Police Psychology: E.T.A. Hoffmann, Johann Beckmann, and Technological Narration

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This article links E.T.A Hoffmann's prose to the neglected Enlightenment university discipline Technologie as invented by the polymath Johann Beckmann. The connection between narrative and technology occurs not at the level of symbols or in diegesis but in the manipulation of form, which had consequences for the construal of life outside the constraints of emergent disciplines like medicine, forensic psychology, and the changing institution of the police. Narrative prose came to occupy the position of that police, producing the object of its own analysis—society—with intent to alter it.

Police Psychology: E.T.A. Hoffmann, Johann Beckmann, and Technological Narration

Leif Weatherby
New York University

1. Discipline and Narrate

1.        When one Daniel Schmolling, following a notion that he could not rid himself of, murdered his erstwhile consort Henriette Lehne outside the Hasenheide in Berlin in 1818, the Berlin court system’s forensic efforts failed to find a motive. Schmolling admitted the deed, describing the first occurrence of the idea of the murder three weeks before its execution. It was not a passionate act, seemed to benefit him neither financially nor emotionally. The doctor called on to examine the criminal, Merzdorff, pronounced Schmolling incapable of standing trial on the basis of a diagnosis then much in vogue: amentia occulta, or “hidden insanity,” articulated by the famous anthropologist Ernst Platner. The case was placed on the docket of E.T.A. Hoffmann, criminal judge for the superior court [Kammergericht]. Hoffmann’s interest in strange and occult psychological phenomena is well known, the fact that he also played a significant role in the legal order of the Prussian state in a time of upheaval perhaps less so. [1]  Schmolling’s case brought Hoffmann’s two professional personae into uncomfortable proximity [2] , and he produced a lengthy rejection of Merzdorff’s diagnosis, leading his longtime friend and fellow criminal judge Julius Eduard Hitzig to state that he had overstepped his bounds. Hoffmann maintained that while there could theoretically be invisible insanity, it could not play a role in the law, writing:

In the first place it should be noted that the actual field in which the doctor’s science moves, namely the knowledge [Kenntnis] of the physical human organism, certainly does not in and of itself also cover the psychic organism, but instead knowledge [Erkenntnis] of this principle of spirit, insofar as it is possible, would have to be based on completely different premises. For this reason, Kant assigned the investigation of the state of the mind [Gemütszustand] entirely to the philosophical faculty . . . [w]hereas Metzger, Reil and Hoffbauer object primarily because a doctor who has a general philosophical education, such as is only appropriate for a court doctor, can more easily obtain the knowledge [Kenntnis] necessary for him to judge derangements of the spirit [Geisteszerrüttungen], than the philosopher can assimilate the knowledge [Kenntnis] of medical doctrines and necessary for the same purpose, as well as the needed skill in investigation, which latter the doctor gains through therapeutic practice. (Sämtliche Werke 6.699)
What Schmolling’s case presents is a conflict between the philosophical and medical faculties in the form of a judicial problem. Hoffmann is already flaunting his knowledge of contemporary psychological literature [3] —Johann Christian Reil was a favorite, although Hoffmann here takes issue with his Germanification of amentia occulta as “Wut ohne Verkehrtheit” [rage without dementia]. Reil was both dean of the medical faculty at the new Humboldt University and slowly gaining administrative oversight of medical institutions throughout Prussia. His duties moved in the realm of what was then still called “medizinische Polizei,” the branch of administration of the state that applied health policies (in Reil’s case, especially military hospitals). Hoffmann displayed no hesitancy in rejecting the medical opinion of the man who had coined the term “psychiatry,” and whose clinical work was at the cutting edge. [4]  Hoffmann had cited precisely the impediment to the development of a scientific psychiatry: Immanuel Kant. Kant’s insistence that the sciences be based on mathematical demonstration stalled and shifted the emergence of psychology and biology in particular (Kant 4:468). [5]  His epochal Conflict of the Faculties (1798), which defends the philosophical faculty as the intellectual and institutional heart of the university, confronts the “pure reason” of that faculty with its less rational sister faculties. The legal and religious faculties, tied as they are to the functioning of the state, cannot guide reason—rather vice versa. But when it comes to the medical faculty, Kant pulls his punch, describing the collegial problematics arising from Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland’s The Art of Extending Human Life (1797), and recommending a series of dietetic measures to maintain “life-force” in the aging body. Hufeland, like Reil involved in the policing of medicine at the beginning of the nineteenth century in Prussia, posited a life-force that could be maintained and strengthened through vigilance. The problem that had driven so much of Kant’s monumental output—the body-soul problem—did not even appear. Precisely this difficult relationship would need to be judged—for Hoffmann, was being judged incorrectly—in criminal investigations. In appealing to Kant, Hoffmann is referring to the framework of the Conflict as expressed in the Anthropology:
Thus if someone deliberately perpetrates some harm and now the question is, whether and how he is guilty, and thus first it must be decided, whether he was crazy at the time or not, then the court cannot send him to the medical faculty, but instead (because of the incompetence of the court) to the philosophical faculty. For the question: whether the accused, at the time of his deed, in possession of his natural faculties of understanding and judging, is completely psychological, and even if the bodily derangement of the organs of its soul [körperliche Verschrobenheit der Seelenorganen] could perhaps sometimes be the cause of an unnatural infringement of the law of duty (which resides in each human), still the doctors and physiologists are not at all yet so far as to be able to grasp the machine in the human [Maschinenwesen im Menschen] deeply enough to explain the impulse [Anwandlung] to such a gruesome deed, or (without bodily anatomy) to predict it; and a legal medical doctrine (medicina forensis)—if it comes to the question, whether the mind of the criminal [Täter] in a crazed state, or has taken a decision with a healthy understanding—would be meddling in the business of others, of which the judge understands nothing, and can at most refer it to another faculty, since it does not belong to his forum. (Kant 7: 213-14)
Hoffmann cites Kant as an authority to ward off Merzdorff and the other doctors. His decision, however, flies in the face of Kant’s rejection of legal expertise on the mind-body problem. For Hoffmann, the judge must do what psychiatry cannot yet do, and what the philosophical faculty in any case cannot be trusted to do: psychiatric forensics. The assumptions of the court were as simple as the verdict: without evidence, no insanity plea; lacking which, Schmolling was guilty of murder. He was sentenced to life in prison, where he murdered another inmate. He was beheaded on 30 May 1825 (Haack 87).

