Research areas

Research areas: methodology and literary theory  

Literature as textual practice

At the center of this fundamental research area lie the comparative analysis and further development of literary theory approaches and interpretive processes, as well as the historical reconstruction and systematic definition of central terms in literary studies. After decades of intensive theory construction and active methodological debates, the current situation of literary studies is shaped by a pragmatic pluralism of methods, allowing for diverse mixed forms. In the seminars, current theories are examined for their consistency, implicit premises, potential, the scope of their interpretations, and their gaps. Some dissertations address this fundamental level directly and examine the interpretive potential or the sustainability of the conceptual features in certain theoretical approaches. Other projects question the exposition processes and philosophical premises of modern literary theories, try to develop alternative concepts, or try out particular theory options on literary case studies.

Intertextuality research, another main focus of this research area – understood as a decidedly antiteleological and nonintentional play of textual reference options – notably manifests the accessibility of literary productions. We examine the use of genre conventions within texts, forms of parody or satire, the reconstruction of discursive patterns, the deconstruction or alienation of models, and the repertory of metatext allowing for ways of literary reflection. Intertextuality research promotes dialogue between national literatures and between cultural and literary studies. It puts the dynamic relationship between texts and other media into focus without disregarding the historical perspective.

Literature as text practice also includes the areas of rhetoric and aesthetics, as their transdisciplinary and comparative orientation has been increasingly researched in recent years.

Literature from a transnational perspective

This area was reoriented in 2012 and expanded institutionally with a new chair in Japanese Studies (Dr. Elena Giannoulis). This complements the previous focus on Postcolonial Studies, represented by the English philology professorship (Dr. Cordula Lemke) with another non-European perspective. It is where comparative work beyond European literature takes place. The main focus is on methods and theories of trans-culturalism, translation, and a ‘global philology,’ whose foundation and challenges are yet to be examined. At present, this area constitutes a theoretical center of the Graduate School, in which the comparative and transnational interests of all members meet.

The Graduate School’s comparative orientation requires the examination of literary texts in their cultural contexts, as well as their respective intercultural and transcultural connections. Literary studies make an important contribution to negotiating cultural ambiguities and the examination of hybrid phenomena, and they reflect the differences in academic traditions within and outside of Europe. This implies a problematization of the hegemonic, Euro-centric Western thinking and a criticism of the process of canonization.

From a literary studies perspective, a central aspect of cultural negotiations is the translation. Translation Studieshave questioned the concept of translation as a way of relaying authentic meaning: translations include rendering cultural contexts, i.e. the translator is the intermediary between cultures and has to consider questions about equivalency, authenticity, and intentionality as well as power imbalances. While there is a presumption of a de-hierarchicalization of literary production, the complex interplay of power balances that negotiate dated attributions and new identities remains a contemporary and controversial topic.

The FSGS’s transnational comparative approach has gained nationwide visibility through the publication series Weltliteraturen / World Literatures. So far, the series published by De Gruyter includes 15 titles. The first volume expands on programmatically possible approaches to the topic of world literatures.

The Graduate School specifically requests pertinent projects and cooperates with research projects in literary studies that boost this research area: the project for the Einstein Visiting Fellowship Transpacifica. Mitteleuropäische Observationen einer Neuen Mitte (1900–1945) analyzes the challenges of an Asian-American modernity that is outgrowing the exotistic and orientalist interpretations as it outgrows the colonization attempts of European powers. The international fellows of the associated project Travelling Traditions: Comparative Perspectives on Near Eastern Literatures are developing transcultural questions from the perspective of the Near East. With North-South Literary and Cultural Interactions, Dr. Cordula Lemke (chair FSGS) has established a trinational doctoral studies program with Kenyatta University (Kenya) and University of Cape Town (South Africa), supported by the DAAD. These projects integrate researchers from Asia, the Near East, and Africa in the Graduate School.

Literature and knowledge

In the tension between reception and production of knowledge, this research area examines epistemological functions of literature. Literature addresses objects of knowledge, records bodies of knowledge, and circulates knowledge. It processes and popularizes academic knowledge, refers to particular systems of knowledge that unfold within it, and which it then takes further. Since literature is not confined to an object of knowledge assigned to it nor limited to a defined field of knowledge, the knowledge of literature is in fact characterized by its linguistic and genre-contingent form. It is not specifically composed. It combines heterogenous and conflicting discourses, and it conceives models of reality in relative autonomy. The Graduate School cooperates closely with the SFB “Episteme in Motion. Transfer of Knowledge from the Ancient World to the Early Modern Period”.

The German philology professorship of FSGS (Dr. Irmela Krüger-Fürhoff) was staffed with an eye toward current literary approaches in the field of literature and knowledge, in which numeous doctoral candidates are working. The doctoral candidates do research in the context of self-differentiating knowledge cultures and with reference to discourses in the natural and human sciences.

Literature, (inter-)mediality and the arts

The continued interest in the mediality of oral or written “literary“ practices as well as their dependence on cultural techniques and technologies is reflected in the dissertations within this research area. The focus is on current or revived practices such as salon culture, poetry slams, graphic novels, blogs, and cross-media forms of art.

Interferences between literary texts and other media or arts constitute a subcategory of this research area. This is where phenomena are addressed that have been examined predominantly in intermediality research in recent years – e.g. the description of a piece of art in another medium (ekphrasis) or the evocation or imitation of another art form or another medium, like cinematic writing or turning fiction into music.

The Graduate School’s third annual conference was about Fiction Compared Across the Arts and Media. The Graduate School’s emphasis on media studies was evident by including the comparative (Dr. Remigius Bunia) and Romance philology (Dr. Irina Rajewsky) professorships as well as in the German philology professorship (Dr. Irmela Krüger-Fürhoff) with researchers on these topics.

Department of Philosophy and Humanities
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Dahlem Research School
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