The Time of Their Lives: Queer and Female Modernism, 1910-1934

Under ‘classical’ modernity, how and in what forms do women and queers construct and are constructed as the modern subject? What is the relationship between time and sex in these processes? What practices and designs of modern(ist) queer and female subjectivity arise?

Klaus Mann, Annemarie Schwarzenbach, Erika Mann, & Ricki Hallgarten, 1932

These questions guide my dissertation, a study of queer and female visions and figures of modernity in German-language modernist literature by Robert Musil, Klaus Mann, Marieluise Fleißer, Siegfried Kracauer, and Annemarie Schwarzenbach. Working at the intersection of modernist studies, the Frankfurt School, and queer and feminist theory, I demonstrate how the dialectic between time and sexual and gender is fundamental to the formulation of the Austro-German modernist subject. It opens up unprecedented freedom for marginalized subjects such as women and homosexuals to construct themselves as such, but I document how this dialectic also coerces the individual to figure as modern in knowable and thus controllable ways.

Bringing these ‘sexed’ times together with modernist literature, my dissertation expands the canon in terms of source and theme as well as methodologically. I draw attention to lesser-known queer and female and texts less formally radical than those traditionally in the canon. To approach the specificities of a new source base, I proceed with a methodological focus on time and subjectivity that diverges from more conventionally formalist concerns. Working across history, critical theories, and literary studies, I intervene in key debates around time and subjectivity in German modernist studies (Rita Felski, Fredric Jameson, Marshall Berman, Peter Bürger). To queer and feminist theories especially—areas dominated by Anglo-French contexts—I take overlooked German-language cultural objects and the intellectual strengths of German Studies, thereby intervening in discussions about key topics such as temporality, normativity, and desire (Lee Edelman, Jack Halberstam, José Esteban Muñoz). Funded by two year-long fellowships, my research alters German modernist, feminist, and queer studies by retelling the story of German modernity through sex and gender.

In general, my research focus is fin-de-siècle and twentieth-century German-language literature, culture, and history, with specializations in modernism, the novel and literary theory, theories of time, and the history of gender and sexuality.

My dissertation committee members are: Scott Spector and Tyler Whitney (co-chairs), Kerstin Barndt, Andreas Gailus, & Nadine Hubbs.