2.         The case provided one of the models for Georg Büchner’s Woyzek, and one might be forgiven for not recognizing Hoffmann in the writing of the decision. His literary works have become a cipher for the fantastic, the unconscious, the pre-Freudian and Romantic engagement with demonic, magical themes, and the new technologies associated with them. [6]  The Schmolling case throws into relief a problem that runs throughout the literature on Hoffmann: namely, the question of disciplinary knowledge in his fictional output. Given his insistence on a liberal model of legal subjectivity—maintained, as we shall see, at the expense of his political position after 1819—it would be less than satisfying to cast fictional autonomy as a screen onto which Hoffmann’s massive learning is merely projected without consequence. In what follows, I argue that the problem of social administration and construction dovetails in Hoffmann’s work with that of what was a university discipline around 1800, with the name Technologie. A branch of economics devoted to knowledge and administration of production, this discipline related to so-called “police science” [7] —most prominently represented by the Göttingen professor Johann Beckmann—provides the discursive background with which Hoffmann’s fiction engages. I argue that narrative itself takes on the theoretical tasks of this “technological” administrative science, a shift that both adumbrates the difficulties of avant-garde aesthetics and calls for a reading of Hoffmann that reflects the ambition to diagnose the historical condition of society and provide a narrative space for the possibility of alternate syntheses of its apparent forward march. Underlying the epistemological effects of the fantastic and medial complications of technical artefacts is a disciplinary affinity that Hoffmann’s fiction intervenes in, [8]  reflecting the transformation of state and society that provided the context of the end of his life. The argument here extends a line of thinking begun by Friedrich Kittler and Dorothea von Mücke. Hoffmann’s narration, as I show on the example of Mademoiselle de Scuderi, deploys its trademark doppelgängers, automata, and uncanny effects as lures, to focus the imagination on the historical situation, and to free the faculties of the mind from the apparent necessities of the same. [9] 

2. Serapion’s Deranged Organs

3.        Kant’s description of the impossibility of forensic medicine depends on the incompleteness—impossibility of completeness—of anatomical knowledge of the “machine” that is the human body. The problem is that the connection between acts of will and the derangement [Verschrobenheit] of the “organs of the soul” cannot be clarified by the court. Only a philosopher should be assigned this task. The outer edge of psychology—the embodied mind—must be policed, albeit by the Humanities. Hoffmann agreed, although he assigned himself as judge—and as author—of this task. If there was a police for medicine, then there would have to be some way to regulate psychological judgments as well. Even if he overstepped in the Schmolling case, Hoffmann accepted the charge Kant had left open, in the name not of a university discipline but of cultural production. Fiction would need to do what, ultimately, even the philosophical faculty could not.

4.        Hoffmann’s Serapion-Brethren (1819–21) is a four-volume collection of stories of all kinds. The novellas, fairy tales, horror stories, and even a proto-detective novel are held together by a fictional salon, modeled on Hoffmann’s real-life group, the Seraphinenorden, which had included such figures as Hitzig, Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, and Adalbert Chamisso. The salon-frame, in which the friends discuss the merits of the stories they tell each other, operates as irony in the sense Friedrich Schlegel had given to that term. [10]  Following an opening frame discussion of the failures of most salons, the group of friends listens to Cyprian (likely modeled on Chamisso) narrate the life of a bureaucrat from an unnamed contemporary German town. Cyprian claims to have discovered this well-bred and educated man, who had disappeared some years before, living as a hermit with the conviction that he is the ancient Christian martyr Serapion, granted eternal life following his virtuous death. Cyprian makes inquiries, discovers the history of the bureaucrat, and, wanting to cure the “cheerful insanity” [heiterer Wahnsinn] of the anachorete, reads up on contemporary psychology—especially in the works of Phillippe Pinel and Reil. In order to disabuse Serapion of his idée fixe (which functions, if less violently, like that of Schmolling), Cyprian learns how to approach the patient delicately. His attempt fails. Serapion not only rejects the notion that he is the bureaucrat from the nearby town, but also engages Cyprian in a disquisition about the nature of perception, the reality of time and space, and the “duplicity of all being.” Cyprian’s friends are horrified, especially Lothar, who rejects the tale as irrational and terrifying. But after Theodor recounts the story of Counsel Krespel, [11]  Lothar recants, describing Serapion as the principle of poetry. The source of the story does not matter, he says, rather only that one should have “really seen” what one recounts:

More! I honor Serapion’s insanity because only the spirit most excellent or rather the true poet can be seized by it . . . Whence comes it then, that some poetic work, which we would not at all call bad, if we are talking about form and execution [Ausarbeitung], remains nevertheless still as without effect as a faded image, that we are not transported by it, that the splendor of the words only serves to multiply the inner chill that runs through us. What other explanation, than that the poet has not really seen [nicht . . . wirklich schaute] what he speaks of, that the deed, the event [Begebenheit], depicting itself before his eyes, with pleasure, with all the horror, with all the exultation, with all the shudders, did not enthuse him, set him on fire, so that the inner flames might simply flow out in fiery words: in vain the labor of the poet, to bring us to believe in what he himself does not, because he has not himself truly viewed it [weil er es nicht erschaute]. What could the figures [Gestalten] of such a poet, who, according to the old saying, is not also a true seer, be, other than false dolls, laboriously glued together from heterogeneous materials!—Your hermit, my Cyprian, was a true poet, had really saw that [er hatte das wirklich geschaut] which he pronounced, and that is why his speech gripped both heart and mind [Gemüt].—Poor Serapion, what was your insanity other than that some hostile star had robbed you of the knowledge of that duplicity, by which in fact our earthly being is alone conditioned. [Duplizität . . . von der eigentlich allein unser irdisches Sein bedingt ist.] (4.67–68).
This speech is usually taken as the Serapiontic principle itself [12] ; the friends agree to judge all future stories on this basis. Wirklich geschaut, vor Augen darstellen—these are the terms of the rhetoric of narrative, [13]  ancient as well as contemporary. For where ante oculos was the principle of ancient rhetoric (Aristotle, Cicero), it had been adopted as a narrative principle some half a century before by Christian Friedrich von Blankenburg, whose insistence on the adjective anschauend for the genre of the novel sometimes takes on comical proportions (such as in the construction anschauendst). [14]  Indeed, the remainder of Lothar’s speech seems to follow the Blankenburg model, too, which insists on maintaining a complex notion of causality of events as filtered through the subject/object divide (the “duplicity of all earthly being”):
There is an inner world and the spiritual force, to view it in full clarity, in the most complete brilliance of the most lively life, but it is our earthly lot, that just this outer world, in which we are inserted, [15]  functions as the lever that sets that force moving [als der Hebel wirkt, der jene Kraft in Bewegung setzt]. The inner appearances are absorbed [gehen auf] in the circle which the outer ones form around us, the circle the spirit can only pass by in dark secretive presentiments which never form themselves into a distinct image [die sich nie zum deutlichen Bilde gestalten]. But you, o my hermit, established no outer world [statuiertest keine Außenwelt], you did not see the hidden lever, the force influencing your inner world; and if you claimed, with ghastly acuity, that it is only the spirit that sees, hears, feels, that grasps deeds and events, and that thus everything that it recognizes has also thus happened, you forgot that the external world forces the spirit banished into the body to those functions of perception arbitrarily. Your life, dear anachorete, was a constant dream, from which you in your beyond certainly did not painfully awake.—(4:68–69).
Outer impressions, Lothar tells his friends, form a circle that engulfs the inner impressions in everyday life; but if, like Serapion, we do not “establish an outer world,” we may reach an extension of internal images that are not merely “internal” but instead do not suffer from the duplicity of our intellect. It is the unfolding of such images that makes up the Serapiontic principle, the discovery of a phenomenological form that underlies the causality of realist prose, and in this sense is supradisciplinary. Literature does what law cannot. Lothar is here recombining the elements of Cyprian’s narrative, doing precisely what the principle rejects: summarizing as a discursive construct that which has been set before our eyes as narrative content. Thus Blankenburg’s notion of penetrating the relationship between the images and events of lived life could not be further from the Romantic principle, which collapses that external causality and thereby suspends the theory of the novel in favor of a different philosophy of history. Lothar’s theory of fiction also demands the extension of eidetic content in the interest of narrative framing, but rejects tying this framing to any mimicking of “earthly being,” or the finitude of the human intellect. Crucially, Lothar thinks that this means that Serapion dreams life, or takes the events of the spirit, which alone hears, sees, and feels, for “actual events.” This is in keeping with the usual sense of Hoffmann’s work: the “fantastic” is a suspension of reason, the opening of a playful space of dark and technological fantasies, the creation of those unnoticed, perhaps even unnoticeable, relations in the psyche that would later come to be demystified by Freud. But this reading comes up short.

