Catherine Marten

E-Mail:marten [at]


Ph.D. Project

»[...] nichts [...], nichts unterstrichen.« – On the interplay of Fetishism and Notational Iconicity in Thomas Bernhard’s Prose Work



The PhD project examines notational iconicity within Thomas Bernhard’s prose work. In particular, it analyses the ways in which a conventional reception of prose – i.e. reading words in succession – can suddenly be re-focused to allow a simultaneous perception of notation, like a multistable or reversible image (referring to what Wittgenstein calls a “Kippbild”). Focusing on the interplay of two aspects of writing, namely its referential and its aisthetic character, the project explores the very medium through which, traditionally, the operational potential of writing is exhausted in conveying “meaning”.

While Bernhard’s prose works at first glance seem to meet their genre’s notational demands (justification, font type, font size, etc.), they in fact implement various procedures to trigger the abovementioned ‘multistable percption effect’. Strategies such as the extensive repetition of words cause a  semantic depletion of the signifier and, at the same time, give rise to its (visual) materialization. The writings’ aisthetic presence is (temporarily) brought to the reader’s attention by the referential ambiguities – only to subsequently dissolve into the successive reading operation, and to be interrupted again by the simultaneous perception of the writings’ iconic qualities.

What proves to be a substitution of reference with materiality can be described as a fetishistic strategy. Fetishism is understood as a practice of dealing with the intimidating experience of difference. Only under the condition of recognizing and accepting difference, however, can a substitute that ultimately averts the threat be created.

Semiotically speaking, this means that the difference of the linguistic sign (its two components: materiality and meaning) must be acknowledged as a breach that creates a ‘word fetish’, which subsequently serves to mend that breach. It is precisely the instability of the fetish itself, however, that emphasizes both the signifier and signified and thus reveals the ambiguous pattern of different modes of perception, of looking vs. reading.



Curriculum Vitae

Since 10/2011

PhD Candidate at the Research Training Group “Notational Iconicity” at Freie Universität Berlin (DFG scholarship)


Editorial Freelance Work for the News Website “” and the architectural magazine “Bauwelt”


Assistant to Prof. Dr. Eva Geulen; Institut für Germanistik, Vergleichende Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaft at Universität Bonn (Seminar on “Fetishism and Literature“)


PhD Candidate at the Doctoral Program “Das Wissen der Literatur” at Humboldt Universität Berlin


Co-Coordinaton of International Courses of Study (“Deutsch-Französische Studien”, “Deutsch Italienische Studien”) at Universität Bonn


M.A.; Universität Bonn


Student Assistant at Institut für Germanistik, Vergleichende Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaft, Universität Bonn


Studies in the fields of Modern and Medieval German Literature and Language and Art History at Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn





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