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Projects Research Area 3

Telling Time: History, Time, and the Novel Since 1945 (2023-)

The project offers a new theory of the ways in which contemporary fiction in English mediates the experience of historical time. Moving beyond approaches that see history as a context which fiction reflects or indexes, it argues that fiction's capacity for telling time – modelling temporal structures in narrative and shaping phenomenologies of reading – enables the novel to express the transformations in imagining historical time that have taken place since the end of the Second World War up to the present day.

The Music of Time: Temporal Tensions in Premodern Epics (2023-)

Through a comparative study of the Babylonian epic Gilgamesh, the Iliad, and the Old English epic Beowulf, Sophus Helle will argue that the time of these three epics is marked by a recurrent tension between endurance and impermanence. The epics are doubly invested in bringing out the transience of all mortal things and in securing a lasting legacy of their heroes, resulting in a temporal flickering that complicates any straightforward attempt at characterising the time of premodern epics.

Multiple Modernities? (2023-)

The project is dedicated to critically analyzing the potential of the concept of 'multiple modernities', a concept that has been developed in a number of different disciplines both from the humanities and the social sciences. The project's aim is to study the theoretical implications of 'multiple modernities' as well as the ways in which the notion can be applied to premodern cultures.

Magical Realisms and Speculative Literature (2023-)

The project on Magical Realisms highlights a genre for which both the community and the temporal are central elements. Magical Realisms (as other genres of speculative fiction) function as a powerful tool in the configuration of cultural community- building by questioning both narrational and societal frameworks. In the Arabic-speaking world, very little research has been carried out into these so-called "new genres" until now. By bringing Arabic works into focus as a subject of research, the project does justice to the transcultural and transtemporal character of Magical Realisms and their affective, cultural, and political connections in global literature.

Visionary Futures: Exploring Utopia in Queer Speculative Fiction (2022-)

Pauline Westerbarkey’s project focuses on radical, visionary, and utopian forms in queer speculative fiction. Queer speculative fiction can allow us to think differently, to question, critique, resist and revise divisive and normative discourses, and portray hopeful alternative universes and temporalities that don’t have to adhere to realpolitik’s averseness to societal change. It thereby offers hope, and important counternarratives to queer fatalism and antiutopian thought. This project analyzes the politics and aesthetics of utopia constructed in queer speculative fiction and how they multiply possibilities and potentialities of queerness, suggesting new ways of creating and performing queer utopia and utopia as a queer practice.

Other Realisms: A Theory of the Arabic Fantastic (2022-2023)

The project captures a deviation in Arabic political aesthetics, a movement away from verisimilitude towards modes that conjure the supernatural in order to render visible those sub- and supra-national communities that remain in the shadows of the postcolonial project— ethnic, religious, gender, and sexual minorities, as well as people with disabilities, migrant laborers, and refugees. Both a history of the contemporary Arabic fantastic and an analysis of its central texts, the book shows how engagements with the supernatural open up new temporal, spatial, and affective terrains of being and becoming for minorities on their own terms, at a time when classical Realism falls short, leaving no room to imagine otherwise.

The Invention of the Modern Religious Bookshelf: Canons, Concepts and Communities (2022-)

The aim of the project is to analyse the formation of ‘religious literature’ as a special case of discursive practices in the transition from traditional to modern knowledge formations. It will reveal the specific ways in which religious literature has been excluded from the canon of “literature” in the narrower sense (especially from the canon of national literatures in the 19th century). More importantly, it will focus on the question how religious literature was given a new, peculiar place in the modern system of knowledge that opened a universal horizon – much in contrast to the new canons of national literatures and in interdependence with the new discipline of general and comparative religious studies that emerged in the 19th century.

Deformation. An Essay in Negative Anthropology (2021-)

The project reconstructs a modern type of social critique centring around notions of human deformation. It considers such a critique as the medium of a 'Negative Anthropology'. Many other modern anthropological theories in philosophy reject fixed definitions of what is human, and stress its genuinely historical formation. In this project, however, the negative orientation implies perceiving human faculties as subject to historical deformation. The process of the social formation of human subjectivity is thus interpreted at the same time as a process of deformation and dehumanisation.