5.        In fact, Lothar misreads Cyprian and therefore Serapion, because he retains for narrative the difference between “external events” and the “dream” or “insanity” that allows them to be recombined in narrative. For Serapion—and, I would suggest, for Hoffmann—the notion of “external event” or Begebenheit cannot recur, because this would be the reinscription of an external world, and therefore a violation of the principle itself. Narrative simply does not respect the “inner/outer” distinction, and aims instead at an arrangement of elements that “never form themselves into a distinct image.” What can never be imagined is the interface between the inner and the outer, and this applies to text and knowledge equally. If the narrative does not respect this difference, but never allows for a fully distinct image of the interface, then it is precisely where the image fails that the epistemic effects of the narrative begin to work. Causality cannot form narrative because causes are half-conceptual, but images provide something other than themselves, some excess that is neither “inner” nor “outer” but instead a sui generis “knowledge.” This narrative becomes a singular engagement with an object, because that object is produced in this singular way for the first time in narrative, and the narrative stands to redound on the object itself, changing it. This production obscures the abstraction “object” and allows the poetic production to have an unrepresentable interface with whatever noumenon stands behind the abstraction. In other words, the Serapiontic principle creates a poetic site of production. Lothar’s statement, which is a compromise of aesthetic principles in the ongoing conversation of the brethren, is a step back from Cyprian’s more radical—and, I want to argue, more fundamental—sense of the search for an arrangement of narrated elements that, as Lothar himself puts it, “never form themselves into a distinct image.” Formation is not restricted to the visualization-techniques of the narrative, opening a separate and mixed-mode epistemic layer in the telling. We can see this in two exemplary stories from the cycle: The Automata, and Mademoiselle de Scuderi.

6.        The protagonists of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Automata (published in 1814, later included in the Serapion Brethren) find themselves at a crucial point in the narrative discussing the uncanny presentation of automatic music they have just heard at the laboratory of one Professor X. The story, which recounts Ferdinand’s subjection to a form of demonic power—we never learn whether it is machinic, psychopathological, or both—follows an encounter with a fictional alternate of Wolfgang von Kempelen’s famous “chess-playing Turk.” For Ferdinand, his compatriot Ludwig, and the intradiegetic polite society, the automaton is an oracle. It predicts that Ferdinand will, like Orpheus, lose the love he is obsessed with upon one last sighting of her. The prediction, of course, turns out to be true, although it appears to fulfill itself, using Ferdinand’s unhealthy fascination as the motor of its simultaneously fantastical and social causality. The episode with Professor X, however, presents the reader with a discussion of the principle of the narrative by those caught in the same narrative, which in turn is a mirroring of the generic ploy of the Serapion Brethren, in that the tales illustrate the principles of their discussion even as those principles are interrogated on the continuing presentation of new areas of exploration (genres). The sequence of scenes involving Professor X, then, reads as a mise-en-abîme. The “Serapiontic principle” is both the content and the genre of the larger collection and The Automata.

7.        The arc of the episode with Professor X is as follows: the inquirers Ferdinand and Ludwig visit the professor and listen to his various musical automata; a discussion of what human music is follows; the protagonists then hear what they take to be a pure example of this—a small girl singing in the grass—only to see Professor X smiling terrifyingly behind her, walking through the garden and apparently enlivening the plant-life around him as he goes. In this last moment, the narrator is silent. It is not suggested that the girl is an automaton: the professor’s presence suggests instead the inability to determine the difference between human and machine music.

8.        The difference at issue in the discussion falls in the middle of the episode. Ferdinand, who is the object of the oracular and tragic narrative, listens to his skeptical friend Ludwig detail what he confirms are their common objections to the professor’s presentation. The problem is that the music is too good. It sounds like it possesses the spirit that only a human touch should produce. Ludwig grasps at the opposite end of the contradiction: when music played by humans is not imbued with passion, we call it “mechanical”; what should we do when actually mechanical music sounds human?

To want to have musical effects through valves, springs, levers, cylinders and whatever else belongs to the mechanical apparatus, is the nonsensical attempt to achieve through means alone that which [the organs of the body] can carry out, only enlivened through the inner force of the mind [Gemüt] and regulated in their smallest movements by that very force. (4:419; my emphasis)
It is literally “senseless” to allow “means alone” to complete tasks that only the truly human soul should be capable of. It is not their material characteristics but their connection to the “inner force” of the spirit that separate bodily organs from mere instruments. Ludwig sharpens his polemic, grasping for a difference between organs and machines, and opens Hoffmann’s story onto a vast conceptual problematic that ties the narrative back to the overall project:
The striving of the machinists, increasingly to imitate [nachahmen] or through mechanical means to replace human organs that produce musical tones, is for me a declaration of war against the spiritual principle, the power of which only more brilliantly triumphs, the more apparent forces are opposed to it. (4:420–21)
Mechanical mimesis of the capacities of human organs is war against the “spirit,” and human organs are the expression of a cosmological harmony that our petty inventions and instruments merely mimic. Thus:
In that ur-period of the human race, when it—to use the words of an ingenious author (Schubert in the “Views from the Night-Side of Natural Science”), lived in its first holy harmony with nature, filled with the divine instinct of prophecy and poetry [Dichtkunst], when the human spirit did not capture nature, but instead nature the spirit, and the mother still nourished from the depth of her being the delightful creature she had borne, there she surrounded the human like in the wafting of an eternal ecstasy with holy music, and wonderful tones [Laute] announced the secrets of her eternal pulsing [Treiben] (4:421)
The music of the spheres describes the original undifferentiated state of humans and nature, in a passage cited and transcribed from Gotthilf Heinrich Schubert’s Views from the Night-Side of Natural Science (1808). [16] 

9.         Schubert’s Views, originally a series of lectures delivered in 1808, starts with the premise that only a full history of the human relation to nature can complete the scientific picture. The necessary elements of that history are the primordial unity of man and nature, an account of the split and the collateral epistemic effects of that split, and the principled possibility of a re-unification. The “night-side” of that history comprises strange moments of possible reconciliation, especially those associated with Mesmer and animal magnetism. Schubert’s conviction is cast in terms of the organs that Hoffmann draws on for his Automata:

Usually that which happens according to a necessary law of nature unites in it that particular perfection, autonomy and purposiveness that is particular to nature in all its workings. We seldom find that the natural drive is subject to illusions or mistakes [Misgriff], but in a certain way the will is. We must regard the things that exercise such an artificial drive [Kunsttrieb] or instinct as immediate organs of nature, which individuals subordinate the more to themselves the less perfect they are (28).
Organs are immediate expressions of harmony. But we are not organs, because the will—and rational activity—are somehow severed from this connection: “If at that time the human was an organ of nature, then he was this in his way,—human” (29). The separation from animals—who, for Schelling, Schubert’s teacher, possess the “artificial drive” [Kunsttrieb]—goes by way of fault. The notion of the human as “the being of lack” [Mängelwesen] has its locus classicus in Schubert’s other guiding light, Johann Gottfried Herder. Here, however, the lack suggests eventual reconciliation with the higher order: humans are organs of nature, just like animals, but the disconnect between their literal organs and their will (subject to judicial discipline for Kant as for Hoffmann) makes them open to the development of more organs. But Hoffmann derives more than the notion of “nature-music” or a fundamental harmony from Schubert. It is clear that Ludwig’s insistence on the difference between organs and instruments cannot be maintained; Geist seems turned, in the mise-en-abîme conversation, against both external mechanical devices and the harmonious organs of the body, in cooperation with which the spirit produces illusions, tricks—misfires. The mesmeric doctrine will suggest the development of alternate organs among these, but the problem will persist. The specificity of sense-perception and the generality of both reason and the will bind the human to the earthly being Hoffmann calls “duplicitous.”

