much upon the memory of the past. Hermann Broch practiced his epistemological concept of"the earthly absolute" in his novels: to overcome the fear of death and master the knowledge of the Logosare the essential premises of establishing a world of ethical, political and scientific totality. This idealrequires that man should walk out of the City of Vanity to enter nature, to embrace love, a relationshipsimilar to Martin Buber’s "I and You" relation and breaks away from "I and It" relation. On the basis ofnatural, authentic life and universal brotherhood, will be erected an ideal republic where man can get thedesired freedom, peace and order. Here one of the main argumentations is how Heidegger and Brochdivided in terms of epistemology.The last chapter starts with analysis of the historical and literary sources of aesthetics and redemption,and moves to interpret the ethical aesthetics which takes the redemption of self as the core of Brochianmyth. Brochian aesthetics appears to be ethics-oriented, redemptive and negative, affirming what is morallyugly by negation. This aesthetics is named by the author of this dissertation as "ruminational aesthetics". Torepeatedly look at a seemingly ugly thing or person manifests the redemptive consciousness of ananti-kitsch artist and his ardent aspiration to overcome the loss of creed and fall of humanity.The concluding part subsequently deals with the structure of Broch’s mytho-poetics, the historicallocation of Broch in the literary history, and literary legacy and influence as a transitional figure betweenlate modernism and postmodernism as well as a tentative prospect of future scholarship of Broch.

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