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"Ich werde ganz einfach telegraphieren" : Subjekte, Telegraphie, Autonomie und Fortschritt in Theodor Fontanes Gesellschaftsromanen Thomas, Christian Erik

Abstract

"Ich werde ganz einfach telegraphieren" — Subjekte, Telegraphie, Autonomie und Fortschritt in Theodor Fontanes Gesellschaftsromanen Electronic media influence our thoughts and behaviours. Our present situation resembles that of the industrial world in the late nineteenth century, when electrical telegraphy, the precursor of today's media technologies, gained a dominant position in telecommunications. In our day, conditioning prevents us from reaching a deeper understanding of our relationship to technical media. Because electrical media were still new in the late nineteenth century, observers then were more readily able to analyse their effects and to recognize potentials of subjects in their accounts. In Germany the writer Theodor Fontane demonstrated through depictions in his late novels of society that, by reflecting on the nature of the self and its relation to telegraphy and concomitant ideologies, subjects have the capacity to become aware not only of factors that control them, but also of their autonomous potentials. This consciousness provides the basis for their self-empowerment in the use of telegraphy. However, because Fontane critically depicts Wilhelminian society, his protagonists only attain this level of Consciousness in isolated instances. Its realisation is continuously achieved through Fontane's narrative depiction and its reconstruction by the readers. The image of the subject and its potentials that emerges in this reconstruction provides valuable insights applicable also to evaluations of our present media involvement. Contrary to a wide-spread belief as to subjects'powerlessness and insignificance, our findings imply that the position of subjects in relation to media can be described more positively. Fontane's depiction is concentrated in three identifiable areas, in which the conjunction of telegraphy and ideology exerts a controlling influence on subjects. In accordance with this focus our study examines the views of nature and technology as fateful forces, the alteration of time- and space experiences, and the construction of German, foreign and technical cultures.

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