10.         The citation of Schubert in the context of the discussion of instruments is a moment of high narrative irony, for it refers us back to the principle that supposedly drives the narrative. When Cyprian had approached Serapion to disabuse him of his illusions, he had offered to show the anachorete the town he hailed from, in which he had been a member of the administration. Cyprian thought to convince the hermit merely by mentioning the presence of the town, a mere two hours away. Serapion’s response reveals the radicality of the principle: if Cyprian’s reason dictates that that past be taken as real event, why cannot Serapion’s version of things be equally valid? At the limit, why should either the duration of time (some fifteen centuries) or distance from the town prove anything to Serapion?

Indeed, what hears, what sees, what feels in us?—perhaps the dead machines, which we call eye—ear—hand etc., and not the spirit?—Does the spirit perhaps form its world, conditioned by space and time, internally, on its own account, and then leave those functions to another principle that dwells within us?—How absurd! If it is thus the spirit alone, that grasps the events before us, then that which it recognizes also really happened. (4:34)
Organs, in other words, are in conflict with the form-giving principle of spirit, which cannot be divided between inner and outer. Like the specific eidetic content of the story The Automata—Ferdinand’s love, the prophecy, its uncertain but all-too-real fulfillment—the reports of the external organs are in conflict with the overarching constructive principle of the spirit, or by analogy the construction of narrative. This conflict is what creates the irony of The Automata as part of the Serapion-cycle. Hoffmann’s narrative does not resolve its issue; the Serapiontic principle is not meant to do that. The report from the letter to Ludwig cannot be trusted, especially as Professor X has never left town—Ferdinand cannot have seen him elsewhere. The uncanny effect is that the prophecy is fulfilled, though whether through Ferdinand’s obsession, the magnetic powers of Professor X, or some combination, we do not know. The conflict between content and narrative logic can only be solved by causal suggestions, turns of story or of understanding—whether intradiegetically or in the frame-discussions—that provide clues to the Gestalt of the narrative space. Hoffmann frustrates this expectation, and inscribes this frustration as the very principle of the cycle. In other words, he has deranged our organs, made visible (anschauend) the very conflict between empirical experience and the rational container that grasps it. The idée fixe—that one could be a centuries-dead martyr, that one must murder one’s love—is, for Hoffmann, a matter of attention and thrall. One falls into a kind of hypnosis to an idea of no apparent origin, but the will is bound to it. [17]  This derangement cuts both ways: it is a failure of our disciplined minds and a reminder of the ultimate falsity of disciplinary knowledge. But the bracketing of space and time, the flirtation with the obsession of fixed ideas, simply underscore Serapion’s ability to present excellent novellas to Cyprian. It is not merely this ironic bracketing of duality that Hoffmann’s narration aims at. In fact, this is merely the Serapiontic principle in its radical version, the version Lothar misrecognizes but cannot suppress. The space of this narrative is then itself trained on different objects, in order to study the historical situation and perform variations of it, in order to let some light into the rush to social control that Hoffmann was observing and participating in during his collection and composition of the cycle.

3. From the Police to Technology: Semantics and Social History

11.        The last market vignette in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s My Cousin’s Corner Window consists of a fight that breaks out in the observed crowd. The ailing cousin and the “I” in the dialogue look on as this threat of violence gets the attention of the police, who cannot push through the crowd in time to stop the fight, like an ambulance in rush hour. A kind of ekphrasis follows: the aggressor stands, his hand raised and ready to strike. The gaze of the narrative’s observers lingers on this image. But the man does not strike, the crowd intervenes, and by the time the police arrive, the incident is already over. The “I” remarks:

The fight is over—without the help of the police . . . so there in fact reigns in the people a sense for the conservation of order [ein Sinn für die zu erhaltende Ordnung]. (6:493)
To which the invalid replies:
The cousin: My dear cousin, my observations of the market have above all strengthened me in the opinion that a strange change has occurred with the people of Berlin since that unfortunate period when a bold, boisterous enemy flooded over the country and in vain attempted to suppress its spirit, which soon sprung up again with renewed force like a violently coiled spring. In a word: the people has gained in external propriety [Sittlichkeit] . . . (6:494)
Order was once preserved by the police, and is now conferred as a task on citizens. The transfer of Ordnungssinn has a historical event as its proximate cause, namely the German and French skirmishes that began with the First Revolutionary War, and ended with Napoleon’s defeat—but not before he had ended the Holy Roman Empire and introduced widely differing and semi-autonomous overhauls of its of civil and administrative legal core. Maybe the cousin’s story here is too simple: the late Enlightenment states were already in the process of modernizing their law books when Goethe observed the siege of Mainz in 1793. But the cousin pinpoints an issue that is central to the shift that was still dramatically in process when E.T.A. Hoffmann took up his position as judge in the high criminal court in Berlin in 1814/15. As the sole locale of the holistic representation of large-scale historical and population-level processes and as a site of intervention into them, Hoffmann’s narrative inherits the task of adminstrating the social. Or in other words, narrative does what the police were expected to do at the close of the Corner Window. It engages just in the moment of that ekphrasis, and is the potential site of the material production of value. Narrative replaces the police.

12.        It was the police who frustrated any possible happiness at the end of Hoffmann’s life. The liberal radicalism that led to Karl Ludwig Sand’s assassination of Kotzebue on 23 March 1819 included the celebratory burning of conservative books at the so-called Wartburg-Fest in 1817. Among these books was the General Codex for the Gendarmerie of Karl Albert von Kamptz, Director of the Ministry of Police. [18]  It was Kamptz who would later bring Hoffmann to grief after he was viciously parodied in Hoffmann’s Master Flea, Kamptz who would surreptitiously receive correspondence about that work that indicated Hoffmann understood he had cited from court records, Kamptz who would attempt to have Hoffmann removed from the bench, a fate he likely escaped only by dying in 1822, while the accusations were still being evaluated. Kamptz’s work, however, has an informative title: he is writing about the behavior of policemen, or what we today call the “police.” Hoffmann follows this usage, too. This term was, as the repressive tactics of Metternich’s Vormärz settled on the German-speaking lands in the 1820s, in flux. It had once named a grander administrative effort that, as we have seen above, included medicine, care for the poor, and nutrition. Polizei was in fact simply the administration of the welfare of the subjects of the king, and it was only as state and society became analytically separated after 1800 [19]  that the term slowly reduced itself to the personnel, the policeman, the embodied potential violence at the base of every possible state apparatus. These shifts in conception and practice of state administration were front and center when Hoffmann was appointed, on 16 September 1819, to the Immediat-Untersuchungs-Kommission, a body established to handle the political cases against the new radicals (Demagogen). Hoffmann agreed to this appointment, but was skeptical, and held a line between deeds and attitudes that fits nicely into our contemporary notions of democratic liberalism, whether German or American. He insisted, crucially, on the innocence of Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, founder of the athletics movement called the Turnbewegung, and finally won, against Kamptz, Jahn’s freedom. Jahn then sued Kamptz for libel, and Hoffmann accepted the trial. An auction of authority began, with those attempting to quash the trial extending upward to chancellor Karl August von Hardenberg, the influential liberal reformer. Hoffmann stood his ground: his brief was subject only to the will of the king, and no one else could be excepted from standing before the law. This explains Kamptz’s zeal in pursuing the censorship case, but it also provides us with a window onto Hoffmann’s lived experience of the shifting ground of state politics in the German-speaking lands at the crucial moment after Napoleon’s defeat. Jahn in particular and the “demogogues” in general have been taken to be a model of Serapion, whose cheerful insanity thus takes on a political overtone, a matter for the psychological police. [20] 

