Research Projects

Literature and Knowledge (CEALS)

Antje Kley and Kai Merten (will be published in 2018 by Lang, Frankfurt am Main)

Literature and Knowledge seeks to shed light on two interrelated dimensions of the underdetermined and capacious nexus between knowledge and literature. The volume’s contributions address forms of literary writing from the early modern period to the present as media staging and reflecting concepts of knowledge and negotiating the historically and culturally specific interrelation of epistemology (both individual and collective), materiality, and representation (Horatschek). At the same time, the essays converge in a conception of literature as a culturally embedded form of knowledge production in its own right. In contrast to quantifiable empirical forms of knowledge production in such fields as the natural sciences, engineering, medicine, and parts of the social sciences and economics, literature deploys narrative, poetic and discursive methods of exploration, experimentation, interrogation, claiming and confirmation. Its guiding value is not scientific truth but a notion of truth that is built around historically shifting semantics from beauty to coherence and attraction. While empirical forms of knowledge production seek to produce a “view from nowhere” (Nagel, Daston) in order to achieve the ideal of objective verifiability, literary writing provides a decidedly interested, socially situated “view from somewhere” (Kley) in order to produce meaning and accrete credibility (Mohanty). As many of the volume’s essays confirm, literature also knows that the notion of reliable knowledge is a contested one.

The essays explore literary writing as formally, rhetorically and generically rich archive of re-descriptions of the world attempting to surprise, seduce, enchant or shock readers into reading other people’s minds, into accessing institutional environments and social interactions in a different key, and into seeing individual self-understandings as socially mediated (Felski). Interconnecting formalist and political protocols of reading, the volume articulates a more plastic sense of how philological expertise in imaginary and historiographical processes of meaning making, in conceptual clarification, in the negotiation of uncertainty, complexity, heterogeneity, and particularity (Turner, Kelleter) may generate productively irritating forms of connectivity to other knowledge discourses. Contributions explore literary writing, both in its popular and its culturally distinguished forms, as a way of thinking and endeavor to follow its imaginary roads to encounter vast and diversified knowledge landscapes.

Death becomes us – stories of the end of life in contemporary literature and culture

Antje Kley (since April 01, 2017)

In frequently uncanny ways, ageing, illness, death, dying, and mourning have been and continue to be both constant companions and threatening future `others´ we have little knowledge of (Eagleton 2003). A growing awareness of death scares people anytime and anywhere, and it intercepts culturally specific convictions supporting individual and collective everyday lives, in particular notions of able-bodied `normal´ life and progress. In modern Western societies, the void of meaning created by illness, ageing, dying, death, and mourning is tentatively covered up by medical and insurance protocols, legally and socially regulated care work as well as self-help markets, and by religious rituals which, even though they have lost their appeal for many, often seem the only ground to fall back on.

Drawing on the internationally growing field of Age and Disability Studies, “Death becomes us” seeks to investigate how, at the intersection of discursive frameworks attempting to administer a future of loss, literary writing and other cultural practices and media, particularly in the US, narratively trade in uncertain and threatening futures under the sign of death.

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Lebenswissenschaftliche Optimierungsdiskurse und soziale Selbstverständnisse in der US-amerikanischen Literatur von der frühen Republik bis in die Gegenwart

Antje Kley (since September 08, 2016)

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