Recognizing Reality: German Realism and the Transmission of Knowledge (book project)
My first book project, Recognizing Reality: German Realism and the Transmission of Knowledge, examines the motif and operation of recognition in German realism, which is also known as “poetic realism” because of its aestheticizing tendencies. Working from the Aristotelean concept of anagnorisis—a component of the plot-structure and the operation central to the mimetic experience 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 these moments might seem to undermine texts’ realist pretensions, I argue that they in fact generate reality effects by foregrounding the visceral experience of recognition. Moreover, scenes like these uncover the poietic dimension of poetic realism by reflecting the conditions of the narratives’ production and reception. These self-reflexive scenes, then, 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 canonical works by authors like Adalbert Stifter, Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, Gottfried Keller, Otto Ludwig, Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, and Wilhelm Raabe demonstrate the medially specific ways authors construct literary reality and the ways in which readers gain knowledge, via these texts, about their own reality. The recognition scene thus emerges as a hallmark of poetic realism and discloses a uniquely realist mode of reading (anagnosis).
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 to propose an alternative history of individuality. In order to ascertain how strategies of typification are called upon or subverted in and by different media, I combine close readings of literary texts with the analysis of visual and material collections. The study begins with the mechanical reproduction of text in the form of the stereotype, and from there reconstructs the mass-media circulation and institutionalization of the type. Novels like Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Wanderjahre or Keller’s Der grüne Heinrich, pseudo-ethnographic plaster cast or photo collections, typefaces, forms of psychiatric nosology, and popular twentieth-century medical and sociological illustrations 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.