Mimetischer Zauber: Die englischsprachige Rezeption deutscher Lieder in den USA, 1830-1880

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The English-language reception of German songs in the United States was a textual practice that extended across many social contexts in the 19th century. Translation, adaptation and circulation of these songs were a form of rhetorical and quasi mimetic representation that helped various American discourses constitute their worlds and identities (Transcendentalism, reform movements, revivalism, education, popular culture, political parties and the Civil War). Homi Bhabha's concept of the "Third Space" is a valid approach to the reception as these discourses made German songs part of their negotiations of American national identity, class, moral values, gender, and ethnicity, thus creating their own usable as well as ambivalent German point of reference. German and American cultures did not simply coexist in symbiotic relations. Rather, as the reception shows, they constructed their identities and differences through multiple intertextual relations within a shared discursive sphere of song. Cultural transfer was thus as much an inside as an outside phenomenon. The dissertation builds on extensive archival research and a collection of several hundred German songs, each with melody and English text, ranging from the Classics, Romanticism, the Napoleonic Wars, to German, Austrian and Swiss folk songs.

The main objective is to move the American reception of German songs from its hidden archival existence into the light of scholarly investigation by applying an interdisciplinary Cultural Studies approach. The dissertation uses Michel Foucault's discourse analysis to refine this approach methodologically, demonstrating with an in-depth archeology the discursive function of the songs within their contexts. Two results of this analysis are crucial. First, it goes significantly beyond the existing scholarship on German-American relations in the 19th century (New England Transcendentalists, immigrant history) as it explores the German within the wider contexts of American popular culture. Second, by doing so it reads these relations against their scholarly and collective narratives, sharing Walter Benjamin's emancipatory vision of history as a site of potentially many readings. In addition, the dissertation contributes to a broader understanding of German literature within the historical, cultural and interdisciplinary contexts of German Studies.