13.         We need to know what the “police” means, how its practice as an institution and university discipline in the Enlightened monarchy bears on the dissolution of that monarchy itself, to see that Hoffmann’s judicial practice in no way debars Serapiontic realities, that in fact the fiction is meant to think through, or rather put ante oculos, the potential encapsulated in the very social transformation of the early nineteenth century. And this was simultaneously a matter of those organs of perception and machine function that figured the Seraptionic principle in The Automata and those organs of administration called Polizei and Technologie. In other words, what drives Hoffmann’s narrative technique is the simultaneous collapse of Enlightened monarchy and its social-administrative efforts, and the rise of the factory system through means those administrative efforts had originally developed.

14.         One central branch of that administration, so long as it was not conceived of as separate from society, was called Polizei. The term police, as we use it today to mean the institution, activity, and especially the persons carrying out the function, is a narrow precipitate from a much larger discipline that existed throughout Europe from roughly the fifteenth century to the end of the eighteenth. The Grimm dictionary traces its evolving meaning chronologically. From the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries, polizey meant “government, administration and order, especially a kind of oversight of moral in state and community [staat und gemeinde].” Derived from policy and usually combined in the compound gute policey, the administrative efforts of the police were not separated from the state itself—they were, in fact, merely the morally controlled organization of that state and community. The phrase staat und gemeinde is telling: “und” collapses what the modern reader instinctively takes as two separate notions into a single area for police operation. Until deep into the eighteenth century one could speak of a “police state,” replaced only slowly in the early nineteenth century with the so-called Rechtsstaat, often traced intellectually to Wilhelm von Humboldt’s Ideas for an Attempt to Determine the Limits of the Efficacy of the State (1792). [21]  Polizeistaat shares with our current notion of a “police state” the totalizing continuity of state and society, the intervention of the government to make the single object state/society “better.” But that is where the similarity ends. Images of repressive police violence, state rhetorics of control and order, bear little resemblance to the “ordnung” in the Grimms’ definition. That order was in fact of a different kind, an attempt to produce happiness [Glückseligkeit] in the state/society through the administration of land, production, roads, the poor and the sick. Thus the baroque second definition of the Grimms:

a) in the most general sense polizei is the care of the state or of a community organization (under direction of the state) for the general welfare by means of authoritative force; it divides according to extent and area of operation into a state or national police, community or local police (city, village, rural police), administrative, welfare, security, health police, street, construction etc.: the police has as its goal the comfortable life of the members of the state.
Only after this list do we learn of any material definition of the police: “b) the organs of the police service, the police agency, and the local office of the same.” For all these areas of life to be administered, to be brought into order, often even to be produced in the first place, more than a bureaucracy is needed. One needs information, which in turn requires a whole discipline, in and out of the university, relying, as Michel Foucault has emphasized, on statistics. The Grimms describe what was known as Polizeiwissenschaft as a term that was still being contested (“noch heute ein vielumstrittener begriff”). The concept was perhaps contested, but its reality cannot be. After the establishment of two university chairs for the discipline in Prussia in 1727, professors of “police science” began to pop up all over the German map, including in the imperial capital in Vienna in 1752, where Johann Heinrich Gottlob Justi was appointed in that year. His Fundamentals of Police Science (1756) became the standard reference in the field. The contested territory, even as it was established, was a matter of producing knowledge for the king’s administration (thus fitting within the proto-economic discipline called “cameralism” [22] ). Justi wrote:
Police science consists . . . in recognition of how from the contemporary state of the common weal clever measures are to be taken, in order to obtain and increase the general ability of the state in its internal constitution, and to make this ability ever more serviceable and useful, as much in the whole as in all its parts [sowohl nach seinem Zusammenhange, als in allen seinen Theilen], for the promotion of the community’s well-being [Glückseligkeit].
Police science is nothing more or less than the internal affairs of the state. Justi does not separate the object about which the science knows and the knowledge the science produces. As Foucault has argued, the main instrument of the science is statistics, or “the state’s knowledge of the state” (Security, Territory, Population 315). The production of new personnel for administration is a major goal, and Justi writes of “useful citizens [nützliche Bürger]”(15 ff.) The vocational training that police was to arrange reveals the complex of power and knowledge that Foucault articulates. Per Justi:
One must take care that the subjects possess such capacities and qualities and are kept in this discipline [Zucht] and order, as is required by the goal of the community’s happiness [gemeinschaftliche Glückseligkeit] . . . (14)
Knowledge and production, even of humans, are one and the same. As Keith Tribe and Pasquale Pasquino have emphasized, Enlightenment state theory is based on this utter formability of its objects. [23]  The production of vocation-oriented humans is what Foucault calls “discipline,” one part of the emergent regime he will dub “biopower,” or the population-level care to make live where once the sovereign had the power to make die (Security, Territory, Population 321 ff.). [24]  Adminstrative techniques that treat the general at the level of its generality are epitomized by the other side of the police (Society 246), as in Reil’s administration of military hospitals, the care for the poor, and population-level nutritional policy. The object of the police, Foucault writes, is “everything from being to well-being [bien-être].”(Security, Territory, Population 328). The police are meant to produce Glückseligkeit, the well-faring of the people.

15.         As Michael Stolleis has pointed out, Justi’s Grundsätze were written in Theresian Vienna, and he would shortly thereafter move to Prussia, where his subsequent writings accorded much more freedom to the Gewerbe of his definition above (380–81). This is only the beginning of a much larger shift, for even as state and society were slowly isolated as polar terms, the administrative “catch-all” of police science [25]  was split between these new entities. The “police” (now a civil service and its servants) remained a state concern [26]  along with finance and statecraft, while “Privatökonomie” slowly migrated to a social concern. Among the administrative or police sciences that became associated, fatefully, with society rather than state was something called “Technologie” (379). [27] 

16.         Johann Beckmann was appointed to a professorship of economy in Göttingen in 1766, and it was his writings that would become most associated with the new discipline Technologie. [28]  His commentary in the third edition of Justi’s Grundsätze (1782) already shows the shift in interest: “I call police the science of governing the various enterprises according to the intent of the state” (6). [29]  Justi had written extensively on industry, and included Manufakturen und Fabriken as a rubric of police science. But as the police dwindled and the new state emerged, so too a new discipline, bearing a remarkable resemblance in its instruments (statistics) and goals (production of knowledge for administration) arose. Technology—for this, as Seibicke notes, was the only meaning of the word current at the time—spread quickly through the university system. As it became separated from the state, it slowly emerged as a branch of the new political economy focused on the instruments of production and their use, and thus eventually on machines. [30]  The works of Andrew Ure and Charles Babbage in the 1820s and 30s would soon set a standard for gathering of statistics and non-judicial, enterprise-oriented oversight of factory production. Anyone who has read Marx’s Capital can see that this genre of observation adumbrated the rationalization of the Second Industrial Revolution. Marx still uses “technology” in this sense: the knowledge of production for the purpose of regulating that production. [31] 

