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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


GE Modern Culture

GE Modern Culture: Precarious narratives - liveable subjectivities

Course Convenors: Dr Charlotte Woodford ( & Dr Leila Mukhida (, German & Dutch Section

Course Convenors: Dr Charlotte Woodford & Dr Leila Mukhida, German & Dutch Section

This module offers a framework within which to study the relationship between experience and narrative, with a focus on modern and contemporary German culture. After an introductory session, each meeting will be devoted to a paper presented by a seminar member or members on a novel or film that will have been read/viewed by all. There will be one set novel or film per week, agreed at the end of Michaelmas term 2020 by the members of the seminar. The course essay may focus on one work or make a comparative study of two or more.

In a German context, where events not only of the twentieth century pose particular ethical, political and aesthetic problems for writers and artists, we shall consider how authors and film-makers integrate ‘precarious’ narratives into accounts of their historical and political settings. We shall explore how narratives describe, reproduce, and critically engage with both liveable and unliveable conditions of subjectivity in relation to politics, ideology, and institutions, as well as how particular narrative operations become accordingly bound by, or transcend, the constraints of form.

Possible topics for the seminars include:

  • identity and autobiography (writing and the self; happiness; work; the construction of identity both personal and collective);
  • memory and narrative (individual, collective and inherited memory; trauma and the unsayable);
  • testimony and responsibility (bearing witness and taking responsibility; truth, fiction and autofiction);
  • the body (embodied subjectivity; gender, sexual identity and race; metaphors of the body/the body politic; human and para-human);
  • the ethics of meaning-making (hermeneutic justice; narrative justice; subjugated knowledge).

Participants are encouraged to make their own suggestions for the reading/viewing list. We can also discuss working comparatively (reading German culture alongside other material in translation).

A good reading knowledge of German is required.


Indicative reading/viewing list:

Marlen Haushofer, Die Wand (1963); Ingeborg Bachmann, Malina (1971); W.G. Sebald, Die Ringe des Saturn (1995); Christian Petzold, Gepenster (2005), Transit (2018); Juli Zeh, Corpus Delicti (2009); Jenny Erpenbeck, Gehen, Ging, Gegangen (2015); Fatih Akin, Auf der anderen Seite (2007); Katja Petrowskaja, Vielleicht Esther (2014); Saša Stanišić, Vor dem Fest (2014).


NOTE: The list is subject to change.  Participants will play a leading role in selecting the primary reading and viewing.

Sample theoretical reading: Judith Butler, ‘Rethinking Vulnerability and Resistance’, in Vulnerability in Resistance, ed. Judith Butler, Zeynep Gambetti and Leticia Sabsay (2016).


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