On Schicksal: The Return of Tragedy in Modernity
In the Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin observed that modernity was haunted by a rampant “Schicksalslüsternheit,” a prurient yearning for fate. Indeed, Schicksal was a central concept in many discourses around 1900, not only in the sciences and humanities but also in philosophy and literature. This research project explores what kind of work the concept of Schicksal did in these contexts by asking the following questions: Where did this fascination with Schicksal come from? What was Schicksal’s interpretative power in modernity? What kind of conflicts, processes, and power relations were negotiated under the banner of Schicksal? To answer these questions, the project examines the relationship between tragedy and philosophy around 1900, analyzes what kind of methodological problems emerged with the focus on a concept like Schicksal, and explores the fluctuation between disenchantment and enchantment that becomes apparent in modernity’s fascination with Schicksal.
Alexander Draxl holds degrees in educational studies and psychology from the University of Innsbruck, where he also worked as a teaching assistant for five years. Following a semester as a visiting graduate student in Canada, he joined Princeton University’s Department of German as a Ph.D. student in 2017. In addition to his ongoing research project on the concept of Schicksal, he has also taught seminars on love, aggression, and childhood from the perspective of cultural studies. His research areas include psychoanalytic theory, the “Erste Kulturwissenschaft” (Benjamin, Freud, Simmel, Warburg), modernity, and German philosophy of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (primarily Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Heidegger).
Um 1900 scheint das Wort Schicksal ein obsoleter Begriff zu sein, ein irrationaler Rest längst vergangener Zeiten. Denn wer kann in der Moderne noch an etwas wie das Schicksal glauben? Erstaunlicherweise aber war Schicksal ein durchaus geläufiger Begriff. In seinem Vortrag stellt sich Alexander Draxl die Frage, was dieser unzeitgemäße Begriff um 1900 zu leisten vermochte.