Recognizing Reality: German Realism and the Transmission of Knowledge (book project)
My first book manuscript, Recognizing Reality: German Realism and the Transmission of Knowledge, examines the motif and operation of recognition in key texts of German realism. Working from the Aristotelean concept of recognition—understood as that implausible “aha” moment within a plot and the operation underlying our perceptions of reality—I trace out the points of overlap between art and reality within literary texts. When, for instance, a character reads another man’s love letters and recognizes his own failed literary project reproduced word for word, the realist elements of the story give way to increasingly implausible and artificial plot devices. Although such moments might seem to undermine a text’s realist pretensions, I argue that they in fact generate “reality effects” by highlighting the visceral experience of recognition. This experience of reality, I contend, is determined by epistemological configurations specific to the era, ranging from kinaesthetic knowledge to politically coded forms of acknowledgement. Such recognition scenes, which frequently also reference the conditions of the narrative’s production and reception, throw into relief the paradox at the heart of poetic realism, namely its attempt to generate im-mediate knowledge of reality by virtue of artificially constructed representations. My close readings of works by Adalbert Stifter, Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, Gottfried Keller, Otto Ludwig, and Wilhelm Raabe demonstrate the media-specific and historically contingent ways authors construct literary reality and the ways in which readers gain knowledge, via these texts, about their own realities. The recognition scene thus emerges as a hallmark of poetic realism and discloses a uniquely realist mode of reading.
From Stereotype to Isotype: Media and the Legacy of Morphology (book project)
While my first book project places recognizability at the center of realist poetics and aesthetics, my second book project investigates the media historical origins of recognizable “types.” From Stereotype to Isotype: Media, Individuality, and Society draws from the history of science and print, visual, and material cultures as it traces the medial codification of “typology” in the German and American contexts. In the nineteenth century, technologies like composite photography were deployed in support of deeply racist typologies, while more ubiquitous media like typefaces—not incidentally described in physiognomic terms—were viewed as representative of individual or national characters. By surveying how typological thought infiltrated both science and cultural production, this study offers a new perspective on the mediated construction of individuality and provides historical context for the alarming role of typology in twenty-first century technologies. Realist novels, anatomical models, typefaces, forms of psychiatric nosology, and sociological infographics reveal the media afterlives of an apparently outmoded branch of scientific inquiry. While many such media were used to buttress “scientific” racism, I show that their reach is more pervasive, more sinister, and at times more ambivalent than is typically acknowledged.