dissertations in german studies 2022

Grube, Eric. An Intra-National Borderland: Regional Conflicts & Affinities Across the Austro-Bavarian Border, 1918-1955. Boston College, Department of History. Advisor: Devin O. Pendas, Nicole M. Eaton, Erin R. Hochman. July 2022. Abstract:

This dissertation studies the cooperation and competition among various right-wing paramilitaries in the southeastern portions of German-speaking Europe. My work overturns stereotypical, teleological narratives that presume any far-fight German extremism inherently meant “the rise of Nazism.” Instead, I reveal a complex mosaic of far-right paramilitary men, whose allegiances to and rivalries with each other oscillated with shifting situational contexts across one of the most contested and chaotic borders in interwar Europe. Consequently, my research results open new possibilities for conceptualizing volatile twentieth-century borderlands as stemming not just from international conflicts but also from intra-national infighting. Paramilitary men on both sides of the Austro-Bavarian border considered themselves German, but they conceived of their “Germanness” in very specific terms: southeastern, Catholic, and Alpine in contrast to the northern, Protestant, and Prussian variant of Germandom. How did right-wing groups blend greater German nationalism with their southeastern German regionalism? The hybridization of these two loyalties created an intoxicating affective brew that brought together right-wing agents on both sides of this border in fraternal solidarity but also instigated fratricidal violence, all as these German groups sought to settle the question of what it meant to be German. National identities founded on southeastern regional impulses thus formed a constitutive contradiction of greater German nationalism. The intersectionality of regionalism and nationalism generated internecine right-wing violence, as these groups disagreed over how to implement disparate versions of unification. The result was twenty years of street brawls, assassinations, terror, Putsch attempts, mobilizations, and transborder smuggling of munitions, troops, and funds. This region was thus a paragon of borderlands conflict. The crux was that it was an intra-national borderland: to these activists, national union should have been so simple, making it all the more frustrating when it eluded them. The assumed common nationality meant any perceived dissident was not simply a political opponent but something far worse: a traitor. Paradoxically, the supposedly “agreed-upon” national identity exacerbated borderland chaos and violence. Historians of Eastern and Central Europe have falsely conflated borderlands with spaces between nations in which multi-national populations struggle among each other for hegemony. My work overturns such assumptions by offering the first analysis of European borderlands violence stemming from a perceived communal nationality. This project thus serves as a needed corrective to the scholarship, offering a richly informed regional analysis with significant interventions in the broader fields of borderlands and right-wing extremism.

Healy, Charlotte. Paul Klee's Hand. New York University, Institute of Fine Arts. Advisor: Robert Lubar Messeri. May 2022. Abstract:

An essential yet largely unacknowledged component of the aesthetic of Swiss-born modern artist and Bauhaus master Paul Klee is an awareness of the human hand’s capacity to create and to touch. That is, Klee’s artworks make us aware of his hands and our own hands, of the hand as the artist’s primary tool and the body’s chief source of haptic sensory information. Klee endeavored to subvert the long-standing fetishization of the “artist’s hand” by curbing his natural skill as a draftsman. The rich and diverse textural effects visible on the surfaces of many of his pictorial works appeal to the sense of touch; this tactile quality is the result of his investigation and exploitation of the inherent physical properties of his materials, most notably textile substrates, malleable grounds, and pastose paints. Klee also employed several strategies to emphasize the handmade and one-of-a-kind nature of his artworks, suggesting that, unlike many of his Bauhaus colleagues, he saw fine art as more connected to manual craft than to technology or industry. This dissertation draws on a range of art historical approaches, from technical to theoretical to iconographic and thematic, in order to contextualize and explore these and other manifestations of the hand in Klee’s art and thought, particularly during the Weimar period.    

Prado, Dante. The Crisis of Laughter at the End of the Long Nineteenth Century: Laughter in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. University of Calgary, Languages, Literatures and Cultures. Advisor: Martin Wagner. June 2022. Abstract:

