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Current research projects in German Studies

Resonances: Love and Intimacy in Contemporary German Language Literature

Professor Helmut Schmitz's Leverhulme funded project investigates the diversity, richness and cultural implications of contemporary literary representations of love and intimacy from a variety of theoretical perspectives and assesses the reasons for the re-emergence of love as one of German literature’s dominant topics at the beginning of the 21st century.

This research contribution in the form of a concise monograph pays tribute to the current moment and is designed to investigate literature’s role during the COVID-19 pandemic. Professor Elisabeth Herrmann explores how literature assists in addressing, enduring and transcending what we currently experience as a crisis and how it helps make the transition to either a ‘post-pandemic era’ or a ‘new normal’ after the caesura. Leading questions are: What role does literary fiction play in times of crises and more precisely during the COVID-19 pandemic? What specific aspects of the pandemic are remembered and worth being archived in literary form? Have new ways of writing evolved out of this crisis? If so, what kinds of new styles, genres and text formats have been produced since the pandemic started? More generally, what are these texts’ specific characteristics? With an unprecendented situation that has been challenging us to accept the unpredictable on a daily basis, one central aspect to be explored in this study is how the pandemic has changed our relationship to the future and how literature can help us envision the future in new ways. Exploring literature’s role in reflecting and even processing the social transformations and structural breaks that come with the current crisis, the project proposes literature to play a new significant role in shaping the pandemic narrative due to its potential to debate our relationship to the present in view of a future that lies within the realms of possibilities. Drawing on a representative selection of German-language and globally produced COVID-19 and pandemic fiction, the study sets a focus on the probabilistic as well as realistic aspects of fiction, developing a concept of ‘future realism’.

Dialogue, Movement, and World Entanglement: Towards a Redefinition of World Literature

Professor Elisabeth Herrmann's project responds to the demand for a critical review of the idea of world literature in our time of globalisation. The study goes beyond a synopsis of the different concepts that have been developing since Goethe’s time, with the aim of inciting a scientific dialogue between the fields of literary, cultural, comparative, and translation studies in order to encompass the term world literature from a transnational perspective. Applying new theories of material, communicative, and cultural mobility that derive from disciplines in social sciences and the humanities, this study in literary theory determines historically traceable characteristics as well as newly emerging indicators of world literature by extending the concept in the direction of a ‘literature of movement and world entanglement.’ World literature cannot be investigated as an entity in itself. Instead, the concept becomes meaningful within examinations of its parts as excerpts of the world. Language and locality, specific themes and the idiosyncrasies of individual texts are hereby seen as impetus for potential movement. Drawing on a selection of literary texts written in German across different countries and centuries that have been received and adopted internationally, while at the same time focusing on new developments in German and multilingual literature that have emerged since the turn of the millennium, this monograph develops new tools with which to examine the dynamics of literature traveling the world. The study identifies historical and new literary communities that are created beyond existing concepts of national, cultural, and geographical location.

Remembering Wartime Rape: The Emotional Politics of Cultural Memory

This project investigates and reconstructs how cultural works shaped and transformed the collective memory of wartime rape in Germany, where Allied soldiers assaulted hundreds of thousands of women into 1945. These events were evoked in a wide range of media throughout the post-war period. However, this dispersed chatter did not translate into sustained engagement with the phenomenon of wartime rape in the public sphere until after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Dr Katherine Stone's book will address this discrepancy, asking: How did the political delicacy of discussing German civilian suffering shape the production and publication of narratives about wartime rape? Why is the idea that wartime rape was ‘taboo’ still so compelling in non-academic circles, especially culture and the media? Does the term ‘taboo’ educe more than the boundaries of political discourse, suggesting that earlier references to wartime rape elided core issues about its psychological and familial legacy? In searching for answers to these questions, this project combines aesthetic and reception analysis with theories of emotion to investigate why certain representations amplified the story of wartime rape, while others muted its impact. It argues that examining how memory narratives distribute emotion provides a key to understanding when and how memories of violence were deemed to matter and in which contexts. In so doing, it explains the ambivalent status of wartime rape in post-war memory cultures that repeatedly evoked the violence of rape without reflecting on its aftermath. Despite repeated calls to do so, the broader field of memory studies has not yet explained the connection between emotion, resonance, and the dynamics of cultural memory. This study therefore seeks to advance the field and create a more textured model of cultural memory that goes beyond the reductive concepts of narrative and silence, memory and taboo.

Constellations of alterity: Conceptions of femininity and Jewishness in modern German and Austrian culture

Dr Christine Achinger's current research investigates constellations of images of femininity and Jewishness at important junctures in modern German and Austrian history between the Enlightenment and the Fin de Siècle. The constructions of different kinds of ‘others’ can serve as a key to understanding changing concerns regarding modernity, identity and the boundaries of the national community.

This project aims to move beyond an exclusive focus on the parallels and intersections of ideas of Jewishness and femininity – for example, in the figure of the ‘beautiful Jewess’ or the stereotype of the ‘effeminate Jew’. By also investigating the often quite different or even complementary discursive roles played by these notions of alterity and their interrelations, Dr Achinger hopes to contribute to a more three-dimensional picture of the social developments to which they respond.