Calculating Death in Arthur Schnitzler’s Novella Sterben – The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory – article

Calculating Death in Arthur Schnitzler’s Novella Sterben

Christiane Arndt | The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory

2019-10-22

Often categorized as an experimental or case novella, Arthur Schnitzler’s early novella Sterben develops a literary approach that reflects the cultural framework of statistics. At the time, the statistical method aspired to relate individual life to statistical data, a development to which Schnitzler was especially sensitive as a physician. Writing medical texts and editing a medical journal, Schnitzler recognized in which ways the advance of statistics was furthered through visualization, for which Francis Galton’s composite portraiture is an example. The growing impact of the statistical method furthered the problematic role of the individual in statistical data. Sterben lays out the challenges the individual faces with regard to the positivist development of the statistical approach, describing the fate of a fatally ill tuberculosis patient. Working through the cultural notions of “consumption,” the novella lays out how especially Romantic notions of disease have become vain retrospectives, as death is increasingly represented by statistical data. Schnitzler’s text drafts a literary perspective of the impact of statistics on the individual, with consideration to the question of literary form.

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