Contact Address:
Prof. Dr. Klaus Mecke
Institut für Theoretische Physik
Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Staudtstraße 7
91058 Erlangen
Phone: +49-9131-85 28441
Fax: +49-9131-85 28444

Contact Address:
Dr. Aura Heydenreich
Germanistik und Komparatistik
Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Bismarckstraße 1b
91054 Erlangen
Phone: +49-9131-85 22978

Working Group V:

Physical Knowledge and Literary Genres


  • Heydenreich (German Philology)
  • Lubkoll (German Philology)
  • Mecke (Physics)
  • Meusburger (Physics/Mathematics)

Research goal

As opposed to the historically oriented working groups I to IV, working group V is dedicated to a comprehensive aspect which has to be illuminated diachronically from the 18th century on: the genre poetics of the physics novel. It will investigate interdiscursive forms of communication and medial dispositions with which literature participates in the expert culture of physics, as well as the resulting consequences for the literary system, for instance the development of new genres. In the historical course of its differentiation and autonomisation, the system of literature acquires the function of addressing unsolved problems within the systems it observes (science, culture, society). With regards to physics, this function is relevant insofar as literature provides this expert culture with a space or medium for aesthetic reflection. Our basic assumption is that the process of the constitution and reflection of physical knowledge is co-evolutionary in physics and literature. The underlying thesis is that literature not only draws on physical knowledge after it has been formalised and codified in textbooks (Kas­sung: Entropie-Geschichten 2001), but that processes of interaction take place at various levels of theory constitution: at the level of the observation of experimental positivities, at a heuristic level of thought experiments, at the level of theory construction through metaphorical articulation among others.

In a first step this complex will be explored using the genre of the physics novel as an example and focussing on selected physical theories (thermodynamics, theory of relativity, quantum theory). We aim to provide a typology of the physics novel on the basis of the examination of different fictional or narrative modes of representation and mediation of physical theories in literature. To begin with, we will sift through the extensive material which is at present only partially recorded bibliographically. Then we will analyse and interpret the individual literary texts, aiming to identify and describe fictional forms used for the literary translation and negotiation of physical knowledge. These considerations will lead to the development of a comprehensive typology of such forms and the development of genre typological criteria for differentiation within a complex scaling.