Over the past decade, laughter has been the focus of significant research in literary and cultural studies, with scholars often concentrating on the period of Modernism (that is, the time around 1900) as a crucial moment in which debates about laughter intensified. However, the studies on laughter in Modernism have not yet paid any attention to one of the decisive novels from this period, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg, 1924), in which laughter features prominently. Additionally, scholarship on Thomas Mann has not critically attended to laughter in The Magic Mountain. To improve our understanding of the period of Modernism and this novel, I analyze the representation of laughter in The Magic Mountain against the background of two recent studies on laughter in Modernism (Parvulescu 2010; Nikopolous 2018) to reveal the extent to which Mann’s novel fits within existing conceptions of Modernist laughter. Anca Parvulescu considers that Modernist laughter challenges seriousness and, by disrupting norms of behaviour, possesses revolutionary potential, while Nikopoulos identifies Modernist laughter as a primarily negative sign, subject to pathological interpretations. The close reading of select laugh episodes (occurrences where laughter is highlighted or commented upon by the narrator or another character) demonstrates that the novel’s representation of laughter deviates from these recent characterizations of Modernist laughter. By drawing attention to the novel’s interest in the absence of laughter, the analysis shows another facet of Modernist laughter, not explained by characterizations of disruption or pathology. Namely, the study finds that the novel represents a crisis of laughter that is connected to a crisis of sociability and, as an extension of this, to a crisis of Bildung. This finding serves to distinguish between different characterizations and moments in the representation of laughter in the novel. The crisis of laughter observed in Mann’s novel could provide a different vantage point of Modernist laughter. Finally, the mentioned crisis could be extrapolated to other Modernist novels, especially German Modernist novels that dialogue with the Bildungsroman tradition.                                    

Reitz, Landon. Looking Up from the Page: Scenes of Reading in Medieval and Modern German Literature. University of California, Berkeley, Department of German. Advisors: Niklaus Largier, Lilla Balint, Jonathan Sheehan. July 2022. Abstract:

This dissertation examines scenes of reading – a literary motif where one or more figures are portrayed in the act of reading – in German literature from the High Middle Ages to today. Against the pressure to interpret such scenes as depictions of historic or exemplary reading practices, I analyze them as imaginative theorizations of reading, as nexuses of imagery, form, and content that reflect on, explicate, and influence the role of reading in a textual culture. As an integral part of a text’s poetical structure, these scenes render the reading process visible, exposing it to critique and reflection. In my analysis of several texts, including a medieval Arthurian romance, a late medieval devotional text, a nineteenth-century novella, and a contemporary narrative of migration, I demonstrate how the matrix of people, practices, and technologies that constitute reading scenes have affected and continue to affect popular as well as academic discourses on this fundamental cultural practice. By elucidating the theoretical and meaning-making capacities of scenes of reading, my project offers a unique approach to the study of reading: it incorporates the diversity of historic reading practices with the symbolic potency of reading’s representation to explicate reading’s poetological role in literature.

Schätz, Katharina. Österreichische Literatur auf dem Präsentierteller. Eine empirisch-historische Untersuchung des Literaturprogramms der österreichischen Kulturforen im Ausland. Universität Wien, Institut für Germanistik. Advisor: Wynfrid Kriegleder. July 2022. Abstract: 

The study focuses on the examination of the literary program of the Austrian Cultural Forums abroad and their predecessor institutions, restricted to the first four locations. While the institute in Rome dates back to the Cultural Agreement of 1935 and was reopened after the Second World War, the institutes in Paris (1954), London and New York (both 1956) were founded in connection with the State Treaty and offer a certain comparability of programming tactics due to their common Western orientation. Archival materials from Rome and New York, some of which were evaluated for the first time, as well as from the Austrian State Archives were used for the analysis, as were expert interviews with those responsible for programs in the Diplomatic Service and with German/Austrian studies scholars who (did) cooperate with the Cultural Forums on a regular basis. In a first step, the consistent guidelines, changes and ruptures in the literature segment were presented in the context of the possibilities and structures of foreign cultural policy as a means of state communication. The second part of the work is embedded in the framework of canon research, in which the concrete selection of literature is analyzed. In the pursuit of this, it was not only possible to ascertain sustainable effects achieved in a cultural diplomacy process, some of which radiate back to Austria, but also a kind of friction between the inner-Austrian literary landscape and the needs or possibilities of foreign cultural policy work. Depending on the constellation, these lead to divergent images of Austrian literature at home and abroad or to new approaches in the sense of targeted rapprochements. It could also be shown that the literary sector, which was always confronted with the language barrier, had a high status within cultural diplomacy at times over the last seventy years. 

Schmitz, Christoph. Chaos and Control: Indexicality and the Human Voice in Contemporary German Fiction. Carolina-Duke Graduate Program in German Studies. Advisor: Dr. Richard Langston. June 2022. Abstract:

When affordable recording technologies hit the mass market in the 1950s and 1960s, German writers discovered new poetic possibilities. By capturing concrete vocal traces, or indexes, of human beings, sound technologies like radios, tape recorders, and answering machines promised access to concrete lives and, subsequently, began crowding the pages of German novels. In so doing, they also questioned the traditional role of the narrative voice. This dissertation advances the concept of literary indexicality by arguing that one of contemporary German literature’s greatest innovations is its intermedial translation of acoustic signals into written words. Literary indexicality reveals how fiction engages indexical effects—the traces of human bodies commonly recorded by non-literary media—by transporting the immediacy of disembodied voices from recordings into fictional narratives.

