AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

In the Footsteps of Pascal and Kierkegaard: Ethics and Faith in Wolfgang Koeppen's Postwar Novels

by Susanne Koch

Institution: University of Cincinnati
Department: Arts and Sciences : Germanic Languages and Literature
Degree: PhD
Year: 2009
Keywords: German literature; Koeppen; Ethics; Faith; Pascal; Kierkegaard; Postwar German Literature
Record ID: 1849599
Full text PDF: http://rave.ohiolink.edu/etdc/view?acc_num=ucin1249653225


In focus of this dissertation are the philosophical and Christian dimensions of Wolfgang Koeppen’s postwar novels, Tauben im Gras (1951), Das Treibhaus (1953), and Der Tod in Rom (1954). The author claimed to be neither a philosophical nor a religious writer. Nevertheless, Koeppen raised in his postwar novels fundamental philosophical questions, as well as questions pertaining to the Christian Church and faith. Since the author explicitly identified Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) and Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813-1855) as wise men, this dissertation sets out to answer three pivotal questions: why did Koeppen choose these two religious philosophers as mentors, how does this choice manifest itself in his postwar novels, and what might have been the reason for his preference of Kierkegaard? The introduction provides a research overview and places the author and his work within postwar Germany, i.e., his time, culture, and postwar literature. Chapter one examines Koeppen’s literary intentions, the means that he utilizes in his trilogy to achieve his goal, and the texts’ existential themes and issues. The propounded existential thoughts and problems serve then as the basis for the following chapters. Chapter two relates Koeppen’s literary objectives and existential ethics to Pascal’s literary intentions and philosophy. The chapter concludes that the French philosopher’s perspicacious understanding of human nature and relations and his uncompromising ethical approach to existence made him a trustworthy guide for Koeppen, who searched for sure ways and means to amend his contemporaries emotional, mental, moral, and spiritual deficiencies. Chapter three briefly discusses the emergence of existentialism and the movement’s impact on the postwar German author and his trilogy. Thereafter, the chapter analyzes the similarities in Koeppen’s and Kierkegaard’s thinking and writing and concludes that the Danish philosopher provided Koeppen with the insight of what it means to be a self and how to achieve true freedom, which certainly prompted the postwar German author to give Kierkegaard preference over Pascal. Chapter four investigates the themes of Church and faith as they manifest themselves in the trilogy. Since Koeppen portrayed a society that no longer believes in or misconceives Christianity and presented the Catholic Church as a powerful worldly institution whose integrity needs to be questioned, the trilogy’s themes of Church and faith are ambiguous. Nevertheless, chapter four substantiates that Koeppen offered not only ethics but also faith as a potential remedy to his era’s despair and nihilism.Since the connection between Koeppen’s, Pascal’s, and Kierkegaard’s way of thinking and writing has been largely overlooked, the vast majority of Koeppen researchers ascribed to the author a scornful, misanthropic, fatalistic, and resigned mentality. However, the findings of this study, i.e., Koeppen’s moral and spiritual engagement in society, allow for a new assessment of the postwar German author’s mental…