The Look of Things

Poetry and Vision around 1900

By Carsten Strathausen

344 pp., 6 x 9, 13 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1516-5
    Published: March 2014

University of North Carolina Studies in Germanic Languages and Literature

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Examining the relationship between German poetry, philosophy, and visual media around 1900, Carsten Strathausen argues that the poetic works of Rainer Maria Rilke, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and Stefan George focused on the visible gestalt of language as a means of competing aesthetically with the increasing popularity and "reality effect" of photography and film. 

Poetry around 1900 self-reflectively celebrated its own words as both transparent signs and material objects, Strathausen says. In Aestheticism, this means that language harbors the potential to literally present the things it signifies. Rather than simply describing or picturing the physical experience of looking, as critics have commonly maintained, modernist poetry claims to enable a more profound kind of perception that grants intuitive insights into the very texture of the natural world.

About the Author

Carsten Strathausen is assistant professor of German at the University of Missouri at Columbia.
For more information about Carsten Strathausen, visit the Author Page.


"For all the discussion about what German Studies means in the early 21st century, Carsten Strathausen's book manages to address the field in many of its various instantiations. . . . [His] book is an ambitious and learned study; his insights are in substantial conversation with the literary traditions he examines and he interacts usefully with 20th-century German philosophical contributions while also, always, reaching beyond the linguistic turn. The value for scholars interested in this period will be found in Strathausen's revisioning of literary categories and their linkage to visuality that extends to the present"--German Quarterly Book Reviews

"The Look of Things provides a vivid, lucid account of the intellectual-historical contexts of visual aesthetics as embodied in the poem and in poetic prose, from Stefan George's Teppich des Lebens to Rainer Maria Rilke's poetry and Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. Strathausen's analysis demonstrates the emergence of pre-cinematic modes of perception in literary language and brings the reader into the eye of the social, aesthetic, and intellectual storm of German modernity in the early twentieth century."--Neil H. Donahue, author of Forms of Disruption: Abstraction in Modern German Prose

"An ambitious and learned study. . . . A complex revisioning of literary categories from which the present proliferation of work in visual studies will undoubtedly also profit."--German Quarterly

"Carsten Strathausen's discerning analysis of the emergence of two competing visual paradigms (the disembodied, cold gaze of the camera, and the subjective, corporeal vision) at the beginning of the twentieth century will be of interest to scholars and students of photography, painting, and modern poetry alike. This is a book to be contemplated, a welcome addition to the growing field of visual studies, and a sensitive reading of some of the major poetic voices of European modernity. "--Ulrich Baer, author of Spectral Evidence: The Photography of Trauma