Previous Symposium Themes


Resisting the Status Quo and Rewriting Belonging

February 26, 2016

Keynote speakers:

Prof. Necia Chronister, Kansas State University

Dr. Nick Tamarkin

2016 marked the 25th anniversary of Washington University's Graduate Student Symposia in Comparative Literature as well as Germanic Languages and Literatures. To commemorate this event, the departments held a collaborative symposium on Friday, February 26, 2016.

Submissions for the symposium were from Washington University students in all fields, disciplines, and national language and literature departments. Papers or presentations reflected not only the current research interests of the students but also fostered dialogue across fields and disciplines.

Questions addressed in this symosium include but are not limited to:

  • comparative approaches
  • the division of literatures, cultures, and langauges
  • translation and adaptation
  • canon formation
  • genre media, intermediality
  • print and media technologies (including digital spaces)
  • spatial theory
  • narratology and storytelling
  • temporality and historicism
  • intersectionality, identity, and diversity
  • literature and the national
  • border-crossing and/or diaspora
  • gender and sexuality
  • disability studies
  • globalization and multiculturalism


Presenters & Abstracts


Panel I: Resisting the Status Quo: Socio-political Dissent and Disruption

Moderator: Baba Badji

Manuel Förderer

The aesthetics of disturbance in Peter Turrini's "Slaughtering Pigs" ("Sauschlachten")

The history of literature is full of disturbing moments. Readers feel disturbed by the language an author has chosen, or an author takes the form of a well established genre and transforms it into something new in order to disturb the reader's expectations. Finally, literary texts can articulate an imperative for a critical attitude towards the prevailing forces within a society, i.e. to be a disturbing factor, or – as Günter Eich put it – to be sand, not oil in the gears of the world!” In its ability to comment on and to provoke disturbances, literature itself can become a case of social disturbance. In the technical vocabulary of Niklas Luhmann's systems theory, the term disturbance or irritation is conceptualized as a necessary state for a social system. Social systems, characterized by communication as their basic operation, can either understand irritations as reappearing phenomena (learning) or as mere contingencies (ignoring). In both cases, irritations are always phenomena within the system (even if caused from ouside) and the two possible reactions help stabilizing the system's border. But: What happens if a system is unable to learn yet cannot ignore an irritation? It seems that it will either exclude or destroy the disturbing element – or collapse. In this paper, I try to use the terms of systems theory to describe what I'd like to call the aesthetics of disturbance in Peter Turrinis play Slaughtering Pigs. First brought on stage in 1972, this play tells the story of a farming family that finds itself confronted with the odd fact that one of their sons does not talk anymore, but grunts like a pig. Turrini's play spells out explicitly how monstrous the reactions towards such an irritation can grow. Unable to deal with this disturbance, the family eventually takes the son for a pig, torturing him and, consequently, slaughtering him. This paper tries to describe this play as a process in which a highly irritated social system re-stabilizes its shaking borders by ultimately destroying the disturbing element.


Bethany Morgan

Territorializing the Victim: The Outcome of Interrogation in Herta Müller's The Appointment and Franz Kafka's The Trial

What role does the victim play in a situation where the perpetrator embodies evil? This question has often been asked in instances of kidnapping victims, abuse victims and even Holocaust victims. In all of these situations, the common thread is that of a person or system using their power and advantage to dominate another person or group of people. This notion of power abuse replicates itself in two German novels that address victims of interrogation and of the court system. In Herta Müller's The Appointment, the female protagonist is consistently summoned for interrogation. In Franz Kafka's The Trial, the male protagonist is both interrogated and tried for an unknown crime. Though "abuse of power" and "dominance" are descriptive terms in their own rights, for this paper I will appropriate the term "territorialize" (Deleuze and Guattari) to explicate the act of interrogating and even the act of summoning in these two novels. What is the purpose of the interrogation(s)? What aspects of the interrogation represent the desire for territorializing the victim? How do the interrogators' statements and questions alternate, and therefore how do they function? I will then explore the physical and mental responses of the protagonists as victims. What are their choices? How is victim compliance determined? Finally, after examining both sides of the interrogation table, I will explain the outcome. What is the end goal of interrogation (or the court system)? In the cases of The Appointment and The Trial, who succeeds in the end, the system or the individual? How is the end or success even determined? I intervene in the discussion of victims and perpetrators to argue that in the case of interrogation, the victim does in fact possess agency to refuse territorialization.

