The Geological Unconscious: German Literature and the Mineral Imaginary

Forthcoming in July 2020
Already in the nineteenth century, German-language writers were contending with the challenge of imagining and accounting for a planet whose volatility bore little resemblance to the images of the Earth then in circulation. The Geological Unconscious traces the withdrawal of the lithosphere as a reliable setting, unobtrusive backdrop, and stable point of reference for literature written well before the current climate breakdown.

Through a series of careful readings of romantic, realist, and modernist works by Tieck, Goethe, Stifter, Benjamin, and Brecht, Groves elaborates a geological unconscious—unthought and sometimes actively repressed geological knowledge—in European literature and environmental thought. This inhuman horizon of reading and interpretation offers a new literary history of the Anthropocene in a period before it was named.

These close readings show the entanglement of the human and the lithic in periods well before the geological turn of contemporary cultural studies. In those depictions of human-mineral encounters, the minerality of the human and the minerality of the imagination become apparent. In registering libidinal investments in the lithosphere that extend beyond Carboniferous deposits and beyond any carbon imaginary, The Geological Unconscious points toward alternative relations with, and less destructive mobilizations of, the geologic.


Dark Geology: The Arcades Project as Earth Archive. Forthcoming in Colloquia Germanica.
If dark ecology adapts the complicity of the film noir narrator into an ecological thinking that does not permit metapositions and neutral points of view, a dark geology, in turn, could be elaborated in order to account for the implication of the human element in the complex geologic flows that compose cities. This article takes shape around an important forerunner, Walter Benjamin and The Arcades Project.

“Petrifiction: Reimagining the Mine in German Romanticism.” In Readings in the Anthropocene: The Environmental Humanities, German Studies, and Beyond, editedby Sabine Wilke, Bloomsbury, 2017.
This article showcases the human–mineral relations of German romanticism in the case of Ludiwg Tieck’s romantic tale of mining, Der Runenberg (Rune Mountain) and how those relations emphasize how the agency of the non-human world  challenges the anthropocentrism and anthroponarcissism inherent in dominant Anthropocene narratives,

“Silent Mutations: Writing After Nature (Sebald).” In German Ecocriticsm in the Anthropocene, edited by Heather Sullivan and Caroline Schaumann, Palgrave, 2017..
Sites of disturbance in Sebald’s writing as novel environments rather than merely the ongoing devastation of a traumatic past. The reduced ecologies of weeds and ruderals that comprise the environmental imagination of The Rings of Saturn subtly celebrate the regenerative capacities of anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic ecological disturbances, they nourish a more-than-human future beyond the legacy of anthropogenic destruction, and they also yield an ecopoetics not predicated on an unpolluted atmosphere or unalienated life.

“Literature and Geology: An Inclination.”  Literatur für Leser, Peter Lang, 2017.
Introduction to a special issue on literature and geology.

“Goethe’s Petrofiction: Reading the Wanderjahre in the Anthropocene.”  Goethe Yearbook, vol.22, no.1, 2015, pp. 95-113. 
While oil, its extraction, and the global petroculture and its role in transforming the planet’s climate undoubtedly play a crucial role in petromodernity, it would hamper both the imagination and the root of “petro-fiction” (Ghosh) to restrict the range of this term to the encounter with fossil fuels within a carbon imaginary. Goethe’ s writing on granite offers another petroculture that, while it may have its roots in mining and other extractive technologies, offers imaginative ways of relating to the lithosphere beyond resource extraction. 

“Subnature Writing.” The Yearbook of Comparative Literature, vol. 58, no. 1, 2012 [2014], pp. 151-154. [Invited]
Within the rural settings typical of Romanticism and Realism (e.g. Adalbert Stifter) abounds an overlooked ruderal setting: edges of fields and abandoned pastures, pools of runoff and drainage ditches, roadsides and railway embankments. These remainders of pastoral practices, industrialization, and warfare are vague terrains whose residents unsettle existing concepts of nature.

“A View from the Edge: The Peripatetic Perspective.” In The Best Things in Museums are the Windows. The Center for Art and Inquiry at The Exploratorium Museum, 2014, pp. 34-39.
Reflections on my participation on a long walk facilitated by Harrell Fletcher during his artist-in-residence at the Exploratorium.

“Erratische Blöcke: Stifters Bunte Steine.” Sêma: Wendepunkte der Philologie, edited by Joachim Harst and Kristina Mendicino, Königshausen & Neumann, 2013, pp. 255-269.
Philological scrutiny of the writing of  stones in Stifter’s story “Granite.” 

“Nonspecies Invasion: The Eco-Logic of Late Capitalism.” Telemorphosis: Theory in the Era of Climate Change, vol. 1., edited by Tom Cohen, Open Humanities Press, 2012, pp. 183-202.
Taking species invasion (in the sense of invasive species; biological invasion) as a critical concept from twentieth-century ecology, this article charts how its premises are shattered by twenty-first century climate change and how the discourse of bio-invasion might instead be accounted for in what Derrida presciently describes as “nonspecies invasion”: “the as yet unnamable which is proclaiming itself and which can do so only under the species of the nonspecies, in the formless, mute, infant, and terrifying form of monstrosity.”

