Stephen Murphy, MA by Research (2016-2018)
Title: An Aesthetic for its Time? Currency and Anachronism in Heinrich Böll’s ‘Aesthetik des Humanen’
This project seeks to distil how Böll meant his aesthetic to be understood and practised, and then to trace the personal and socio-political factors that led him to its formation, drawing on Böll’s private and public writings, from the letters he sent home during the war, via the short stories and Erzählungen of the postwar decade, all the way through to the substantial novels of his later career. In the letters, I investigate the man himself, gaining an insight into his motivations and beliefs at this formative stage of his life. In the earlier published works, I tease out elements of plot, motif, style, form, language and characterisation that represent the outline of a coherent purpose in his writing. The focus of research on the later novels – those brought out after the lectures – will necessarily concern questions of his fidelity to his aesthetic. For each stage of his writing career my inquiry will range across a wide sampling of his output, though for organisational purposes we will select from each decade a representative work for closer scrutiny. These works are: Briefe aus dem Krieg 1939-1945 (2001); Doktor Murkes gesammeltes Schweigen (1955); Ansichten eines Clowns (1962) and Gruppenbild mit Dame(1971).
Katie Jones PhD (2014-2018)
Title: Improper Subjects: Confession, Shame and Femininity in Twentieth-Century English and German-Language Literature
This comparative project considers confession as a trope in contemporary English- and German-language women’s life writing, in particular works that blur generic distinctions between novel and autobiography. The authors confirmed for the study are: Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, Ingeborg Bachmann, Sylvia Plath, Elfriede Jelinek and Charlotte Roche. By tracing confession across English- and German-language works that span nearly an entire century, I am able to consider how the utilisation of this protean trope varies over time, as well as differing cultural contexts. For example, German-language authors operate in the original language of psychoanalysis and therefore may be more likely to appropriate confession in a Foucaultian sense, i.e. medicalised / psychoanalytic confession. Moreover, the German-language authors demonstrate distinct awareness that theirs is the language shared with National Socialism, as such they combine the stigma of female embodiment with a disgraced national identity. However, this point is also used to explore a subjectivity suspended between victim and perpetrator as, controversially, these writers often identify with the plight of Nazism's Jewish victims. In contrast, Jean Rhys, who feels no strong attachment to a specific nationality, conveys a sense of alienation and outlawed femininity with a pseudo-Judicial interrogation sequence in the notes accompanying Smile Please: An Unfinished Autobiography. By employing feminist, psychoanalytic and post-structural readings, the aim is to find what separates and unites these writers by focusing on the unifying theme of confession.
Jenny Watson (October 2012-2016):
Title: Metaphor, Memory and the Weight of History in the Writing of Herta Müller
Herta Müller (1953-) is a Romanian-German author who has risen to prominence in the German literary scene whilst continuing to be viewed as something of a one-off, possibly because of the way her works are rooted in her experiences under the harsh regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu. In my project, I examine four prose texts by Müller from the point of view of memory theory. I argue that the Nobel Prize-winning author is constantly interrogating and responding to processes of memory and public memory culture in Germany, Romania and beyond. Through a close reading of her literary and essayistic output I draw out themes in Müller’s work such as the remembrance of WWII, divisions in memory between Western and former communist countries, the distorting effect of examining events in hindsight and the mobilisation of memory in the form of stories for the maintenance of community cohesion.
By doing this, I aim to recontextualise Müller within the ranks of authors who have also taken up these themes, particularly the question of familial guilt in the aftermath of the Second World War, and draw conclusions about what I see as her innovative approach to memory. Müller is as interested in the deep psychological effects of imagined memory as she is in the search for objective truth and justice within memory debates. She takes a transnational view of history which is responsive to the realities of globalisation and prioritises personal responses to particular events. Her tendency to compare different regimes and political situations through this focus on personal experience has earned her criticism from various quarters but represents, I believe, a progression beyond the notion of memory as an arena of competition.