Ling Kang
 A Sinophone post-Communist Literature? Ng Kim-chew's Writings of Malayan Communists

Since 2012, Kim-chew Ng started to publish a series of short stories featuring the history and imagination of Malayan communist movement and its political and human consequences. These writings represent the political and cultural status of “residue” of the pre-CPM members in the colonial and post-colonial Malaysian society. Their hauntological existence in the sense of geopolitics, linguistics, and historiography reveals the complicate and dynamic operation of post-colonial semiotic governmentality, which continues to expel its communist history in order to constitute the clean and healthy local subject.

To come to terms with these questions, I want to expand the concept of “Sinophone literature” as not only an international but also a transnational framework. Whereas Shumei Shih, in her original formulation of the concept, calls for the “localization” of Sinophone as a literature of its “local place” that refuses to identify with a remote and hegemonic “Chinese origin,” Ng’s writings here point to no other than the failure, the impossibility, and even the undesirability of localization. For the localization in the contemporary situation inevitably bears with it an identification with the Malaysian nation-state status quo, which is precisely the object of resistance and struggle of these communists. In this regard, Ng’s stories of Malayan communists, I contend, should be interpreted as a symptomatic attempt to create access to the Malayan post-coloniality that has been overlooked by the binary of Chineseness and localness. And by proposing the notion of “Sinophone (post-)Communist Literature,” I want to further call for the recognition of the communist history of the Chinese speaking communities outside People’s Republic of China.

Mikael Olsson Berggren

The Illusion of Freedom: The Dystopian Train "Snowpiercer"

As a consequence of a failed experiment to counter global warming, earth has frozen solid and the survivors have boarded a perpetual-motor train. The survival of the train and its passengers relies heavily on numerical regulations and a careful distribution of supplies and assets. Despite this prefiguring and somewhat worn sci-fi trope of “post-failed-experiment-post- apocalypse,” I suggest that Joon-ho Bong’s film Snowpiercer (2013) portrays a dystopia of our current imagination; an inability to imagine the world outside of our economic and political system. Capitalism and Democracy are given terms in any discussion on contemporary Western society, and depending on whom you ask you will be given various interpretations on what the two concepts might encapsulate. Regardless of individual interpretations of the two, both concepts culminate in a deontic logic that regulates an individual’s obligations in society and what he or she has permission or the ability to do. The democratic imperative encourages each and every one of us to participate in elections in order to support the legislation process, thus regulating the rules by which we later must abide, and the socio-economic structure of capitalism regulates production and consumption in and of society. This is the system we have been brought up in and the standard by which we measure and gauge the functionality of a society. GDP, voter turnout, population growth, the distribution of labor in the public and private sectors are all quantifiable measurements that we might mistake for a description of quality, or even freedom. In an attempt to lay bare and expose the dangers of such a world view, Snowpiercer fuses elements of science fiction and societal disintegration and packs them on a train in an attempt to uncover the violence and bestiality that exist underneath literally any political or economic system.


