The “Gentle Law” of Large Numbers: Stifter’s Urban Meteorology

Timothy Attanucci


Both admirers and detractors of the Austrian author Adalbert Stifter have long interpreted his poetics of the “gentle law” or “sanftes Gesetz” as an idealistic (or ideological) apology of small things, “little” people, and their small acts of kindness. When considered from the perspective of history of knowledge, however, Stifter’s poetic turn to the small resonates with a larger epistemological shift towards statistical thought in the mid-nineteenth century. Through a reconsideration of Stifter’s profound interest in meteorology and a reading of his little-known essay “Wiener-Wetter,” this article shows how the poetics of Bunte Steine, including the notions of “gentle law,” collection, and event, interact with one of the most significant epistemological turns in modern thought. At the same time, it argues that the method of the “urban meteorology” proposed “Wiener-Wetter” represents a novel form of literary description of the city and its mass dynamics. (TA)

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