Anna White (2009-2015):
Exploring the Trope ‘the good German’ / ‘der gute Deutsche’ in Anglo-American and German film, 1990 – 2011
From 1990 to the present, there has been the reunification of Germany; the move of the German capital to Berlin; terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre; conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan; genocide and ethnic cleansing. All of which have influenced the portrayal of German characters in films of this period. Since the 1960s with the anti-American sentiment of the New German Cinema, peaking with Edgar Reitz’s Heimat series during the 1980s and the Historikerstreit, the tense relationship between the German film industry and Hollywood has rested on the issue of the ownership of history. This has continued into the 1990s with a spate of historical heritage films intended for a mainstream audience in both America and Germany which portray the impact of National Socialism on members of the German population. In each of these films a character emerges who can be identified as ‘the good German’ or ‘der gute Deutsche’. This character is a gentile German who is often considered to be the moral compass of the film. However, this assumption can also be inverted or used cynically to make a comment about German or American society. My thesis explores the use of this controversial characterisation in contemporary film and the responses that it provokes.
Seiriol Dafydd (October 2009-2013)
Intercultural and Intertextual Encounters in Michael Roes’ Travel Fiction
My doctoral dissertation focuses on Michael Roes’ fictional travel literature. It examines four of the author’s key works in this regard, analysing how he conceives of travel and encounters with cultures other than his own. Having established his place within the wider context of both factual and fictional travel writing, my study seeks to explain Roes’ cosmopolitan vision of intercultural encounters. Each of these four novels is highly intertextual in its own way. My thesis analyses how they refer to, borrow from, and adapt their intertexts and seeks to establish the author’s intention in making them do so, and to determine what principles or concepts lie behind their intertextual practice. Furthermore, I aim to draw links between intertextuality in these works and Roes’ vision of cosmopolitan interculturality, and to establish how the texts with which Roes engages illuminate our understanding of the intercultural encounter.
Seriol Dafydd was supported by the AHRC. His PhD is now available as Intercultural and Intertextual encounters in Michael Roes's Travel Fiction (Institute for Modern Languages Research, 2015), Bithell Series of Dissertations, no.42.
Daniel Gerke, Raymond Williams and European Marxism: Lukacs, Sartre, Gramsci (2015-18)
The Western Marxist tradition from Lukacs to Colletti is usually considered a continental European one, with no major British representative. This thesis presents the Welsh cultural critic and novelist Raymond Williams (1921-1988) as a critical Anglophone participant in that tradition. The development of Williams’s cultural materialism, far from being the product of a rigid ‘British’ empiricism, was centrally influenced by the ideas of Western Marxist thinkers. At the core of this influence, and of the ‘European’ rationalist element in Williams’s work, is the concept of ‘totality’, an abiding concern with which Williams shares with the Western Marxists. The three European Marxists to whom Williams’s intellectual development is most indebted are those whom he described, in 1972, as ‘Marxism’s alternative tradition’: Georg Lukacs (1885-1971), Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937). The work of these thinkers, as it slowly appears in English, confirms Williams’s insistence on ‘total’ analysis and permits him to generate a Marxism capable of reconciling subjective experience with the complex materiality of social relations. I read the theoretical apparatus which results from these transnational interactions as a literary and a philosophical realism committed both to the aesthetic representation of the social totality and to the interaction of experience with objective reality. The form of political praxis engendered by these European influences is a ‘revolutionary culturalism’ in which the working-class attains hegemony by realising its experience and interests in a concrete culture.
Annett Kaminski, The use of Singing, Storytelling and Chanting in the Primary EFL Classroom: Aesthetic Experience and Participation in FL Learning (2008-16, p.t.)
This longitudinal small-scale study, which is based on data collected between 2007 and 2010 in Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany, analyses the use of songs, stories and chants in primary EFL classrooms. A multi-method design is applied involving quantitative research instruments, such as a questionnaire distributed to primary school teachers, as well as qualitative research instruments, such as extensive participant observation and in-depth interviews with learners as well as teachers. Questionnaire data indicates regular use of songs, stories and chants in primary FL classrooms in the area under investigation. Audio-recorded classroom and interview discourse reveals that musical and literary texts spark learners’ interest due to the aesthetic qualities they exhibit. Learners’ non-verbal and verbal responses show that they construct meaning from visual and acoustic cues that accompany songs, stories and chants and that they are eager to participate in the performance of these texts. Learners imitate language items immediately, their verbal participation increasing with every encounter of a song, chant or story. Learners are able to recall individual and multi-word sequences from high-interest musical and literary texts shortly after repeated exposure as well as 12 to 15 months later. There is evidence of them breaking up memorized language chunks and recombining them for generative language use. Furthermore, learners are able to jointly reconstruct the storyline of a picture book 12months after their first and only encounter with it, suggesting that a meaningful context has been created which is accessible over an extended period of time. On the basis of these findings, it is argued that the aesthetic qualities of songs, stories and chants foster FL learning in various ways. They support comprehension and retrieval, sustain learners’ interest and invite joint performances, all of which paves the way for the mastery of multi-word sequences and creative FL use.
