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Abstract

My dissertation develops a transcultural model for literary movements by exploring the emergence of literary Romanticism in 18th-century Germany and its reemergence in Russian literature. By identifying key traits of a Romantic “imagination” in German and Russian literature, I reveal a modality that has continued to function in defiance of the traditional boundaries of literary periodization. In particular, my project attends to the Romantic topos of an aesthetic encounter as a historicizing struggle between memory and deception. I analyze these moments as a type of “Augentäuschung,” playing on the two semantic possibilities of this German term that can be understood either as “optical illusion” or, more literally, as a “deception/confusion of the eyes.” Synthesizing theoretical frameworks from Pierre Nora, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Aleksandr Veselovskii, I consider aestheticized encounters with female avatars of antiquity and the folk imagination within Romantic texts. Treating this ambiguity of aesthetic representation as a central trait of the Romantic imagination, my analysis challenges the constraints of traditional literary periodization by identifying evolutions of this Romantic motif in 19th- and 20th-century Russian literature. ,My first chapter begins by investigating complications in the ethical experience of beauty in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust with respect to Helen of Troy. This moment of visual confusion stages a moral crisis that casts the experience as a type of deception. Drawing on the aesthetic theories of Herder, Lessing, as well as on Goethe’s own literary and aesthetic works, I explore the dynamics of deception during literary encounters with sculptural figures.,The second chapter tracks aesthetic ambiguity within German Romanticism in representative works, including Joseph von Eichendorff’s The Marble Statue, Novalis’s The Novices at Sais, and E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Mines of Falun.” For each tale, the Romantic hero perceives a figure of feminine beauty through atmospheric or environmental interferences. The visual obstructions characteristic of the environment in this moment reflect the hero’s muddled reason while he is confronted with a confluence of antinomies: Christian and pagan moralities, present and past temporalities, and nature against the supernatural. In this moment of sensory and ethical confusion, the sculptural avatar of antiquity beckons him towards an idealized vision of the past. This central conflict unveils the figure’s importance as a catalyst of both historical (universal) memory and subjective (individual) memory.,The third chapter follows transformations of this motif into Russian Romanticism by unearthing sedimentations of aesthetic ambiguity in figurations of the Russian rusalka – a water demon from Slavic folklore – in representative works by Aleksandr Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol’, and Mikhail Lermontov. After first locating the rusalka in Slavic folklore, this chapter deconstructs literary figurations of the rusalka to pinpoint the inheritance of characteristics and narrative situations from similarly metamorphic Western figures of lore such as mermaids, sirens, and the Lorelei. ,The final chapter challenges traditional periodization by exploring transformations of the “Augentäuschung” motif in Russian Symbolism. The hermeneutic crisis endemic to these moments reemerges in the form of unusual correspondences – unlikely or improbable pairings – that generate the mystical situation. I examine the lyric verse by Aleksandr Blok, Valerii Briusov, and Viacheslav Ivanov as representative instances of aesthetic encounters with threshold female figures.

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