Panel II: Rewriting Belonging: Gender, Race, and National Identity

Moderator: Claire Ross

Alina Boy

Regendering Imagination in the Works of E.T.A. Hoffmann

Imagination is a key element in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s works and can be found in various manifestations in the different texts. It often enables an act of animation through imaginative and projective powers, allowing the protagonists to bring inanimate dolls or figures to life. Hoffmann’s famous tale Der Sandmann can be considered as a prime example for such animating imagination. The protagonist Nathanael brings the mechanical doll Olimpia to life by projecting his own imagination and fantasies onto her without realizing that the life he sees in her is merely the reflection of his own desires. Nathanael thus inhabits the traditional male role of the imaginative creator. Traditionally, imagination has always been gendered, coding it as creative and productive when regulated by the male rational mind whereas the female imagination is considered as uncontrollable and destructive. When reading Hoffmann’s Nussknacker und Mausekönig, however, it appears that imagination is being regendered by ascribing a creative, animating imagination to the female protagonist Marie who brings the wooden toy figure of the nutcracker to life through her imagination, thus being equipped with a traditionally male imagination. With a closer look at Der Sandmann, it becomes clear that also Nathanael’s imagination – contrary to what it initially seems like – is not presented as a straightforward male imagination. Rather, Nathanael’s imagination is coded as female through its destructiveness and excessiveness. With regard to the traditional discourse of imagination this paper aims to show how the gendering of imaginative power is subverted and reversed in Hoffmann’s texts.
Adeline Bauder
The Recycled Undine - Approaching Patriarchal Traditions of Myth in Ingeborg Bachmann's Undine geht

The literary motif (“Stoff”) of the “gestörte Mahrtenehe”– that is based on a Middle High German poem most likely written by Egenolf von Stauffenberg around 1320 – narrates the carnal and moribund relationship between a female supernatural being and a man. Over the course of centuries, the literary “Stoff” of the “Mahrtenehe” has influenced many male authors’ writings in mystic thought, philosophical concepts of nature, as well as books of folk tales, and oral tradition of German myths and fairytales as philosophical and literary model. One example of such a text is Paracelsus’ alchemical article on elemental spirits “Liber de nymphis, sylphis, pygmaeis et salamandris et de caeteris spiritibus” (1566). Inspired by Paracelsus’ essay on elemental beings, Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué adopts Paracelsus’ fertile description of the elemental water spirit Undine, which serves as a foundation for Fouqué’s narrative Undine (1811). Henceforth, the “Undine-Stoff” functions as an artistic template in various imaginative works by men.

The complexity surrounding the origins of the literary convention of the “Undine-Stoff” is something what many authors in the reproductive process of the literary myth-convention wish to suppress or even ignore. They rather prefer to see themselves instead as a part of an unbroken chain of a male tradition. However, the historicity of writing myths and its male practice paradoxically also enable a possibility to interrupt this stringent tradition that is based on women’s submissiveness to men’s aspiration for “self-replication or on men’s claim to an exclusive literary voice and the simultaneous demotion of women to the subsidiary role of inspiration or muse”. By returning to the “Undine-Stoff”, Bachmann breaks with Undine geht (1961) the traditionally male approach to the Undine-myth in literature, by letting Undine narrate her story herself. Thus, I argue that Undine geht is a critique of this traditional, patriarchal approach to myths, as well as those constructions of womanhood mediated in Undine-myths. However, the purpose of this paper is not an analysis on the social constructions of gender roles, femininity, and love. Instead, I will rather focus on how this critique on literary male traditions of the Undine-myth is put into writing by analyzing Undine’s focalization  – the textual representation of Undine’s mind – in Bachmann’s narrative. Thereby, I will shed light onto the character Undine as well as her experience, knowledge and understanding of the storyworld – the storyworld of the Undine-myth, created by male writers.

Christin Zenker

Racializing Heinrich Börnstein's The Secrets of St. Louis and Memoirs of a Nobody

Heinrich Boernstein was a major player in the Midwest at the beginning of the Civil War in Missouri. He was regarded as a radical and politically subversive person, not much liked by those who met or worked with him.

I my paper I look at Boernstein’s memoirs and the novel The Secrets of St. Louis to show and analyze the public discourse about work and life of a German American as well as the ethical, ethnic and political discourse that dominate the time between 1948-1950, in which the novel is set, and Boernstein’s reflections of his own past between the new and the old world.

