The Afterlife of the Dead in This World: Ghosts, Art, and Poetry in German Modernism

  • Georg Braungart


Flying tables, moving curtains, deceased relatives appearing out of the dark, noises of knocking, sighing, and crying coming from nowhere—in many homes in central Europe around 1900, strange things happened. From the viewpoint of today, we may consider these phenomena as mere curiosities—as phenomena which seem to be typical of an age of decadence, obscurantism, and hysteria, typical of the so-called fin de siècle in Vienna, Paris, Berlin, Munich, and Prague. The question is how the cultural practices of spiritualism and occultism are related to the syndrome of modernity, and how they were used by writers and painters to outline the basics of their aesthetic principles. Automatic writing, photographs of thoughts, and paintings of revenants: are these phenomena proof of the capability of artists and writers to ‘look behind the curtain’? To hear the voices from ‘beyond’? Or are they rather ‘old wine in new bottles’, i.e., traditional patterns of an artist’s self-fashioning? Focusing on some poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, this article looks for a new model of symbolism in art and literature by referring to spiritualism and occultism.


Ghosts Spiritualism Fin de siècle Rilke Carl du prel Wera ouckama knoop 


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of TübingenTübingenGermany

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