By Philipp Ekardt
Along with its central characters – Nathanael, a young student; the optician Coppelius; and Olimpia, his daughter – E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1817 story Der Sandmann has firmly established a place for itself in the European cultural canon.1 For instance, the tale presented composer Jacques Offenbach with the material for one of the acts of his 1881 opéra fantastique Les contes d’Hoffmann. As Hoffmann’s story unfolds, Nathanael falls madly in love with Olimpia, while perhaps also falling into madness. Consequently, his discovery that she is actually an automaton constructed by her ‘father’ Coppelius, who in turn doubles as the menacing sandman Coppola out on the hunt for Nathanael’s eyes, hovers in an insolubly ambiguous state between the literary depiction of a mad person’s delusions and the representation of a world in which the common laws of reality don’t apply. As such the text has served as prime subject matter for by now classical interpretations and first rank theorizations.