The Soul and Its Forms in Modern Times: The Yale Hermann Broch Symposium
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
In crucial aspects of his literary work and his philosophical, psychological, and political thinking, the Austrian writer Hermann Broch was both representative and idiosyncratic, typical of 20th-century European modernism and yet an exception as well. This is particularly true of the ways in which conceptual thinking and literary experimentation are intertwined in Broch’s work. As the author of pioneering novels such as Sleep Walkers or The Death of Virgil as well as of theoretical essays on philosophy, political, economic theory, and mass psychology, Broch presents us with an interesting problem: To what extent did his literary writing put into practice a more general theoretical attitude? Was his conceptual framework consistent with the challenges and goals of modernism and modernist writing?
The state of the novel in the first half of the last century is undoubtedly at the heart of the matter. Writing the novel and the theory of the novel—the complex and difficult configuration of what György Lukács once termed ‘the soul and the forms’—were emblematic for the practice of a writing between literature proper and the various fields of experimental thinking in particular in the context of psychology, anthropology, and political theory.
In order to shed light on this modernist constellation, the discussion is set up in three panels: 1. The Psyche and the Political. In this panel we would like to conduct a debate on the larger Austrian, German, and European context in which Broch’s thinking on psychological and political issues developed. 2. Style and Empire. Under this heading we invite speakers to concentrate on Broch’s Death of Virgil, the configuration of the stylistic experimentation in the novel and its theme of the Roman Empire (and by extension empire in general). 3. Writing in the Context of European Modernism. In this final panel we would like to broaden the scope to include the larger European context in which Broch’s specific form of the novel developed.