Germanic Languages | Seminar in German Literature
G825 | 5829-5830 | Breithaupt
Topic: I Feel Your Pain: Theories of Identification
Even though fiction is intimately connected with mechanisms of
identification, the mechanisms of “slipping into someone’s skin” have
rarely been made explicit. This seminar will investigate theories and
practices of identification from two sides: a) from a theoretical
standpoint by considering contemporary theories of identification from
several fields, such as psychology, cognitive science, and Media
Studies and b) by readings of German literary texts that lead us to
examine the “access” to another person. Our starting hypothesis for
reading will be that the works of fiction are written in order to
provide an entry into the brain of someone else by the medium of
identification. The question is which strategies are provided to
accomplish this goal (i.e. which scenario and gender make-up is deemed
necessary for identification).
Historically, we will examine how certain modes of fiction respond to
privileged strategies of identification, beginning with Aristotle’s
theory of catharsis. Curiously, identification from its early
conceptualizations on seems to be linked to violence and abuse.
Shifting forms of violence will also be at the center of our
discussion of eighteenth-century drama and nineteenth-century realist
prose. In Realist prose, the possibility to identify with a character
is seen as an improbable and also problematic exception that happens
only in moments of the greatest crisis. As we shall see, unheroic
violence, like rape, masochism, suppression, etc., all play into the
possible and impossible forms of identification. Another question is
posed by the media change from text to film: How is identification
affected by different media?
At this point, the syllabus is still open for individual projects of
students. Please contact me if you are interested. A suggested reading
list will be ready in December.