Dr Kaminiski is a Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin at the University of Koblenz-Landau.
Jenny Watson, Affective Affinities: Memory, Empathy and the Weight of History in the Work of Herta Müller (2012-16)
Herta Müller’s writing forms a densely interwoven body of work that merges fiction, autobiography and political commentary. Previous analyses have failed to develop a critical framework that encompasses her self-consciously difficult texts’ forms, contents, intents and impacts. This project was designed to test the potential of recent theories of memory (notably the work of Alison Landsberg, Michael Rothberg and Griselda Pollock and Max Silverman) as a critical framework for interpreting Müller’s work. The image worlds and affective resonances of texts such as Niederungen (1982), Herztier (1994) and Atemschaukel (2009) allow specific histories of National Socialism, Romanian Communism and Stalin-era forced labour to stand for something larger: all the suffering of history’s unknown Others, all the mental and physical violence human beings perpetrate on one another. Müller’s approach to memory is orientated around the possibility that attention to the past and to our shared vulnerability can mobilise ethical engagement. Her texts rework memory as a route towards imagination and empathetic engagement, not a mere imitation of history, bound to facts. She prioritises “authenticity” – meaning larger structures of experience – over reality or specificity. Pushing her reader to attend to memories which are not their own, and engage with patterns of perception that uncover a common humanity, her work represents specific experiences but presents them as iterations. Thus memory alludes to the present and demands action. Empathy is Müller’s ultimate concern: memory serves to foster ethical engagement. My critical framework captures the way her writing exploits universal experiences of memory and historically located subjectivity, encompassing core elements of her themes and aesthetics and offering a new perspective on her work. Affective Affinities represents a first step in holistic readings of Müller and reframes memory as the engine rather than the fuel of her ethical and literary projects.
Dr Watson left Swansea for a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at the University of Edinburgh.
Marya Vrba, The Literary Dream in German Central Europe, 1900-1925: A Selective Study of the Writings of Kafka, Kubin, Meyrink, Musil and Schnitzler (2008- 2011)
This thesis examines the literary dream in selected works by Kafka, Kubin, Meyrink, Musil and Schnitzler, with a particular focus on the redefinition of subjectivity through dreamlife. The introductory chapter contextualises these case studies in the broader field of oneiro criticism, emphasising the dream’s ancient role as fictional template and its specific significance in the destabilised environment of German Central Europe during the early twentieth century. Alfred Kubin Die andere Seite (1909), which uses the ‘other side’ as metaphor for both oneiric and artistic experience, reveals the inherent dualism of the literary dream and its close relationship with creativity. In Robert Musil’s Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törless (1906), the protagonist serves as the model for a new type of self-determining subject who draws on the knowledge of dreams and irrationality. Franz Kafka’s texts reveal techniques for integrating the dream into fictional worlds that are already dreamlike through the prevalence of (literalised) metaphor and free association. Gustav Meyrink, in Der Golem (1915), shares Kafka’s interest in concretised metaphor, but also explores the dream’s associations with occult practices, used as a defence against the threatening claims of science. Finally, Arthur Schnitzler’s literary dreams offer a direct confrontation with psychoanalysis and a dismantling of nineteenth-century ideals of gender and bourgeois love. Overall, it is argued that the literary dreams by these authors hold varied responses to fragmentation of the Ich in the face of psychological ‘vivisection’, theories of relativity, and the collapse of old social orders. The dream, as a nightly ‘psychosis’, crystallised the pervasive fears of self-loss during this period; however, in its perennial role as micro-narrative, it also provided a site for re-construction of the subject. The incorporation of dreams in fictional lives served as a metonymical guide for the integration of un- and subconscious experience overall.
Dr Vrba works as a translator in Berlin.