‘Let’s Be Human’ – on the Politics of the Inanimate


  • Karin Sanders




Hans Christian Andersen, humans and things, animate-inanimate, conscious-unconscious, the uncanny, monstrosity


To Romantics the principle of life, its mystery and power, propelled a desire to ‘see into the life of things’ as William Wondsworth articulated it. This article examines how the relationship between life and non-life, the animate and the inanimate, humans and things, took on a new inflection in Romanticism, which differed in radical ways from the pragmatic and economic relationship between persons and things in the 18th century. In Romanticism, the threshold between living and dead matter came to linger between divinity and monstrosity. In Denmark, Hans Christian Andersen had few rivals when it came to articulating associations between humans and things. This article narrows the scope of Andersen’s vivifications to one specific subset: marionettes, dolls and automatons, asking how his surrogates operated vis-à-vis Heinrich von Kleist’s, E. T. A. Hoffman’s and Mary Shelley’s. Each of these authors drew on the hyper-mimetic relationship that dolls, marionettes and automatons have to humans: Kleist used marionettes to examine consciousness through unconsciousness; Hoffmann used automatons to articulate the uncanny; and Shelley used agolem-like monster to ponder the ethics of man’s quests for generative powers. Andersen, in contrast, used dolls, marionettes and automatons in order to speak about social beings.’




How to Cite

Sanders, K. (2012). ‘Let’s Be Human’ – on the Politics of the Inanimate. Romantik: Journal for the Study of Romanticisms, 1(1), 29–50. https://doi.org/10.7146/rom.v1i1.15849