Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Comparative Literature and Literary Theory

First Advisor

Catriona MacLeod


This dissertation investigates how German romantic speculation concerning the possibility of constructing a perpetuum mobile sheds light on the central role played by technical media in the relationship between politics, poetics, and the life sciences around 1800. Focusing on the figures of Novalis, Schelling, Goethe, and Hölderlin, the project traces the contours of a discursive shift in the romantic reception of what Immanuel Kant calls the “technic of nature,” a concept Kant employs as a heuristic device for explaining the appearance of self-motivated activity in nature. While for Kant, this term refers to the ways internal forms of human cognition lead the observer to perceive a distinction between the autotelic activity of organic life and events determined by mechanical causality, for Kant’s romantic readers, the ‘technic of nature’ comes to signify a reciprocal mode of material relationality between humans and nature that combines organic and mechanical processes. This relational, exteriorizing comportment towards the making of technical objects and natural knowledge, what the philosopher of technology Gilbert Simondon calls mechanology in his overlooked engagement with romanticism, becomes the basis for a series of thought experiments concerning perpetual motion which seek to develop a negentropic ecology of spatial relations for romantic poetics and nature philosophy.