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We Out of Many - First-Person Plural Narration in 21st-Century American Novels

Dissertation Project by
Michaela Beck

My PhD project focuses on what has been described as the ‘rise’ of the ‘we’ narrator in recent U.S. literature (Maxey 2015, Cf. Costello 2012) – that is, the use of the first-person plural narrator in a growing body of short and longer narrative fiction, including Kate Walbert's Our Kind (2005), Joshua Ferris's Then We Came to the End (2007), Hannah Pittard's The Fates Will Find Their Way (2011), and TaraShea Nesbit's The Wives of Los Alamos (2014), among others. 

More specifically, my dissertation examines this ‘we’, or communal narrator in a selection of six 21st-century (post-postmodern) U.S. American novels with a decided focus on its cultural work. Drawing on New Formalist approaches (Olson and Copland 2016, Levine 2015), I aim to conjoin two (hitherto discrete) strands of research in my project: For one, I employ formalist-narratological discussions of the ‘we’ narrator – particularly approaches by Margolin, Bekhta, Marcus, Fludernik, and Richardson – for a precise discussion of the framing and narrative use of the first-person plural pronoun in the primary texts. Importantly, in doing so, I seek to detach the formal discussion of the ‘we’ narrator in my project from the ‘unnatural’ versus natural narrative debate (Cf. Richardson 2006, 2015), and I read the communal narrator as a textual form whose meta- and/or extratextual implications necessarily depend on its specific aesthetic as well as socio-cultural frames of reference.

At the same time, my project aims to enquire into these implications by focusing specifically on the interaction between the affordances of this form and socio-cultural, economic, or political discourses or ‘forms’ (Cf. Levine 2015) in a contemporary U.S. American context. As such, the individual textual analyses within my project zoom in on the inter-relation between the different form(ulation)s of the communal narrator and the discussion of the following socio-political and cultural paradigms in the primary material: first, the conceptualization of U.S. national society as a complex, yet bounded ‘whole’; second, the proposition of attached notions of civic collectivity and national belonging which are premised on both cognitive and affective ties; and third, the idealized understanding of the American (post-postmodern) novel as a prestigious and most vital medium and forum for negotiating these paradigms in and for U.S. culture.

The Invective Mode in Contemporary US-American Television: Sitcoms

Dissertation Project by
Katja Schulze

In my thesis, I want to analyze the formal principles, media-specific realizations, and social andpoliticalresonances of invectivity in contemporary situation comedies.Through a comparative analysis and close reading of a broad corpus of materials (e.g. Parks and Recreation, The Comeback, Life in Pieces, 30 Rock, etc.), I hope to be able to see larger patterns of invective strategies and certain conventions that define the dynamism of the comedic genre and its developments. For this, I will focus on where the poetics of the material rely on moments of invectives, formally describe them in their bandwidth of symbolic abuse, as well as examine their social connotations. Another crucial point will be the affective rhythms and the role of laughter in the comedic audiovisual material. Humor strategies that largely depend on a discourse of superiority and embarrassment will be of particular interest. Following Thomas Hobbes’ deliberations that “laughter is always antagonistic and conflictual [and establishes] a hierarchy at the moment of pleasure” (Scott 127),[1] comedy and laughter can be seen as a means to demarcate and exert power. This, again, leads the way to a thorough analysis of group formation processes and their dynamics on the basis of normative discourses of identity (race, class, gender). By answering these questions, I hope to contribute to comedic research in general, our sub-project’s aims in popular culture, and to the CRC’s large-scale theory of invectivity.

Mensch, Maschine, Maschinenmenschen: Multidisziplinäre Perspektiven auf die Serie Westworld

Dieses Buch setzt sich mit der viel diskutierten HBO-Serie Westworld auseinander. Aus multidisziplinären Perspektiven fragen die Autor*innen danach, wie die Science-Fiction/Western-Serie als Erzählung funktioniert und dabei Aspekte des Posthumanismus, Fragen künstlicher Intelligenz und das Verhältnis von Mensch und Maschine problematisiert.

