Samuel Frederick “A Poetics of Collecting: The Redemption of Things in German Realism and Modernism”
The nineteenth-century Austrian author Adalbert Stifter wrote that mosses are a “despised” plant. Indeed, mosses have little ecological value: they serve neither as food nor protection for any known organism. One scientist calls them “the useless invention of a creator inordinately fond of the color green.” So why would anyone want to study them, let alone collect them? My talk answers this question by way of an analysis of Stifter’s last published story “The Kiss of Sentze” (1866), one of whose primary characters does little else besides collecting, sorting, classifying, pressing, storing, and preserving mosses. My reading demonstrates how Stifter redeems the “despised mosses,” first by mobilizing their cryptogamic life cycle as a model for the preservation and perpetuation of a family line; and second by appealing to one peculiar feature of the plant’s collectability.