Breaking Down the Neurotic-Psychotic Artifice: The Subversive Function of Myth in Goethe, Nietzsche, Rilke and Walter Benjamin

Dissertation, Emory University (1988)
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Abstract

This dissertation re-examines the principal philosophical thrusts of the German Enlightenment period, from the perspective of their totalizing-mythological function, and investigates how this function is criticized by the non-totalizing function of myth found within the primary mythical images in the work of Goethe, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Walter Benjamin. ;Utilizing the revolutionary book by Hans Blumenberg on the function of myth in German Idealism and Romanticism, I instigate a discourse between Blumenberg's totalizing work on myth and the negative-dialectical work on myth as proposed by Theodor Adorno. I locate the German origins of this negative-dialectical myth-making in the work of Goethe, specifically his non-totalizing image, Wilhelm Meister. I locate the development of this use of myth in Nietzsche's Zarathustra, and, finally, trace a similar function at work in Rilke's Malte and Walter Benjamin's historical materialist. ;Contrary to Habermas, who argues that Nietzsche opened up two roads to postmodernity, one leading to the "ontologization of aesthetics" and the other to the "totalizing critique" of reason , I put forth the argument that the Nietzschean "two roads" metaphor is useful but needs to be re-shaped, configuring one road toward the mythological history and historical mythology of Rilke and Walter Benjamin, and another road the Theodor Adorno's "thorough critique" of reason. ;The need to revise Habermas's "two roads to post-modernity" theory mythographically, rests on the primary investigation of this dissertation: to trace by de-scription the practical incarnation of the word on German soil . I define this process of "practical incarnation" as that word which subversively desires to de-scribe and trans-figure the neurotic -psychotic structure that has defined the parameters of Western discourse, at least since neo-Platonic Christianity influenced cultural codifications of the West. Finally, I maintain that the primary image of criticism which emerges from the dialectical work of the writers herein, is the image of man-child, a classless, non-totalizing image implicit in Goethe's Wilhelm Meister, and developed in the Kind-Mensch constellation in the work of Nietzsche, Rilke, and Walter Benjamin

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