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Title:Wounds of the past: Trauma and German historical thought after 1945
Author(s):Riebeling, Zachary
Director of Research:Liebersohn, Harry
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Liebersohn, Harry
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Fritzsche, Peter; Micale, Mark S; Koslofsky, Craig
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Historical Thought
Abstract:My dissertation is an intellectual history of trauma and historical thinking in postwar Germany. I argue that the traumas of the Second World War generated a paradigm shift in German historical thought, as experiences of dehumanization, exile, imprisonment, destruction, and genocide destabilized narratives of progress and ignited critical reconsiderations of history’s meaning, goal, and purpose. I focus on the work of a grouping of intellectuals whom I term “postprogressive,” who traced the origins of these contemporary catastrophes back to the philosophy of history and worked to create historical visions centered not on progress, but on alternative poles such as the cosmos, order, and plurality. Through readings of their manuscripts, correspondence, and published writings, I contend that these thinkers’ theoretical output constituted attempts to understand and overcome the trauma they had endured by radically rethinking the conceptions of history that had engendered it. Furthermore, I demonstrate how this process of reorientation worked beside and against dominant discourses of forgetting and coming to terms with the past, revealing a project of delegitimization of the past that has not been recognized by historians. In reconstructing these philosophical efforts, I offer “delegitimization” as a novel paradigm for understanding of German intellectuals’ relationship with history in the postwar era. This research speaks to different sites of confluence between ideas, politics, and bodies. Foremost, it offers a history of intellectual survival that is methodologically and theoretically significant to global histories of post-catastrophic thought and culture. Rather than being silenced by the horrors of the Second World War, these figures continued to think against catastrophe, allowing them to be understood alongside a range of post-colonial, post-traumatic, and post-imperial discourses. This dissertation also theorizes and models intellectual history as the study of orientations, rather than of discreet ideas or concepts. This allows for an interpretation of the relationalities that organize sets of ideas into relationships of similitude or dissimilitude, antagonism or cooperation, recognition or mutual incomprehension. Furthermore, drawing on methodologies developed in the burgeoning interdisciplinary field of critical trauma studies, I highlight how the attempts of these thinkers to delegitimize and sublimate their trauma diverged from normative clinical conceptions of working-through and reintegration. These heterodox engagements with trauma and history also complicate dominant scholarly understandings of postwar Germans’ relationship with the past through their incompatibility with binaries focused on repression and acknowledgment. By approaching trauma as both an object and as a critical lens, my project articulates the historical potency of trauma in moments and manifestations that are elided by hegemonic clinical and cultural norms
Issue Date:2019-07-08
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 Zachary Riebeling
Date Available in IDEALS:2019-11-26
Date Deposited:2019-08

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