Soria, Charlotte. May Day, Place and Time of the Social Construction of the National Socialist "People's Community" (1933-1939). Sorbonne Université, Histoire moderne et contemporaine. Advisor: Johann Chapoutot. December 2022. Abstract:

May Day, an eminently political holiday of the socialist workers' movement, became with the celebration of May Day 1933 an official holiday of the National Socialist regime, an embodiment of its social community project, the "Volksgemeinschaft". But did these political rituals really contribute to the creation of a social order or were they merely a deceptive reflection of the regime's communication? In fact, May Day - a public holiday and festive day since 1933/34 - was a device of power(s), of inclusion and exclusion, which aimed at this social fabrication through political and official celebrations but also through the development of leisure activities within enterprises. It contributed to the emergence of a new, unequal and racist social order through classical mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion or even social ascension for the benefit of the “Volksgenossen” and “Volksgenossinnen” thus defined, not only through coercion but also in a constant process of negotiation. The festive and media arrangements had disappointing results, as the organisers (Joseph Goebbels) did not succeed in implanting the partisan mobilisation model inherited from the NSDAP in the heart of German society. In addition to this model, which was particularly highlighted in the media, new social rights were created: the right to holidays - guaranteed by this public holiday, among others - the right to leisure and tourism, as well as access to the consumption of "community services", including the festive evenings organised everywhere for the benefit of Robert Ley's DAF. At the same time, Jewish Germans were excluded from these "community" rights with difficulty. This exclusion clearly defined the "People's Community", while its meaning remained open to debate between "Community of action" through participation, "Community of effort" through processes of distinction, and "Community of leisure".

Sullivan-Thomsett, Chantal. Protest Never Goes out of Style: The German Green Party and the Gentrification of Protest. University of Leeds, School of Languages, Cultures and Societies. Advisors: Ingo Cornils & Jonathan Dean. December 2022. Abstract:

In many Western democracies, protest has become a normalised form of individual and collective political expression, even for political parties. Progressive political parties support, ‘sponsor’, and participate in street demonstrations and encourage and mobilise their party members to turn out. Yet, existing scholarly explanations for the interaction of institutional and extra-institutional politics often underplay the role protest plays for mainstream(ing) or established progressive political parties. Previous research focuses on conceptual frameworks which capture either party organisational types and structures, or party-internal ideological shifts. Indeed, such approaches underexplore the legacy of protest or social movement ancestry within a political party and ignore how this interaction of protest and party politics is experienced by individual party members. Using the contemporary German Green Party (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) as a case study, this thesis remedies this omission by analysing party and protest interactions as part of a broader political style I term ‘gentrified protest’. I apply the analytical framework of gentrified protest to data generated through interpretative ethnographic methods to demonstrate the ways that the German Greens in 2018/2019 exhibited the political style of gentrified protest. As a result, this analysis shows how the everyday activism of Green Party members still involves interaction with protest. These are demonstrated through party participation at non-violent, tame street demonstrations or the performance of support online. Protest remains an authentic feature within the German Green brand, highlighted by the concerted effort to maintain links with the party’s past during a rebrand of party principles. Party members, and their role as multi-level marketers performing personalised political communication in party and protest activism, legitimise and reproduce the party’s participatory and democracy-focused political style. However, this aesthetic of participation and democracy is not always experienced in reality, reminding scholars to interrogate ‘official’ party understandings and conceptualisations of party image, processes, and activism.

Yonover, Jason Maurice. Early Modern Naturalism in Modern German Thought. Johns Hopkins University. Advisors: Katrin Pahl, Yitzhak Y. Melamed. May 2022. Abstract:

In this dissertation, I explore how seventeenth- and eighteenth-century shapes of naturalism impact the thought of several key figures on the cusp of or firmly within the nineteenth-century German tradition. By “naturalism” I mean here the view according to which there is nothing but nature. In clarifying the legacy of early modern versions of this view in the modern German context, I contribute to recent scholarship in at least two main ways. Of course, any given intellectual context can be understood from any number of perspectives. But I argue across the dissertation that central German thinkers grasped the allure of strict early modern formulations of naturalism given their consistency, their explanatory power, and more—and were decisively also then forced to confront the difficulties such thinking presented for prevailing notions of God, humanity, and human knowledge in particular. In short, I propose in this dissertation that the naturalist perspective establishing robust continuity in nature posed a substantial challenge to an entire era, as is evident from a close look at several prominent representatives. Finally, although my aims in this dissertation are primarily intellectual-historical, I also ultimately suggest that the difficulties resulting from a consistent commitment to naturalism continue to loom large.