University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Paul Dobryden

Paul Dobryden

Assistant Professor, Department of Germanic Languages

New Cabell 243


Energetic Media: Thermodynamics and the German Avante-Garde

This project will examine the reception of thermodynamics within the media theory and practice of the 1920s German avant-garde. In the nineteenth century, the science of thermodynamics placed energy, rather than matter, at the center of a new understanding of the physical universe. As the quintessential science of the industrial revolution, thermodynamics was concerned with movement and efficiency, with bodies and engines, with systems and circulation—subjects that would fascinate important strains of the German avant-garde over half a century later. Focusing on artists associated with Bauhaus and the G group, I will investigate how the interwar avant-garde reckoned with a world transformed by the science of energy and took up aspects of the broader cultural imaginary of thermodynamics. I am particularly interested in seeing how individual works negotiated the tension between cultural revitalization—which reflected the avant-garde’s energetic, productivist ambition—and the thermodynamic concept of entropy, which inspired visions of historical decline.