Modernity diagnosed itself with a malaise at its inception: fragmentation, both psychological and social. While one treatment – the aesthetic education – offered moments that suspended division, the century was dominated by an economic education that instead exploited division, entering desire, both commercial and erotic, into systems of exchange. Economic and kinship theories were intertwined in both theory and praxis, with the sibling relationship functioning as a threateningly double-edged mechanism for producing subjectivity, disciplining desire, and establishing agency in thinkers a diverse as Adam Smith, Friedrich Engels, and Claude Lévi- Strauss. Literature interrogated this new dynamic. Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship struggles to stake the subject in this new fraternal order, while Eliot’s Mill on the Floss relinquishes the demand for integral and discrete subjects with agency over passive objects.
Stefani Engelstein is an Associate Professor and Chair of the German Department at Duke University who researches literature and the history of science. She is the author of Sibling Action: The Genealogical Structure of Modernity (Columbia University Press 2017) and of Anxious Anatomy: The Conception of the Human Form in Literary and Naturalist Discourse (SUNY 2008), and co-editor of Contemplating Violence: Critical Studies in Modern German Culture (Rodopi 2011). A recipient of the Alexander-von-Humboldt Fellowship, Engelstein has been a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institut für Wissenschaftgeschichte and the Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, both in Berlin. Her current book project is tentatively entitled Living Things, Human Beings: The Entanglements of the Organism.