Georgi-Findlay, Brigitte, and Katja Kanzler, editors. Mensch, Maschine, Maschinenmenschen: Multidisziplinäre Perspektiven auf die Serie Westworld. Springer VS, 2018.

The Invective Mode in Contemporary US-American Television

Vituperation, (self-)debasement, mockery, humiliation, embarrassment — representations and performances of disparagement abound in American popular culture, to such an extent that they seem foundational for several popular genres, e.g. of comedy or of contemporary reality tv. While disparagement culture appears to enjoy a particular currency at the contemporary moment, it looks back on a substantial history in the US-American context.

This project is interested in the form(s) that disparagement takes in American popular culture and in the cultural work that it does. It proposes to conceptualize disparagement as a distinct mode of popular communication — an invective mode which is marked by its own repertoire of representational strategies, its own affective regime, its own historical resonances and political valencies. This invective mode has played a key (and yet unexamined) role in the development of American popular culture — its media, its genres, its aesthetics, its social functionalities. In its first phase, the project's work will focus on the invective mode in contemporary American television culture.

This project is connected with two dissertation projects, by Anne Krenz and Katja Schulze. It is part of the Collaborative Research Center (SFB) 1285 “Invectivity: Constellations and Dynamics of Disparagement.” [www.invectivity.com]

The Materialism of Crisis: Renegotiating Capitalism in the Transatlantic Space

Dissertation Project by
Eric W. Fraunholz

This study follows one basic question: How did the Great Recession influence the production of knowledge in the transatlantic space? Proceeding from the debates around Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century, the study retraces a transatlantic discourse after the Great Recession that sought to reconcile economic analysis with ongoing social and political debates. I am expecting to find that interest in a materialist interrelationship of capital and society can be identified as a recurring motif after economic crises. This motif I conceive of as the materialism of crisis.

The study focusses on the University of California, Berkeley's Center for Equitable Growth, the Haas School of Business, and the Goldman School of Public Policy in the US, and Max Planck Institute for the Study of Society, Cologne, in Germany whose work identifies the fundamental facts about social interaction in the organization of material forces. Their analyses revolve around notions of capital, inequality, class, and instability, challenging the economic and political orthodoxy. The protagonists produce relatively discernible intellectual output with transatlantic reach and intellectual focus on the interrelation of economic forces, society, and politics.

The influence of Keynesianism on transatlantic debates in the aftermath of the Great Depression will function as a comparative historical reference point and additionally accentuate the significance of economic crises in transatlantic intellectual history.

 

Narrative Liminality and/in the Formation of American Modernities

This DFG-funded network proposes the notion of "narrative liminality" as a category for the study of US American culture.

The Politics of Melodrama: Nostalgia, Performance, and Gender Roles in Revolutionary Road

Ravizza, Eleonora. "The Politics of Melodrama: Nostalgia, Performance, and Gender Roles in Revolutionary Road." Poetics of Politics: Textuality and Social Relevance in Contemporary American Literature and Culture. Ed. Sebastian M. Herrmann et al. Heidelberg: Winter, 2015. 63-80. Print.

'We Don't Want Life to Look Difficult, Do We?': Representations of the Fifties and Self-Reflexive Nostalgia in Mad Men

Ravizza, Eleonora. "'We Don't Want Life to Look Difficult, Do We?': Representations of the Fifties and Self-Reflexive Nostalgia in Mad Men." COPAS 14.1 (2013): 1-14. Web.

Poetics of Politics: Textuality and Social Relevance in Contemporary American Literature and Culture

Herrmann, Sebastian M., Carolin Alice Hofmann, Katja Kanzler, Stefan Schubert, and Frank Usbeck, eds. Poetics of Politics: Textuality and Social Relevance in Contemporary American Literature and Culture. Heidelberg: Winter, 2015. Print. American Studies - A Monograph Ser. 258.

Objectivism, Narrative Agency, and the Politics of Choice in the Video Game BioShock

Schubert, Stefan. "Objectivism, Narrative Agency, and the Politics of Choice in the Video Game BioShock." Poetics of Politics: Textuality and Social Relevance in Contemporary American Literature and Culture. Ed. Sebastian M. Herrmann et al. Heidelberg: Winter, 2015. 271-89. Print.

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