17.         For Beckmann, and to a large extent for Hoffmann, the body of knowledge for the regulation of production was not yet firmly associated with “society” in isolation from the state:

Technology is the science that teaches the working-up of naturalia, or the knowledge [Kenntniß] of handiwork. Instead of what happens in the workshops, where they direct one to follow the precepts and habits of the master in order to produce commodities, technology gives the fundamental guidance [Anleitung], in systematic order, how one, for just this purpose, should explain and use the phenomena appearing in work through true fundamental propositions and trustworthy experiences. (17)
Technology acts where persons cannot; it is the systematic and comprehensive treatment of human material making (excluding the fine arts), replacing the “historical” discipline of Kunstgeschichte (not art history, but the history of crafts) (18). The Enlightenment derivation of the theory is strong, as Beckmann relies on Diderot and Christian Wolff, and especially on Linnaeus, with whom he had studied in Uppsala:
Linnaeus said: I classify the animals according to the composition of their bodies, and thus I give the human a place among the mammals. Now do those who derisively throw before him the excellence of the human soul-forces above the so-called instincts of the other animals refute him, he, who knows those forces of soul so much better than many of his opponents? (21)
Beckmann defends the Linnaean roughness and artificiality of his breakdown of the arts (in order of the “more respected to the less”). Other disciplines could classify humans as non-animals, and perhaps the arts could be seen from another perspective than that of the police. But the production of this disciplinary knowledge is meant for use, just as Diderot’s Encyclopedia was. Thus disciplinary knowledge is well-suited to guide practice, since it is general enough to account for larger unities of that practice, while specific enough to change it. The “forces of the soul” are also the limitations that necessitate the taxonomic approach in the first place. What makes us human makes us technological, able to create material things intentionally (techne) while limited to our invention of instruments for that making. The administration and potential rationalization of that making is the object of a police-adjacent university discipline: technology.

18.        Technology is both a science and an enterprise, but it is not handiwork:

But the sciences, at least in these times, belong to the enterprises [Gewerben]. Their objects are like the noble metals, often worked over; sometimes counterfeited [verfälscht], sometimes re-purified [wieder geläutert], and thus put a whole mass of humans to work and profit. And the former lose nothing hereby of their dignity, just as little as gold stops being gold, let it be worked over or alloyed [legire es] by anyone. The sciences do not, however, therefore becomes handiwork, even if they, like handiwork, are enterprises . . . (5)
This passage reinforces Frison’s conclusion that “[t]echnologie would treat its own problems from a utilitarian point of view and could therefore be defined as a scientific study of the use-values related to production” (145). [32]  But Beckmann also produces a fascinating conception of disciplinarity in relation to techne. Making is the process of forming raw materials into finished products (3–4). Doing this work with a view to livelihood [Unterhalt] is an enterprise [Gewerbe]. The skill-based, rational making of artefacts for use is called “handiwork” [Handwerk], which is separated from “art” [Kunst]. Handiwork is of many kinds, and consists of a series of different kinds of twists, like tropes, turns of a sometimes literal screw that do away with the natural body, just as rhetorical tropes do away with the naturalness of the concept (Beckmann 1806 465-66). Techne is still divorced from its product, semantically, and refers to the making, even could be applied to the enterprise of science (this is true of Technologie itself, which requires technique but is not an “art”). But the “polish” that Technologie puts on its object is put on no object at all: it is “polishing” a social process, and thus intervening in the production of use-values with a battery of “twists” that one can put on raw material. Linnaeus’s artificial system is here applied to artificialia, producing a kind of logical abyss that adumbrates the problem of a morphology of technology, as Ernst Kapp and Gilbert Simondon would develop only much later. Here is not the place to elaborate a full rhetoric of Beckmannian technology. But this intervention by way of scientific and statistical aggregation in the process of production surely went the way of social and not state intervention. But the project of constructing the very society that became the field of play for that very “free enterprise” fell, as the police became a merely repressive apparatus, to poetry. In other words, fiction inherited a social-administrative task that, when Hoffmann died, was just beginning to be enduringly associated with machines. A great deal of writing on Hoffmann thinks through the problem of technology in terms of a static object (technological artefacts) gaining increasing independence from their human creators. To be sure, Hoffmann thematizes this problem, one that dogged philosophers and poets throughout the nineteenth century. [33]  The automaton Olympia in The Sandman has been canonized as the principle allegory of this problematic. And yet more than this is going on, for Hoffmann died in 1822, and did not see the wild outgrowth of factories that used humans as tools rather than the other way around. Nor is Hoffmann focused on abstract questions of human rights, good forms of government, and so forth, rather instead on the space between those things, the very social arena which would eventually welcome the terms Technik, technology, or the French technologie. And it is this determination of the fictional space that suggests a deeper affinity between his fiction and Technologie, the exploration of the failure of sovereignty to control the market through control of production. Technologie disappears as a term even as the instance of monarchy fades. It is replaced with Technik and the sovereign-less space of “market” capitalism increases.  [34]  This privatization of “technological” social regulation is precisely what Hoffmann produces in his fiction. That fiction cannot replace sovereignty, nor can it directly slow or alter the course of that dialectical shift in instrumentality, from our use of tools to our becoming-tool. But it can present that space as the rule of Anschaulichkeit, as the basis for and the substance of the “polishing” of the work of production. Here, imagination is no longer reflection on alternate orders of things, but the direct viewing of this order in its contingency, in its possibility as another order. And by divulging this rule as intuition, Hoffmann produces the Serapiontic principle as the technology of literature, neither spinning in a void of the imaginary nor bogged down in a tribunal of precision in an attempt to imitate nature, but instead exploiting its distance from that very nature (here, the social) to construct the nature of the social itself. We thus see that literature and technology are not merely in competition, but share a vocation that we can only “see” (anschauen) through engagement with fiction. That engagement, however, confers the infinite responsibility of social production on us. This is what the smash hit proto-detective novel Mademoiselle de Scuderi, dubbed quintessentially Serapiontic by the brethren, demonstrates.

4. The Construction of the Historical as the Social—Mademoiselle de Scuderi

19.         It seems either nonsensical or tautological to say that literature might study and produce its own object, as the police does, and as technology does. After all, the object of narration is, by the definition of imagination in the eighteenth century, not present. Thus it seems trivial to say that the object of fictional narrative is produced in the telling; meanwhile, since fiction after Lessing seeks not to educate, pursuing instead some more autonomous goal, as Paul Fleming as argued, it might seem wrong-headed to say that it “studies” its object. But what if its object is the historical reality that disciplinary production must fracture in order to know? What if literature, like Kant’s philosophical faculty, offers an Anschauung of a more complex object than those disciplines allow? In other words, what if fiction inherited the task of social administration? This might give intuitive meaning to Shelley’s famous statement about poets as “legislators.” To be sure, Hoffmann did not advocate, or practice, a confusion of fiction and law. But fiction allows a visible space the law does not, one without direct consequences, one of Serapiontic suspension. That suspension is instrumentalized: the phenomenon it fixes allows the fictional space to be broader than any single discipline, and more concrete than the philosophical faculty. That literature is neither law nor philosophy does not, however, prevent its pretension from rising to the task of social construction. For as little as it can intervene directly, this freedom precisely allows it to study and produce objects as contingencies, possibilities, different orders with different systems of valuation, precisely in order to interact with and reveal the valuations and their rules within the present order. That is what I want to claim for Scuderi.

