dissertations in german studies 2022

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.                                    

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.

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.