“Spills, Countercurrents, Sinks” (co-authored with Henry Sussman). Impasses of the Post- Global: Theory in the Era of Climate Change, vol. 2., edited by Henry Sussman, Open Humanities Press, 2012, pp. 13-33.
An introduction to Impasses of the Post- Global, the second volume of Theory in the Era of Climate Change.

“Before the Law of Human Motor Functions: Walter Benjamin’s Poetics of the Step.” Performance Research, vol. 17, no. 2, 2012, pp. 46-53. 
Literary criticism has for the most part neglected to trace the flow of language and bodies as they move beyond the syntactic and the ideal of the well-ordered. This essay looks at two scenes of missteps in Walter Benjamin’s writings, scenes where he discovers a capacity for deviation that promises to initiate unanticipated trajectories of thought, writing, and movement.

“The Stone in the Air: Paul Celan’s Other Terrain.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, vol. 29, no. 3, 2011, pp. 469 – 484.
For a special issue of the geography journal Society and Space on aerographies, this article turns to the inconstant and inconsistent ground in Paul Celan's `geological lyric and explicates the relationship in his writing between the earth and its unthought other: air. This reading has as its object of inquiry what I am calling Celan's aerography, which is doubly articulated in the turn to aerial space in his poetry and in his articulation of the work of air in those terrestrial landscapes formed and deformed by aeolian processes. 

“Unbecoming Furniture: Robert Walser’s Ergonomics.” Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie, vol. 129, no. 4, 2010, 593-607.
The law of literary work in Robert Walser, its ergo-nomos, develops out of the neglect of ergonomic principles in the office workspace: his stories of office clerks take shape around “unbecoming” and inadequate furniture. However, Walser’s narrators develop in their attempt to unbecome furniture, which entails undoing the work of unbecoming furniture, undoing the training of the working body, and working against the constraints imposed by the disciplines of orthopedics and ergonomics.

“The Ecology of Invasion.” The Global South 3.1, 2009, pp. 30-41.
Beginning with a re-reading of ecologist Charles S. Elton’s groundbreaking study, The Ecology of Invasions in Plants and Animals (1958), this paper considers the implications of the trope of invasion to describe this novel paradigm of ecological movement. By re-tracing the outbreak of both rhetorical and biological invasions, this paper explores the possibility of rethinking these biogeographic developments outside of a militaristic framework.

“Writing under the Influence (Artaud)” Modern Language Notes, vol. 122, no. 5, 2007, pp. 1124-1137.
A close reading of Artaud’s essay “Theater and the Plauge,” attending to the transmission of affect and infection across media and genres.

“An Interpretive Walk through The Interpretation of Dreams.” Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge, vol. 15, 2007.
On Freud and mushrooms.

“New Stage Directions in Waiting for Godot.” Text and Presentation, edited by Stratos E. Constantinidis, McFarland, 2006, pp. 70-80.
The stage of Waiting for Godot presents a scene of dramatic mastery, one achieved in no small part by means of an exhaustive set of stage directions. I therefore argue that a significant aspect of the predicament of Didi and Gogo is their confinement in, and to, a script. Ths article considers dramaturgic strategies capable of exploiting these constraints onstage.

The Babylonian Planet. A translation of Sonja Neef’s Der Babylinische Planet: Kultur, Übersetzung, Dekonstruktion unter den Bedingungen der Globalisierung, Winter Verlag, 2013. (Under Review)

For—Philology. A translation of Werner Hamacher’s Für—Philologie, Engeler, 2009. In Minima Philologica,  Fordham UP, 2015, pp. 107-165. 

Schattenparker. Translation and subtitling for Die Schattenparker, Cine rebelde, 2006. View here.

“Geography of the Fürth Departure Center.” Translation of An Architektur #12 / Geografie des Ausreisezentrums Fürth, 2004. In An Atlas of Radical Cartography,  Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press, 2007.


Recent English Courses 

Poster by Stephanie WelchPoster by Stephanie Welch

German Courses

Literary Theory, Methodology, and Bibliography. 
Graduate seminar, offers a historical survey of criticism and theory, a snapshot of contemporary German Studies and its methods of research and bibliography, as well as research methodologies for work in the digital, public, and environmental humanities.

Literary Realism: Narrating Nonhuman Nature.
Graduate seminar, an introduction to the problems of representation, narration, and description in nineteenth-century prose, particularly with respect to nature and the physical world, waste and pollution, and the everyday and the ordinary.