20.         Scuderi is breathtaking: it opens on the eponymous septuagenarian poet’s maid fending off a possible robber from the estate in the middle of the night. The narrator digresses at length to explain the maid’s fear, expounding the historical case (with some embellishments) of Brinvillier, a woman who developed an untraceable poison, killing her father and a number of others in Paris, leading to the atmosphere that had opened the novella. A second rash of murders, this time brutal thefts of jewelry, have led the king, Louis XIV, to establish the so-called chambre ardente, a special investigative committee the narrator compares to the inquisition. (The extraordinary fact is that Hoffmann wrote the story before he was called to serve in the Immediat-Untersuchungs-Kommission.) Scuderi learns slowly that it is the work of the master jeweler Cardillac that is being stolen; the would-be robber makes another attempt to contact her about the case. Cardillac is murdered, apparently by his soon-to-be son-in-law Olivier Brusson. The police detective Desgrais comes into a kind of competition with Scuderi, who learns rapidly that Brusson is a boy she had taken care of as a youth, one she considers her son (his mother has since died). Convinced of his innocence—especially because of the wide-eyed frank grief of Madelon, Cardillac’s daughter—Scuderi attempts to intervene, consulting a lawyer and entreating the police and eventually the king. Brusson reveals what he knows, which is that Cardillac was obsessively killing those who bought his works, and retrieving his products. The plot does not resolve through the efforts of Scuderi as detective, [35]  but because Cardillac’s killer, Miossens, steps forward with the truth. But the chambre ardente will not back down (the predictive power of the story for Hoffmann’s biography is singular), and even as the population shifts to Brusson’s side, the king, annoyed by the public fallout, drags out his decision. Scuderi brings Madelon to the court, and convinces the king to release Brusson. Madelon and Brusson leave Paris for Geneva, and the original owners of the stolen jewelry (those who are not dead, presumably) have their property restored. Cardillac’s murders are traced to an incident between his mother and a soldier during her pregnancy.

21.         When the story finishes, the salon is impressed. We learn that Sylvester, who had already announced his story’s reliance on Voltaire, has also drawn from an unlikelier source, Wagenseil’s Chronicle of Nuremberg. The aesthetic judgment comes:

One called [the story] truly serapiontic, because, built on historical foundations, it still climbs into the fantastic [auf geschichtlichen Grund gebaut, doch hinaufsteige ins Fantastische]. (4:853)
The line seems to indicate the intertwining of the chronicle and the “night-side” cause of Cardillac’s obsessive murders. And indeed, the first string of murders is historical fact, the atmosphere of intensive urban policing that results in a clear message to the present from the Paris of the Sun King. The hidden causes of crimes cannot spare their doers, but also cannot be fully clarified by the courts. The story then “climbs” into the “fantastical” through the figure of Cardillac. But as the long tradition of understanding the story of the crimes as a Krimi or detective story shows, the effect of this fantastical element does not undermine the social atmosphere established and maintained. It is clearly a story about power.

22.         It is this power that is “really seen,” and this thematization allows us to grasp how the Serapiontic principle becomes narrative. Building on the suspension announced in the first tale of the cycle, we here see that the historical ground of the story is integrated with the fantastic; thus the “duplicity of all earthly being” is transferred from the individual (Serapion) to society, and it is the history of that society that occupies the narrative space. Argenson’s Paris, ruled in the fiction by his successor La Regnie, is a police state in our contemporary sense, a repressive atmosphere in which danger and fear dominate for all but the nobles and the king. The drama the narrative expertly maximizes is based on this newer type of police, and the king’s ultimate authority would come to haunt Hoffmann within a few years of his completion of the story. Thus the police are not Justi’s but the clumsy Desgrais, who does in fact read as an anticipation of Inspector Lestrade, only with the emphasis on the irrational inquisitorial force behind him. He lets Cardillac slip through his hands, and in a completely unexplained moment, witnesses him apparently pass through a solid wall. Scuderi engages the administrative apparatus, gathering information and consulting a lawyer, preparing for her attempt to convince the king to release Brusson.

23.         Dorothea von Mücke has characterized this rhetorical act as the recruitment of the king “into the regime of biopower” (124, 127), relying on Friedrich Kittler’s demonstration that Scuderi both produces the “positive knowledge of the human” (203–04) and the regime of signification associated with the discursive and institutional shifts Foucault identified around 1800: “Hoffmann’s story, as the first example of its genre, is thus simultaneously the effect and the instrument of a discourse-mutation” (216). But what discourse is being mutated? As I have proposed, it is the shift in administration as sociotechnology, and the discipline known as technology itself, that provides the discursive background. The narrative shows us that the king’s decision is at least partly subject to the social shift towards emphasis on biopower itself. In the Enlightened monarchy, administration slowly gains the upper hand, and as the monarchy is forced to retreat into the complex Europe of the mid-nineteenth century, bureaucracy and industry form a historical alliance that was still called Technologie. Hoffmann’s novella can only be the “instrument” of that mutation, however, if we re-read the judgment of the brethren. It builds a “historical ground” not in the sense that it is drawn from a chronicle. Hoffmann is tongue-in-cheek here; the history is the mutation itself. And its “climb into the fantastic” should then also be revised: not Cardillac’s “night side,” not his disappearance through the wall, not the alchemy of the Brinvillier subplot. The “fantastic” also functions as the alternate to the historical, the factor that allows the fictional space to mimick the changing role of administration. This allows a “technological” ambition to emerge within the narrative, which focuses its reader on a more complete historical image than any discipline can produce, and then proposes the possibility that this image could be altered. This fiction supplies active organs where only passive ones had been. It produces the space for studying its object, otherwise not available, and it retains the possibility of altering that space. The upshot of Scuderi is that we must “really see” a historical ground shot through with the possibility of differentiation. The desperation of Brusson and his “mother” Scuderi reflects the trap of the powers that crystallize from this order, but the novella visualizes the order itself, produces it as an imaginary object. The imagination cannot directly intervene or impose its freedom on the bureaucratic and discursive grid it alone can produce. But it is itself a factor—a lack or a luxury—in that grid, and one that has the ability to navigate between the concrete and the general. When we see its generalized function, and its ambition to address that generality through its singular narrative formation, we can see what the literature of biopower might be. And this is what late Romanticism in Hoffmann’s version offers: a realism that, by re-presenting the totality of the real as possible, offers a kind of technology that parallels that discipline. That is, a kind of possibility that presents a dwindling yet crucial space for an alternate real, because it is the vehicle of representation that increasingly alone allows for this progressive picture. Thus what seems a merely given “story”—as in the Chronicle of Nuremberg—must be imaginatively constructed into its own order. This is the production of the historical object, which, for the Serapion-circle, must go through the fantastic—“climb” into it—in order to count as a study of the object. In other words, the oblique bearing that the Voltairean tale has on the totality of social relations in the present is based precisely in the detour of fictionality that first constitutes the historical object, that first allows us the imaginative space to conceive of it as part of a set of relations, a social whole. A fiction that offers this space to its reader is technological, because it retains the formal characteristics of that discipline: it is both production and study of an object, namely production itself. The object of this fiction is, however, not “technological” in the modern sense, but instead something approximating what we call sociotechnology, which can only take form as the production of culture. The technology of culture is therefore literature as Hoffmann writes it. Serapion is a generic template for the international nineteenth century, its influence extending to the U.S.A. and to Russia, among others. Perhaps that is in part because underlying its literally fantastic fireworks is the murky urgency of modernity as the fateful synthesis of administration and machines.

