Conditio extraterrestris

The Inhabited Galaxy as the Space of Literary Imagination and Communication (1600-2000)

The imagination of outer space as a potentially inhabited, or inhabitable, living environment has mastered the self-image of the modern human being to date. Whoever wishes to understand this, must take the history of the imagery and of the narrative of extraterrestrial life seriously, and account for it.

Topic and Aim of the Project

Since Kepler, the astronomical exploration of outer space has been indissolubly linked to the origination of a phantasy of the extraterrestrial. Indeed, the constellations of planets have long occupied the human mind; yet, not as much as how they are, or could be, inhabited. In this regard, literary imagination undertakes a coordinating function since it conveys images of alien worlds and beings, while its narratives outline the inhabited galaxy as a phenomenal order bound to carry meaning for human beings and their knowledge (from the Christian theology of creation to the theory of evolution). The project investigates the creation and the mediation of extraterrestrial space in three steps. First, it examines the poetic strategies, which assisted early modern literature to moderate the conflict between astronomy’s evidence for the multiplicity of planets and the theological truth of humankind as being at the centre of creation. Second, the project locates the history of intergalactic communicative media within the perspective of the history of a theory of modern inspiration. Third, the project carefully considers, and clarifies, the impact of the rise of the “extraterrestrial reader” on the development of new forms of narrative in European literature since the 18th century.

Scientific and Social Context

»Conditio extraterrestris« involves literary fiction as well as philosophical and theological speculations or astrobiological investigations. As long as the project conceives outer space as the historical product of intertwining poetics of knowledge, its investigations shed light both on the historical dimension of imaginary galaxies as well as on the cultural bases for contemporary and future outer-space expeditions.