The Future of the Human/ities.
Graduate seminar, surveys current and emerging critical and theoretical idioms of the humanities as they pertain to the concept of the Anthropocene, 

Tales of the Romantic Imagination: Fairy Tales and the Fantastic
The historical, political, and cultural dimensions of the Märchen collected by the Brothers Grimm and the Kunstmärchen as it developed in the period known as German Romanticism.

Writing Travel: Migration, Translation, and Memory.
Survey of the German-language literature and film of those who—through exile, travel, immigration, emigration, or other politically inflected forms of mobility—have challenged and reimagined traditional conceptions of German national and cultural identity.

Introduction to German Literary Studies.
Introduction to techniques of literary and cultural analysis through reading and discussion of a wide range of texts across three centuries and three genres, while also holding space for the critical evaluation of German Studies curricula.

Conferences and Talks

Weak Translation. 
Translation Studies Hub, University of Washington, November 2019.
Exploring lower thresholds of plausibility and admissibility for “translation” in a range of literary texts and practices.

The Aesthetics of Multidirectional Memory
Western Washington Gallery, WWU, November 2019.
In converation with Robert Sniderman regarding his exhibition Lost in Jüdischer Friedhof Weißensee.

Multidirectional Planetary Memory: Remembering Genocide in the Anthropocene.
GSA, Portland, OR, Ocotber 2019
Remembering Auschwitz and the Middle Passage in the Anthropocene, as enacted in the poem “Niedrigwasser” by Paul Celan.

Zugrunde Gehen: Heterotopias of Inundation From Bohemia to Drexciya. 
ASLE, Davis, CA, July 2019 
Contending with inundation in a dark ecopoetics of “going under”in Ingeborg Bachmann (”Bohemia Lies By the Sea”), Paul Celan (”Low Tide”), Alexis Pauline Gumbs (M Archive: After the End of the World), Drexciya (The Quest), and Otolith (Hydra Decapita).

Earthly Impressions: Book, Text, and Archive in the Anthropocene
University of Washington, March 2019
Co-organized a symposium in book history and the environmental humanities. See program here.

“Dark Geology: The Arcades Project, Urban Media, and Earth Archives.”
Emory University, March 2018.
The Arcades Project as geological archive.

“Stranded Futures: On Literature and Maladaptation.”
University of Toronto, April 2018.
On some grey ecologies in W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn.

“Forms of Survival.”
UC Davis, May 2018
Through readings of Benjamin and Brecht, a consideration of how “survival” is reduced to something that pertains to and obtains for the inorganic—or rather how it expands beyond the distinction between life and nonlife.

“The Epigram at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Commentary in Capitalist Ruins.”
ACLA, Los Angeles, March 2018.
The difficulty of maintaining literary and philological projects amidst historical emergencies, as modeled by Benjamin’s commentary on Brecht’s epigrammatic poems.

“The Song of the Eaarth: On Elemental Accretion” New York University, February 2018.
For a Symposium on the Elements, a talk on how the climate-changed planet “Eaarth” (Bill McKibben) serves as an elemental medium in texts ranging from Goethe’s On Granite to the BBC television play The Stone Tape.

“Stranded Objects: On Maladaptation in Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn.”
GSA, Atlanta, October 2017.
Despite how cultures of knowledge since the nineteenth century emphasize the situatedness of life, a countertradition that emphasizes the mal- and undapted is evident in Sebald’s novels.

“Lapidary Style: Epigrams for the Anthropocene.”
ACLA, Utrecht, NL, July 2017.
How the uncanny vitality of the inorganic, as modeled in and by lapidary poetic language, might offer one of the more tenable forms of survival today.

“Walser & Co.”
Glass Box Gallery, Seattle, April 2017.
A talk about not working in the novels of Robert Walser for the lecture series This Might Not Work.

“Variations on Movement: A Counter-disciplinary Lecture.”
University of Washington, March 2017.
A performance lecture with Michael Swaine in the Department of Germanics

“Critical Climate Change: The Humanities in a Time of Mass Extinction.”
University of Washington, October 2016.
How the humanities address and contend with the sixth extinction, as part of the Performing Arts Lecture Series.

“Epigrams for the Anthropocene: Writing After Extinction”
GSA, San Diego., October 2016.
On the resilience of language in times of environmental catastrophe.

“Can the Anthropocene Be Exhibited?”
The Exploratorium, September 2016.
A conversation of the possibility of observing and exhibiting the Anthropocene - and if it is possible to observe, see, think, listen, or read at earth-magnitude. 

“Field Guides to the Anthropocene.”
California College for the Arts, October 2015.
On the return to, and development of, the field guide genre in the Anthropocene 

“The Disturbance Ecologies of W.G. Sebald.”
GSA, Washington D.C., October 2015.
How sites of environmental disturbance in Sebald’s writing serve as landscapes of a more-than-human future that is other than merely the legacy of anthropogenic destruction.

“Psychogeophysics: The Deep Time of the City.” The Exploratorium, September 2015.
A talk on the speculative study of urban geology- of the city as geological force.