Geological Uncertainty and Poetic Creativity: The Material Agency of <i>Findlinge</i> for Droste-Hülshoff and Goethe
This essay isolates the geological phenomenon of Findlinge (erratic rocks) in literary works by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Annette von Droste-Hülshoff in order to examine these authors’ shared recognition of the agency of the material world. Rather than depicting anthropocentric poetic subjects that idealistically project their inner visions onto the natural world, these authors read the earth as endowed with a creative force and portray the poetic subject as but one component among many entangled in natural historical processes. This essay relies on the insights of material ecocriticism to demonstrate that Droste-Hülshoff and Goethe take a unique literary approach by reading geological phenomena, such as the yet unexplained movement of Findlinge across the earth, as processes that can be scientifically examined and which contain their own potential, rather than as mere objects of nature poetry. Close readings of Droste-Hülshoff’s poem “Die Mergelgrube” (“The Marl Pit”) and an excerpt from Goethe’s Faust II reveal the two authors’ related approaches. Both depict human characters uncertain about how their existence relates to non-human matter and vast environmental process, but both also reflect on the overlapping potential of natural processes and poetic creativity. The present analysis also considers the cultural and historical context of the two authors’ works, offering insight into contemporary theories on natural history, each author’s personal scientific pursuits in this field, the tension these developments created with prevalent religious views, and the role of women in natural science in the nineteenth century.
Keywords: materialism, ecocriticism, literary criticism, agency, geology, natural history