Architectures of the Soul

A Travel-Guide to Inner Realms (Julia Weber)

In my project, “Architectures of the Soul: A Travel-Guide to Inner Realms”, I explore some of the images and metaphors through which poets and philosophers have imagined inner realms across different time periods, from late antiquity to postmodernity. In the first chapters of my book, I focus on pre-modern descriptions of interiority, analyzing allegorical descriptions of the “struggle of the Soul” in Prudentius’ Psychomachia, as well as imaginary explorations of inner chambers of the soul in Teresa of Avila’s Castillo Interior. The majority of the study, however, is concerned with modern “Architectures of the Soul”.

I argue that, instead of merely furnishing a backdrop for the narrative, the spatial setting often becomes an agent of the story itself in modern literature, providing important keys to understanding its characters. Be it the romantic landscapes in Eichendorff or Novalis, the decaying castles in Poe or the claustrophobic interiors in Beckett, the feelings and emotions of literary figures have frequently been represented since the eighteenth century through spatial configurations.

Drawing on the theoretical insights offered by the so-called “spatial turn”, I analyze different modes of spatial representation in the work of authors ranging from Goethe, Brentano, E.T.A. Hoffmann and Stifter to modern and postmodern writers like Kafka, Beckett and Danielewski. Each chapter of my “travel-guide” leads the reader through a distinct imaginary place and explores how different spatial constructions produce different selves.

Architectures of Knowledge

The Literary and Medial Explorations of Polar Spaces (Dorit Müller)

Travel offers a privileged form of learning about new phenomena that can be recorded in order to either be integrated into extant systems of knowledge—or to challenge them. This is all the more true in the case of exploratory travel into unknown and dangerous spaces such as the polar regions. There, extreme climatic conditions demand the application of survival techniques in the cold; also a very specific scientific know-how is required of the explorers. Ever since the early Enlightenment period, travels into the ice have served as catalysts for manifold insights into nautical sciences, meteorology, glaciology, and ethnology. In addition, people have employed and evaluated new media technologies (cartography, photography, and film) and forms of recording (diaries, travel sketches, travel reports, travel anecdotes and fictions, etc.) with the view to capturing the singularities of the polar region, to disseminate and to archive appropriately the knowledge gained in the process.

For my project, I look at particular expeditions’ use of media technologies, forms of chronicling, and modes of presentation in pursuit of travel-related knowledge, with special attention paid to spatial conditions. At the center are three research complexes: first, the character of the geographical realms and how it affects the process of knowledge acquisition during the journey; second, the ways in which historical and fictional travel writing, photographs, maps, and films shape the experience of travel and the process of knowledge acquisition in polar regions; and third, forms of dissemination, communication, and reformulation of spatial knowledge. Among other things, my study demonstrates that the recording media and practices not only collect and present travel knowledge, but, thanks to space-shaping processes such as focus, perspective, staging, and frames, contribute to their formation. My sources are journals and travel reports by Georg Wilhelm Steller, Adelbert von Chamisso, Fridtjof Nansen, and Alfred Wegener; stories and novels by Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Georg Heym, Alfred Döblin, Christoph Ransmayr, and W.G. Sebald as well as maps, photographs, and films.

"J'habite ma feuille de papier"

Built spaces in Georges Perec, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and French theory of the 1970s (Julia Dettke)

In the 1960s and 70s, a development in French literature and theory was observed that has since been described as a paradigm shift from time to space. In Structuralism (Foucault, Derrida, and Deleuze and Guattari), spatial relations, juxtaposition, and discontinuity took on central importance, while during the same period, in the experimental texts of the nouveau roman and in Oulipo, new forms of simultaneity and combinatorial openness were explored. The works took on a concrete spatial dimension that—in the wake of the “spatial turn”—have not yet received much attention.

How exactly do narrative, time-based arts like literature and film manage to enact themselves as spatial arts? In my Ph.D. project, I intend to demonstrate the close relationship between built space and aesthetic principles of form using Georges Perec’s Espèces d’espaces (1974) and La Vie Mode d’Emploi (1978), as well as Alain Robbe-Grillet’s novel Topologie d’une Cité Fantôme (1976) and extracts from his films. The architectures of apartment houses and ghost towns, for example, not only serve as setting and motif, but also become structural principles and aesthetic spaces for reflection in the works themselves. So, for example, chapters correspond to individual rooms; pages are figured as visual rectangular spaces of writerly movement crossed by black symbols; preface, table of contents, and opening credits are especially emphasized as the thresholds of the work.

My project pursues a twofold aim: first, to define the close relationship between built space and aesthetic principles of form on a theoretical level. In a second step, to demonstrate the concrete spatiality of the works on paratextual, material, and narratological levels; to systematize them conceptually; and most importantly, to understand their central role in aesthetic self-reflection.

Living Houses

Literary ‘Biotectures’ of the 20th and 21st Centuries (Lena Abraham)

As a constructed transition between “I” and world, the house has always attracted the attention of thinkers and writers. Its walls shield the residents from a potentially inimical external (Heidegger) and build a space of  “protected intimacy” (Bachelard). At the same time the house is not only a dwelling to the human being, but really a “casing” (Benjamin). But what happens if the house does not only seem inhabited but appears to be “living”? If the architectural boundary between internal and external, between the I and the world becomes alive? This PhD project tackles literary narrative texts of the 20th and 21st centuries, where the house in a way develops a life of its own – for example by breathing or decomposing, changing its location, form or size, ejecting its residents or even elevating itself to the position of the narrator.

While research has primarily focused on works of the 19th century and analysed fictional depictions of houses and interior spaces mainly as an expression of an “I” or, respectively, as a projection surface for the protagonists’ mental conditions, this project veers instead in a different direction: In my reading of the selected corpus (i.a. Boris Vian’s L’Ecume des jours, Julio Cortázar’s “Casa tomada”, Ilse Aichinger’s “Wo ich wohne”, J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise und Brittani Sonnenberg’s Home Leave) the dominant position of an I that is able to animate things – in this case: houses –is challenged. The focus thus shifts from the animation of a given house (such as in ghost visitations in stories of haunted houses), to its invigoration or even aliveness. The working title “biotecture” takes into account this entanglement of the lively and the architecturally constructed.

The aim of this work is to identify and to contrast the narrative and rhetorical means which generate such invigoration in the respective works. The key issue is: How does the invigoration and the empowerment of the house affect its residents, thus how do the texts design the relation between I and house – and thereby I and world – and at that blur the line between the lively and the lifeless?