24.        As the story ends, there is not much to support the brothers’ assertion that it has “climbed into the fantastic”—while the explanation of the crime is occult, the withdrawal of the lovers to Rousseau’s hometown and the restitution of the jewels to their owners’ families are perfectly banal. But the combination of the salon and the story within it shows us Hoffmann’s technique, which is to take given eidetic story-content and re-imagine it as the transition of power, the shifting of instance from a monarchical state/society complex to something more nebulous. The narration contains a layer of knowledge that it does not exactly visualize: the knowledge of the passage to an order in which power is diffuse, the end of unilateral sovereignty. But in doing this, it presents a new task of fiction, one that we can call “technological.”

25.        Here fiction itself becomes technological in a historical sense, and inherits the task of social administration that was the only meaning of Technologie at the time. After the Enlightenment, social administration was privatized, and in a sense, so was literature, amounting to a channel of public information about massive spheres of unregulatable activity. It became, and perhaps is still, a privileged area for gaining an imaginary grasp on the longue durée and its crystallization in the social form of the present. In Hoffmann, this “grasp” meant the possibility of reconceiving the social as such, of altering its very constitution through producing it in narrative form. The police is no longer needed to intervene at every level of society, guiding the process of history; technological fiction would replace it by producing new historical conditions of possibility.

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[1] See, for example, Mangold. BACK

[2] His letter to his publisher Kunz of 24 May 1815, written from the courtroom, attests to his usual sanguinity on this issue (Sämtliche Werke 6:70–72). Translations from Hoffmann are mine unless otherwise noted. BACK

[3] Hoffmann’s extraordinary knowledge of this field was first gained during his years in Bamberg (1808–13), which are also the years immediately preceding the beginning of his literary output, starting in 1814. See Segebrecht. BACK

[4] On Reil, see Richards 252–89. BACK

[5] On the rehabilitation of psychology and the new wave of altered Kantianism following the works of Herbart, see Lenoir, “Operationalizing Kant.” See also Lenoir’s The Strategy of Life and Richards on Kant’s disputed role in the founding of biology. BACK

[6] E.g. magic lanterns (Schmitz-Emans), automatic orchestras (Dolan); and human-simulating automata (Barkhoff 204). This angle has been explored by Kittler and also Andriopoulos (105–39). Cf. Gaderer 83. BACK

[7] On literature and the police, seen through Schiller’s fragment for a police-drama, see Joseph Vogl and Wolfgang Schäffner, “Polizey-Sachen,” in Walter Hinderer, editor, Friedrich Schiller und der Weg in die Moderne, Königshausen und Neumann, 2006, and Joseph Vogl, “Ästhetik und Polizey,” in Felix Ensslin, editor, Spieltrieb. Was bringt die Klassik auf die Bühne? Schillers Ästhetik Heute, Recherchen 34, 2006, pp. 101–12. See also Christina Vatulescu, Police Aesthetics: Literature, Film, and the Secret Police in Soviet Times, Stanford UP, 2010). BACK

[8] Excellent readings of media as representational strategy, rather than as content, can be found in Lehleiter and Liebrand. Liebrand speaks of a turn from a “negative aesthetic” in which life and poetry can only annihilate one another to a “positive” aesthetic of mediations. I would only specify that this later aesthetic has the disciplinary ambition of a historical “technology,” meaning that Hoffmann is closer to Novalis’s “logarithmization” of the world than Liebrand will allow (10). BACK

[9] I here slightly modify Rüdiger Campe’s insight into Romantic narration: “we may recognize the space that is simultaneously historical and constructs history—the space of “Romanticism,” of the philosophy of history and the theory of the novel. This is the space where “story” and “history” substitute for each other in turn and where cognitive tropology and performance coincide” (The Game of Probability 376). BACK

[10] Cf. Brown 51. BACK

[11] See Hamilton 185–95. BACK

[12] Cf. Brown 49–50. BACK

[13] See Rüdiger Campe, “Form and Life.” BACK

[14] E.g. “Rezension über “Die Leiden des jungen Werthers,” in Mandelkow 65–86, here 84. BACK

[15] Or “encapsulated”—on the lack of manuscript clarity between “eingeschachtet” and “eingeschachelt,” see Brown 49–50. BACK

[16] See Schmitz-Emans, “Naturspekulation” and Barkhoff 213 ff. and 209.  BACK

[17] cf. Hoffmann 6:421. BACK

[18] See Safranski 457. BACK

[19] Stolleis puts the beginning of this separation process at around 1750, which indicates that the scientific literature on police was already a part of this transformation (379). BACK

[20] For Safranski, Hoffmann assigns fiction the unrestrained inner world, thus formulating an apolitical but otherwise free citoyen-as-hermit, and a policeable world of external deeds (469–71). I think the two are re-integrated in fiction, which thus bears on social construction in a way individual disciplines cannot. BACK

[21] See Stolleis 385, where Wilhelm von Humboldt’s famous writing on the limits of state power of 1792 is characterized as the heart of the new liberalism, although early and “removed from reality.” BACK

[22] An extensive literature on this phenomenon exists. See especially Tribe, Foucault, and Wakefield, who argues that the reality of the cameralist society was “disordered” compared to its propaganda—my argument here, however, is precisely about the norms of that propaganda. BACK

[23] See Tribe 8–32; and Pasquino 42–73. BACK

[24] Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, p. 321 ff. BACK

[25] For Stolleis, Policeywissenschaft is “ein breites Auffangbecken für alle Wissenschaften und Techniken zu dienen, die sich als ‚Verwaltungslehren’ verstanden” (378). BACK

[26] As Frison points out, the police lost centrality just as Smithian concerns gained prominence (146). BACK

[27] Technologie” is here defined as “die Wissenschaft von der Entfaltung gesellschaftlicher Produktion.” Cf. Frison 147: Technologie is a sub-branch of Oekonomie, which is part of Polizei. BACK

[28] The coinage belongs to Christian Wolff, although Beckmann was the first to teach and thereby expand the sense of the term. For an account of Beckmann’s tumultuous arrival in Göttingen, see Wakefield 75–79. The full background is given by Troitzsch. BACK

[29] Johann Beckmann, Anleitung zur Technologie, oder zur Kenntnis der Handwerke, Fabriken und Manufakturen, vornehmlich derer, die mit der Landwirthschaft, Polizey und Cameralwissenschaft in nächster Verbindung stehen. Nebst Beyträgen zur Kunstgeschichte. Göttingen, Vandenhoek, 1777, pp. 6+. BACK

[30] See Frison, “Foundation of Technology,” and Günther Bayerl, “Die Anfänge der Technikgeschichte bei Johann Beckmann und Johann Heinrich Moritz von Poppe,” in Wolfgang König and Helmuth Schneider, editors, Die technikhistorische Forschung in Deutschland von 1800 bis zur Gegenwart, Kassel, 2007, pp. 13–35. BACK

[31] See Leo Marx, “Technology.” BACK

[32] Frison compares Linnaeus’s and Beckmann’s notions of oeconomia, focusing on use-values in both biology and technology, without, however, taking account of Beckmann’s university context in biology in Göttingen (148–54). BACK

[33] I have been unable to find a significant use of any term with the root techn- in Hoffmann’s works. BACK

[34] See Schatzberg. BACK

[35] Richard Alewyn’s much-disputed thesis that Scuderi was the first detective story has received a twist from Kittler in Dichter Mutter Kind 197–219 (esp. pp. 213–15), to the effect that the pure material codes of detection were constrained by the family as the basis of semiotics around 1800. BACK

Published @ RC

December 2016