Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Daniel H. Magilow

Committee Members

Elisa Schoenbach, Maria Stehle


This work explores a fascinating and disturbing literary trope found in select German Expressionist prose in the years 1910-1920. Key Expressionist-era authors, including Georg Heym, Robert Musil, Egmont Colerus and Franz Kafka employed Antarctic and ice metaphors in their poetry and prose to exemplify inner feelings of displacement resulting from modernity. Expressionist discontent, as well as the “Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration” that occurred from 1895 to 1922, led to the creation of polar dystopias in some literature. These dystopias explored abstract interpretations of the South Pole, not as a place of excitement and adventure, but rather as a journey into philosophical inner ice in the era of Modernism. Heym, Musil and Colerus did not invent the disturbing Antarctic allegory, but rather returned to an established literary tradition in a time of polar “pulp” fiction.

This thesis first examines the South Pole as a place of emptying, shown in Georg Heym's 1911 fragment “Das Tagebuch Shakletons” (“Shakleton's Diaries”). In other works, such as Heym's 1911 novella “Die Südpolfahrer” (“Travelers to the South Pole”), the South Pole is portrayed as a blank slate. Two Austrian works show the idea of the South Pole as a refuge: Robert Musil’s 1911 Das Land über den Südpol (“The Land over the South Pole”) and Egmont Colerus’ 1915 novel Antarktis.

These works exemplify and interpret the modern soul’s tepid “temperature,” something sharply criticized by Expressionists. These authors and poets longed to see an improved world and expressed discontent by portraying imperialist “heroes” of their time as mere specks lost in the sea of modernity. In the literature of Heym, Musil, Colerus and Kafka, a bleak Antarctic world mirrors the authors’ views on their “dying” society and the European “symptom” that resulted in suffocating mediocrity. Self-fulfillment becomes a static or moving point on the horizon that will never be realized by either the explorer or the freezing bourgeois soul.

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