The Poetics of Philology - A Case Study of the Babylonian Epic Enuma Elish (2021-2023)

The past twelve years have seen a true groundswell in the field of philology, with an explosion of books and articles bringing new life to this ancient discipline. This postdoctoral project is part of this world philological current, and it seeks to achieve three main goals. First, it puts forward the claim that philology is characterized by attempts to resolve crises of reading, that is, to undo any obstacle that prevents readers from accessing a given text, all the way from scrubbed signs to obscure ontologies. Second, the project examines the poetological consequences of such an approach to ancient literature, asking how philology differs from related disciplines in its treatment of texts and what forms of aesthetic engagement are afforded by the crises of reading. Third, the project will result in a new English translation of Enuma Elish, which will appear as the first volume in the newly launched Library of Babylonian Literature.

Time of Freedom: Schelling's Philosophy of Absolute Temporality in "The Ages of the World" (1810-1815) (2020-2024)

This doctoral project investigates the question of time, both literary and ontological, in relation to the concept of freedom and against the background of classical German philosophy. Working on a new reading of Schelling's theory of 'absolute temporality' as put forward in his grand yet unfinished project of "The Ages of the World (Die Weltalter)", it will further discuss the ways in which this reformed temporality, a temporality of freedom (in which the future determines the past and not the other way around), is found and founded through "the word" (i.e., literature in a general sense). Here, the search for lost beginnings will involve Schelling's return to pre-metaphysical, non-occidental sensibilities of time and eternity in the gesture of a "second beginning", where the remembrance of the mother (i.e., the forgotten and repressed female voice in history) goes hand in hand with acknowledging the "barbaric principle" (i.e., the marginalised non-European element at the heart of human temporality).

Imperial Fictions (2020-)

Few historical characters had such an impact on the premodern imagination as Alexander the Great. Indeed, the fourth-century Greek Alexander Romance, a highly fictionalized account of Alexander’s conquests and adventures, was probably the world’s most widely read secular text between the 4th and the 16th centuries. Translated into Latin, Coptic, Ge’ez, Syriac, Arabic, Byzantine Greek, Armenian, Hebrew, Persian and Mongolian, as well as the majority of the European vernaculars, this text – and the many adaptations it spawned – enjoyed an unrivalled popularity for more than a thousand years. But even before the Alexander Romance was written, Alexander had long been transformed into the hero of myriad legends, bridging the divide between history and fiction, inhabiting and often conflating such diverse generic and conceptual spaces as fairy tale, imperialist propaganda and religious prophecy.
Imperial Fictions examines this remarkable adaptability with a special emphasis on the ways in which the tensions between the historical and fantastical inherent to so many Alexander narratives generate ever new approaches to the issue of temporality.

Premodern Anthologies and the Selective Fictions of Tradition-Building (2019-)

A self-conscious and very specific kind of selection, the anthology constitutes a typical premodern pattern of con­structing literary history. From late antiquity onwards, there was a growing pressure not only to preserve, but to systematically align and juxtapose literary texts, poems, fragments and exemplary forms of writing through the means of the anthology or florilegium.

Peripety. On the Relation of Tragedy, Time and Theory (2019-)

This project aims at a reconstruction of the theory of peripety in Aristotle as well as in classical and later tragic texts in order to question its function and fungibility within philosophical discourse. In a number of case studies, the project will analyse how (even though it remains mostly unmentioned) the peripety and its temporal-logical structure can be located within metaphysics and the theory of time and history. In particular, turning points from knowledge to non-knowledge, from a happy to an unhappy conscience, shifts of epochs and their dramatisation as revolutions or subliminal processes of reform as well as the conception of the event as peripety in historical time will be scrutinised.

Rewriting the Past, Imagining the Future: Science Fiction as a Self-Writing Genre Community (2019-2023)

This dissertation argues that genres such as science fiction or detective fiction come into being when communities of production and reception constitute themselves around constellations of texts.