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Narratives of Female Exhaustion around 1900 and 2000


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Narratives of Female Exhaustion around 1900 and 2000

The DFG project “Narratives of Female Exhaustion around 1900 and 2000” is based at the FSGS and has been running since June 2022. The project is led by Dr. Marcella Fassio.

Project outline

The project aims to highlight and systematise female exhaustion narratives around 1900 and 2000. By combining discourse analysis and a gender theoretical perspective with a narratological approach, the project renders discourses of exhaustion, femininity, and work in their respective formations of motifs and structures visible and analysable. In doing so, the synchronic and diachronic connections, i.e., the similarities between female exhaustion narratives around 1900 and 2000 and the taking up of narrative patterns in contemporary narrative texts of female exhaustion, will be elaborated.

I conceive of exhaustion as a phenomenon of crisis that goes beyond time but is historically specific in its concrete manifestation. It is to be placed in the context of medical (neurasthenia, depression, burnout) and ideological concepts (melancholy, spleen, ennui) as well as in relation to economic and gender-theoretical discourses.

The project focuses on the question of how female exhaustion is narrated in narrative texts around 1900 and 2000, both in dialogue with medical, psychiatric, and psychoanalytical perspectives and in dissociation from them. Following on from this, I ask to what extent specific narrative procedures are evident in the representation of female exhaustion and whether specific narratives of female exhaustion can be identified. The project assumes that female exhaustion is connected to social and gender-specific power structures that revolve centrally around the negotiation of (re)production work.

The corpus consists of prose texts by women authors from the period of 1895-1920 (among others Gabriele Reuter, Hedwig Dohm, Franziska zu Reventlow) as well as from the period of 2000 onwards (among others Kathrin Röggla, Kathrin Weßling, Ronja von Rönne). Fundamental to the text selection is the central negotiation of female exhaustion, which can take place through an implicit depiction of exhaustion symptoms or explicitly through a diagnosis of illness. The analysis also includes psychiatric and psychoanalytic texts that take up and construct central discourses of exhaustion (Charcot, Möbius, Freud, Andreas-Salomé, among others).

The research project is situated at the interface of literary studies and the history of medicine and is also intended to make the results compatible with the medical humanities. Thus, the psychiatric and psychoanalytical discourses of female exhaustion will not only be examined with a view to their function for literature, but the extent to which the literary negotiation has a function for the medical perspective on exhaustion will also be highlighted.

Department of Philosophy and Humanities
Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
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