Touches of Nature: Explorations of Distant Touch in German and British Romanticism

Public Defence of PhD Thesis by Martin Fog Arndal.


Touches of Nature examines the emergence and possibility of a form of distant touch in writings from the German and British Romantic periods. Focusing on the works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis), Karoline von Günderrode, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, this dissertation explores how the terms touch and Berührung are used in order to develop an idea of touch that transgresses its meanings as either actual-physical contact or emotional change.

In particular, this dissertation aims to explore instances of nature’s distant touches as experiences in which these authors communicate a sensation of being touched by nature, a sensation that is felt both on and below the skin. It is, in other words, tactile, emotional, and distant.

These authors, as this study argues, explore the possibilities of these touches within the emerging notion of an organic conception of nature, in which natural forces are thought of as inherently active, partly material, and able to exert effects that potentially could be felt. In combination with discourses of natural philosophy (Naturphilosophie), physiology, aesthetics, and physics, Wollstonecraft, Novalis, Günderrode, and Coleridge expand upon the powers of touch, making it effective in the natural world. Following this, this dissertation finds that in certain touching moments, the subject is led beyond a connection with material reality and comes into contact, though briefly, with a set of deeper connections that tie everything together into a larger whole. What these Romantics feel in nature’s distant touch is, hence, both a bond to the world as well as the very bond that structures that world.


Assessment Committee

  • Associate Professor Anna Lena Sandberg, Chair (University of Copenhagen)
  • Professor Kristin Gjesdal (Temple University, USA)
  • Professor Felix Sprang (Universität Siegen, Germany)

Moderator of the defence

  • Associate Professor Martyn Bone (University of Copenhagen)

Copies of the thesis will be available for consultation at the following three places:

  • At KUB South Campus (Humanities, Law, and ITU), Karen Blixens Plads 7
  • In Reading Room East of the Royal Library (the Black Diamond), Søren Kierkegaards Plads 1
  • At the Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies, Emil Holms Kanal 6