Jens Elze, born 1980 in Köthen, studied English, Comparative Literature and Spanish Philology at the University of Potsdam, Georgia State University and the Free University Berlin from 2001 to 2008. In 2009 he has been a visiting academic at the University of Cape Town (funded by the Center for International Cooperation of the Free University) and from 2009 to 2012 he was a Junior Lecturer at the English Department aswell as a doctoral student at the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School for Literary Studies of the Free University of Berlin. In 2012 he received his PhD in English Literatures and moved to Göttingen.
My dissertation aims at a systematic historicisation of picaresque literatures in precarious moments of production. Precarity, which I consider the picaresque novel’s primary condition of possibility is inarguably a feature of moments of transition and insecurity, in which old orders and epistemologies are challenged and new ones are not yet fully implemented and internalized. These transitions cannot sufficiently be described by relying exclusively on theories of social and epistemological change, without taking into account economic history. I will argue, that these phases of transition were not marked by “commoditocentrism”, where “money capital ‘sets in motion’ an increasing mass of commodities” (Arrighi 2006), but were quite contrary: “moments in which capital seems to turn its back entirely on the thingly world, sets itself free from the material constraints of production and distribution, and revels in its pure capacity to breed money from money” (Baucom 2007: 27). By disconnecting the generation of capital from investments into material productive processes and the accompanying secure reliable mass-employment, these hyperspeculative economic configurations create wide-scale material and existential precarity. Biographies that are lived before the backdrop of such insecurities lose their biographical predictability and are no longer concerned with a Bildungsroman-like maturation, development and conscious self-fashioning, often precisely forming an attempt to break-out of and challenge these biographical predictabilities, but with mere survival and a picaresque breaking-in – via mimicry, mobility and adaptation – to structures that provide security and predictability. Consequently, long term “strategies” for designing a life are now replaced by short term “tactics” for survival (De Certeau xiv). The unavoidable mobility accompanying such unsteady “tactical” affiliations is unlike therite du passage in the Bildungsroman not a self-willed movement instrumental for eventually achieving maturity and development over time. Instead the movements become non-directional, repetitive and ateleological, replacing the idea of a consistent development in time with a contingent meandering through space. Therefore, in such moments of precarity, the liminal, ateleological and precarious picaresque tale (re)emerges as the dominant form of fictional autobiography.