I will work with the two above mentioned texts by Boerne as accounts of cultural importance and as an insight into the thinking of a German American in St. Louis in the 19th century. What I found is that Heinrich Boernstein duplicates stereotypical representations of the African Americans yet informs the reader of his memories to be a vivid proponent for the liberation of African Americans in the United States as he marched in the beginning of the civil war for the preservation of the union.

My paper will compare the accounts of different works by Boernstein and refer to theoretical account of ethnic and race studies in order to understand the political tensions and cultural implications that existed in St. Louis through textual accounts of a 19th century author and journalist.

Heidi Grek

Thomas Mann's Musician Faust: An Analysis of Nietzsche's Apollonian and Dionysian and the Faust Legend in Doktor Faustus

In a speech delivered to the Library of Congress on 29 May 1945 Thomas Mann declared: “It is a grave error on the part of legend and story not to connect Faust with music. He should have been musical, he should have been a musician. Music is a demonic realm”. Adrian Leverkühn, the Faust figure of his novel Doktor Faustus (1947) is indeed a musician who makes a pact with the devil for twenty-four years of musical genius in exchange for his rejection of love. Friedrich Nieztsche’s Die Geburt der Tragödie (The Birth of Tragedy) (1872), particularly his conception of the dichotomy of the Apollonian and Dionysian, plays a fundamental role in the transformation of Mann’s Faust into a musician. In the first half of this presentation I will demonstrate how the narrator and fictional biographer, Serenus Zeitbloom, and his subject, Adrian Leverkühn, embody these two forces, and how their relationship is essential for Adrian’s musical output. In the second half I will retrace the Faust Legend, namely the chapbook Historia von D. Johann Fausten (1587) and Goethe’s Faust: eine Tragödie (1808) to explore the literary make-up of Man’s musician Faust.

Mann’s Faust, Adrian, who is incomplete without Serenus, generate one art form– Adrian through composition and Serenus in preserving and recording his work in the form of a biography. This modern conception of Faust must make something for the German people, which would enable them not only to find the ideal character that exists within them, but also create an individual totality and ultimately a wholeness of human nature. Unfortunately, Adrian fails in this endeavor, having sunk too far into the Dionysian to succeed in creating the restorative art. But there is hope: this may still be achieved through Serenus’s biography of Adrian.

2015: Recycling and Rebirth

2014: The Grotesque, the Absurd, and the Deviant: Transforming the Bounds of the Normative

2013: Crisis, Conflict, Configuration: Tension and Release in the German Context

2012: Emotion, Affekt, Gefühl: Imagining Feeling in the German Context

2011: Transgressing Communities

2010: De/ciphering Id/entities

2009: Representing Crisis: Narrative, Aesthetics, and Space

2008: Images of Development, Development of Images

2007: Beauty and the Beast: Aesthetics, Landscapes and Cultural Upheaval

2006: Memory, Representation, and Insanity

2005: Reflections: Perspectives on Theory, Literature and Film

2004: Outside the Inside: Representations of Trauma, Space, and Identity

2003: Ich werde, Sie sind, wir waren: Constructing Identity through Word and Image

2002: Mapping Boundaries, Crossing Borders: Explorations in German Literature and Film

2001: Cultural Kaleidoscope: A Spectrum of Graduate Student Thought

2000: Deformed Ideals and Idealized Deformities: Changing Constructions from Plato to Fassbinder

1999: Challenging Centers and Delineating Margins: Voices of Authoriy in German Literature

1998: Peer-Ceptions: Surveying German Literary Landscapes

1997: Sites Under Construction: From Handschrift to Hypertext

1996: Creating Resonances: Twelve Variations on a Graduate Student Theme

1995: Creating Resonances: Twelve Variations on a Graduate Student Theme

1994: Exploring Centers, Exploring Margins: Comparative Studies of Gender, Epistolary Writing, and Transition

1993: Große und Kleine: Bridging the Gap between the Canon and the Non-Canon through the Centuries

1992: Baroque, Bodies, and Brunch: Colloquium on Gender and the Early Modern