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

Under ‘classical’ modernity, what are the relationships between time and sex? Does time have a sexuality or sexualities? Do sexualities have a specific temporality? Moreover, to what do these relationships give rise—in particular, what kinds of subjectivities and modern subjects are birthed at the nexus of such relationships?

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

My dissertation, “The Times of Their Lives: Queer and Female Modernism, 1910–34,” analyzes the processes by which temporality and sexuality condition each other—how the rhythms of erotic desires mold time and how time inflects sexuality—in the modernism of women and queers. The project is positioned at the intersection of literary studies, Frankfurt School philosophy and sociology, and queer and feminist studies, and reads prose—novels and novellas, letters, essays, diaries—by Robert Musil, Marieluise Fleißer, Annemarie Schwarzenbach, Klaus Mann, and Siegfried Kracauer. I demonstrate how female and queer subjects emerge in modernist literature in the unique interplays between time and sex. Their emergence generates liberatory spaces of self-determination within literature against the pressure of social forces.

My research contributes to a new turn in German Studies away from “queering” the canon to studying previously ignored queer authors and texts. In doing so, I intervene in central debates around the German cultural canon, the agency of texts in making meaning, and concepts in queer and feminist theories. I expand 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 contributes original scholarship to German modernist, feminist, and queer studies by recasting the story of modernity through sex and time.

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.