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: Confessional Subjects: Shame, Masochism, Authority
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 perpertrator 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.