Date of Award


Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Liberal Arts

Degree Name

Doctor of Liberal Arts (DLA)

Degree Type



The “modern world” as we now know it is quite different from that which was emerging in Western Europe and began to accelerate in its development under the impetus of revolution and wars at the turn of the nineteenth century. Not only were material conditions in the process of shifting from those grounded in more traditional, rural and agrarian ways of life to those developing into more urban and industrialized ones, but the “social ontology” and cultural forms of “mapping” and communicating about reality were also changing.

This study employs a “macro-historical” framework which incorporates complexity and complex system principles to investigate some of the patterns of these highly transformative systemic changes as they impacted Germany and France in particular in the long nineteenth century. These societies are employed in this investigation for two reasons: 1) because they were among that handful of communities that directly participated in the emergence of modernization as a rather explosive and rapidly developing phenomena in that historical moment (whose consequences also included the emergence of new social movements and forms of social structuration as expressed in nationalism and the modern nation-state), and 2) because, as directly neighboring communities, these two illustrate in a microcosm some of the dynamic operations of closely co-existing complex systems themselves.

Consideration of the lives and selected literary works of pairs of German and French writers at three different time points in the century grounds the discussion, because these artists are themselves viewed as important innovators who both embodied and expressed signs of the new forms of society and culture that were then emerging. These particular writers (Heinrich von Kleist and Germaine de Staêl; Heinrich Heine and Honoré de Balzac; and Heinrich Mann and Stéphane Mallarmé) are particularly suitable for this study because of their notably protean capacities for vision as well as their positions “on the margins” of their communities which not only afforded them insightful perspectives on the shifting sociocultural landscape but also challenged them to employ their talents to give the latter some novel narrative shape.

After an Introduction which outlines much of the theoretical framework for the discussion, chapter one considers Staël and Kleist who expressed creative visions of (potentially) new kinds of social agents and their relationships to (those virtual) societies that were then appearing to be on the verge of emerging after the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. The second chapter discusses Heine and Balzac as artists trying to develop new aesthetics in a kind of (implicit) service to their respective German and French communities’ post-war efforts at recuperating and reconfiguring a new “social order” trending towards the “new modern.” And the third chapter considers Mann and Mallarmé, who are viewed as confronting some of the new adaptive challenges in the latter part of the century arising from continued progression of the powerful (and perceptibly impersonal) self-organizing forces of modernization and many Europeans’ disillusionment with (and withdrawal from) them, to which these writers responded with their own creative strategies for trying to actively address these challenges and provoke their contemporaries to do the same.

The conclusion reflects upon the value of using a complex systems interpretive lens for understanding the roles and work of such writers, who are regarded via this lens as significant innovators who responded particularly meaningfully to the individual and communal challenges raised by the self-organizing forces operating in their historical moments in the nineteenth century. It also briefly considers the pros and cons of employing such a “holistic” perspective for appreciating such artistic work more generally.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Matt Erlin

Committee Members

Tili Boon Cuillé, Ignacio Infante