Earthquake in Haiti: Kleist and Modern Disaster Discourse

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftartikelForskningfagfællebedømt


In the vocabulary of modern disaster research, Heinrich von Kleist's seminal short story "The Earthquake in Chile" from 1806 is a tale of disaster vulnerability. The story is not just about a natural disaster destroying the innocent city of Santiago but also about the ensuing social disaster orchestrated by the citizens of Santiago themselves. Three cognitive schemes play a role for the way Kleist – and his fictional characters – imagine the vulnerability of human society: the theodicy, the sublime, and the state of exception. These three symbolic forms are part of the surprisingly small and surprisingly stable repertoire of cultural concepts and images that, for several centuries now, govern the way we think about disasters and the way we act when they strike. The task of a cultural disaster research, the essay suggests, is to study the deep grammar of our common imagination of disaster surfacing in fictional as well as in factual disasters. Thus, the recent "cultural turn" in modern disaster research must be supplemented with a cultural-historical turn in the ambition to explore how modern disaster fiction reveal and rework the historical repertoire of symbolic forms through which we perceive disaster.
TidsskriftNew German Critique
Udgave nummer115
Sider (fra-til)49-66
Antal sider18
StatusUdgivet - 2012


  • Det Humanistiske Fakultet - katastrofe, sårbarhed, Kleist (Heinrich von), sublime, teodicé, undtagelsestilstand

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