Thorsten Burkhardt

I received the degree of magister artium from the University of Leipzig in 2011. I wrote my MA thesis on “Stephen King’s Castle Rock and the American Small-Town Gothic”and have since pursued my interest in the gothic with my dissertation project entitled “The Contemporary American Small-Town Gothic”.

This (ongoing) dissertation project examines contemporary novels in terms of how they make use of the gothic to represent a cultural moment of crisis. Drawing on the observation that the post-postmodern moment manifests as a resurgence of political realism in American fiction, this project reads the contemporary gothic as a predominantly realist endeavor that explicitly foregrounds the political. The focus on fictions that take place in a rural or small-town setting narrows down the project by focusing on a place that traditionally embodies the conflict between an American national political mythology and the American gothic.

This project argues that contemporary realist texts regularly make use of gothic tropes to represent the rural space as burdened by both political neglect, as well as by a lack of self-reflection that makes social institutions facilitate gothic events and manifestations, like gothic doublings, hauntings and abject violence. So while the gothic does today what is has always done in American culture, question national narratives, the explicit political nature of the contemporary realist gothic locates the reasons why the rural must be represented as gothic in harsh political and social realities instead of offering the more abstract enlightenment critique of the traditional gothic. The contemporary realist gothic, this project argues, is not so much characterized by a traditional dark existentialism but by a failure of institutions, like the government, the police, the small-town community. It anchors crises of national ideology and literal as well as metaphorical hauntings in the material and political reality of the everyday. Here the gothic fully unfolds its political potential in recent post-9/11 realist texts. In the context of this project, the term “contemporary gothic” does not necessarily mean how the gothic changes but how literature and culture change and use the gothic as a vocabulary to articulate it.

In terms of its corpus, this project theorizes the realist gothic by means of the canonical gothic work of Stephen King and focuses on novels by Cara Hoffman and Julia Keller as exemplary in how they (quite differently) use the gothic mode for political realism.

By mainly treating the gothic as a mode of representation that can be invoked by all manners of texts, my research has brought me into contact with various manifestations of the gothic, most recently with the notion of hauntings as exercised in realist texts via their narrative discourse.

I am a regular guest speaker in lectures and seminars (both at the BA and MA levels) at American Studies Leipzig. I have taught introductory seminars in American literature and topical seminars on the American gothic tradition and the American landscape as cultural image for advanced BA students. At the momet I teach academic essay writing for beginning BA students.

Publications & Presentations

  • “Gothic Representations of Crime in Realist Fictions by Cara Hoffman and Julia Keller.” Guest lecture in BA Seminar “The Hand of a Woman” - Contemporary Female Authors Writing Murder and Mayhem taught by Dr. Katja Schmieder. Institute for American Studies Leipzig. 11. May. 2017. Presentation.
  • “Gothic Remembering in Stephen King’s ‘It Grows on You.’” Short Story Criticism. Ed. Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 237. Prod. Layman Poupard. Detroit: Gale, Cengage, 2017. 165-72. Print.
  • “’Nothing is ever over’: True Detective und das kulturelle Projekt der American gothic.” Wissenssümpfe: Die Fernsehserie True Detective aus sozial- und kulturwissenschaftlichen Blickwinkeln. Ed. Mark Arenhövel et al. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 2017. 239-257. Print.
  • “The Contemporary American Small-Town Gothic.” Presentation at the 2015 Regional Colloquium, Dresden, 16. Oct. 2015. Presentation.
  • “Stephen King and the American Gothic Tradition.” Guest lecture in the lecture series “The Canon and Popular Culture.” Institute for American Studies Leipzig. 8. Jul. 2015. Presentation.
  • “Gothic Remembering in Stephen King’s ‘It Grows on You’” COPAS 15.1 (2014): 1-15. Web.
  • “The Roots of the Gothic Imagination in America”. Public guest lecture. Institute for American Studies Leipzig. 21. Nov. 2013. Presentation.
  • “Small-Town Communal Identity and Gothic Remembering”. PostGraduate Forum of the DGfA/GAAS 2013. FAU, Erlangen-Nürnberg. 25. Oct. 2013. Presentation.
  • “The American Wilderness as a Gothic Space”. Guest lecture in MA seminar The Myth of the American Wilderness taught by Prof. Dr. Anne Koenen. Institute for American Studies Leipzig. 5. Jul. 2013. Presentation.
  • “Traces of the American Gothic Tradition in Stephen King”. Public guest lecture. Institute for American Studies Leipzig. 18. Jun. 2013. Presentation.
  • “Images of (Female) Monstrosity in the Works of Stephen King”. Guest lecture in MA seminar Of Monsters, Aliens, and Vampires: Representations of the Other in Popular Culture taught by Prof. Anne Koenen. Institute for American Studies Leipzig. 23. Nov. 2012. Presentation.
  • “Stephen King’s Gothic America”. Public guest lecture. Institute for American Studies Leipzig. 3. Jul. 2012. Presentation.