Global Humanities Junior Research and Teaching Stay at Freie Universitaet Berlin
May - August 2016
Signs of Life / Lebenszeichen
Building on my dissertation, this book-length project, entitled Signs of Life: Form, Life, and the Materiality of Writing around 1800, examines how concepts of life articulate themselves in the writing practices of German authors around 1800, with particular focus on the works of the Göttingen experimental physicist and writer Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Jean Paul,
and Goethe. While much of the research on this topic is limited to theories of the novel or to the relationship between German Romanticism and the emergence of the field of biology around 1800, I contend that new scientific theories of organic development in the early 19th century introduced a crucial yet overlooked element into literary representation during this period: that of materiality. In the frame of this project, I argue that these author’s works reflect and inform a specifically material conception of life – as corporeal, finite and heterogeneous – which manifests itself at the level of the surface materiality of the texts themselves: the life of the book as “waste” [Sudelei] (Lichtenberg), scholarly life as the contingent combinatory of letters (Jean Paul), and morphology as the science of serial aggregates (Goethe). Through a careful engagement with their texts, I conclude that these writers’ insistence on a notion of corporeal and linguistic materiality no longer coheres with the Romantic theory of literature as a reflective process of (infinite) development;
this project therefore seeks to reconstruct an alternative epistemology of the literary around 1800, which examines the specifically material dimension of the contingency of writing and the various “forms-of-life” which it comes to embody within the broader discursive-historical field of literary production we call the Goethezeit.
Bryan Klausmeyer received his BA in History in 2009 from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where he graduated summa cum laude with Highest Honors in the Department of History. From 2010 to 2016, he was enrolled in the German Program at the Johns Hopkins University, where he earned his MA in 2012 and his PhD in 2016. From 2013 to 2014, he was affiliated as a visiting doctoral student with both the PhD-Net “Das Wissen der Literatur” (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) and the Friedrich-Schlegel-Graduiertenschule für literaturwissenschaftliche Studien (Freie Universität Berlin). His dissertation, entitled Signs of Life: Form, Life, and the Materiality of Writing around 1800 (Georg Christoph Lichtenberg – Jean Paul – Goethe), which he defended in May 2016, examines how concepts of life articulate themselves in the writing practices of German authors around 1800. As of July 2016, he is the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in German
Studies at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA.