Arts

Department of Literature

PhD defences

The 'Inward Turn' of Modernism in Samuel Beckett's Work: a Postcognitivist Reassessment - Olga Beloborodova (10/09/2018)

Olga Beloborodova

  • 10 September 2018
  • Supervisor: Prof. dr Dirk Van Hulle

Abstract

From the outset, modernist literature has been defined as extremely inward-looking, focusing on mind exploration and leaving the world outside the scope of its enquiry. To a large extent, modernists themselves are to blame for this skewed situation: it was Virginia Woolf who famously urged her colleagues to ‘look within’ and proclaimed that only a detailed study of the human psyche can be considered ‘the proper stuff of fiction’ (1921).

The present dissertation offers a reassessment of the ‘critical commonplace’ (Herman 2011) of the modernist ‘inward turn’ by demonstrating how deeply modernist fictional minds were embedded in (rather than severed from) their storyworlds. Adopting a multidisciplinary approach, it relies on a number of postcognitivist theories from philosophy and cognitive science as its theoretical framework. While traditional philosophy of mind and cognitive science are grounded in the Cartesian dualist idea that the mind is brain-bound and separated from the world, postcognitivist theories of extended cognition question this entrenched divide. They propose instead that the mind extends into the world by interacting constitutively and constantly with its environment, arguing for an extended or hybrid model of cognition. 

After an introductory chapter on the origins of cognitivism and postcognitivism in philosophy and cognitive science, as well as similar developments in narratology, the present dissertation zooms in on the works by the late modernist Samuel Beckett – considered by many the most introspective of modernist writers – from the vantage point of extended cognition. Without disputing Beckett’s attention to the mind, the present aims to nuance the canonical trope of the Beckettian ‘scullscape’ by examining how Beckett’s fictional minds continuously and constitutively extend into their environment, however impoverished the latter may be in his later works. As the dualist mind/world boundary progressively unravels and eventually dissolves in the course of his writing career, its artificiality in the discourse on human cognition becomes more and more apparent, and we realise that, to use Beckett’s own word, ‘what are called outside and inside are one and the same’ (1949). Bearing in mind the danger of generalisation, this project’s findings could be used towards a broader reassessment of the way fictional minds are evoked in modernist literature, and the postcognitivist theories of extended cognition provide a suitable methodological framework for such a reassessment. 

A Pleasant Plain. A Comparative Study of the Stylistic Aspects of the Late Fifteenth-Century Travel Account of Joos van Ghistele - Alexia Lagast (26/06/2018)

Alexia Lagast

  • 26 June 2018
  • Supervisors: Prof. dr Frank Willaert and Prof. dr Veerle Fraeters

Abstract

Early modern travel narratives played an important role in the development of an empirical scientific discourse in the West, according to the Catalan historian Joan-Pau Rubiés. This dissertation aims to fill a gap in the ongoing conversation on early modern travel narratives, their common stylistic features, and the exceptionality of the travel account of the Flemish nobleman Joos van Ghistele, written by Ambrosius Zeebout. In order to impart knowledge to their readers, authors of travel accounts are thought to have turned to the same sort of descriptive techniques, yet studies dedicated to the formal characteristics of this genre have remained few and brief. The stylistic qualities of early modern travel accounts are supposed to have supported their claim to be reliable sources of information. Despite these presumed shared characteristics, and notwithstanding our limited knowledge of them, it has been suggested that the account of Joos van Ghistele’s four-year journey to the Holy Land, Egypt, and Persia, is exceptional. This study distils the formal aspects of this report and measures them against three prominent contemporary Western travelogues on the Near East: those of Anselm Adornes, Bernhard von Breydenbach, and Felix Fabri. It hereby aims not only to assess the alleged exceptionality of Zeebout’s account but also to extract the common features that connect early modern travel narratives and, in doing so, to contribute to the development of a typology by which we can define and measure their characteristics.

This study uncovers the stylistic commonalities in the corpus, and argues that Joos van Ghistele’s account is indeed unique, notably in its emotional detachment, its sober style, its unequalled critical and empirical stance, and its elaborate use of highly domestic comparisons. Additionally, it found that, contrary to previous claims by the German historian Wolfgang Neuber, the status of the traveller, or the personal authority of other contributors to the accounts was hardly used, but instead replaced by a characterisation of the travellers as keen and well-read observers. Whereas prior research ostensibly lacked in suitable terminology to characterize the discourse of travel accounts, this study makes use of the theory of the so-called discourse modes, enabling a more detailed qualification of each text through the comparative analysis of the modes’ distribution.Thus this study could verify that the use of the informative and argumentative mode in Zeebout’s account are unequalled in the comparative corpus, reflecting the report’s exceptional focus on neutral description of the observed and on critical source treatment. Further marking the account’s vanguard naturalistic character is its ample use of comparisons in the description of landscapes, cities, buildings, fauna, and flora. Finally, the report’s unequalled objectivity could be confirmed thanks to this study’s definition of the formal components constituting emotional detachment and literary soberness. A case study of expositions on the prophet Muhammad and the Semitic religions further confirms the exceptionally detached style of Zeebout’s account. In conclusion, this study has pinpointed several parameters for the distinction of early modern travel accounts’ stylistic features, which can be widely applied and further explored to determine both the common and unique aspects of early modern travel narratives.

 

In het huidige debat rond vroegmoderne reisverslagen wordt er van uit gegaan dat de schrijvers van vroegmoderne reisverslagen de door de reizigers verworven kennis voor hun lezers beschreven aan de hand van bepaalde technieken, die het beoogde imago van hun teksten als betrouwbare bronnen van informatie moesten ondersteunen. Technieken die in het onderzoek werden onderkend zijn het vermelden van de status van de reiziger, bronnenkritiek, en het gebruik van een droge stijl. Studies rond deze technieken zijn echter schaars en beperkt. Deze studie beoogt, voor het eerst, een diepgaand onderzoek naar de retorische en stilistische constructie van betrouwbaarheid in vroegmoderne reisverhalen. Als centrale casus is gekozen voor Tvoyage van Mher Joos van Ghistele (c. 1490). Het verslag van de vierjarige reis naar het Heilig Land, Egypte, en Perzië die de Gentse edelman Joos van Ghistele ondernam (1481–1485), wordt in het onderzoek geregeld genoemd als voorbeeld bij uitstek van ‘het betrouwbare vroegmoderne reisverhaal’. Het onderzoek behelst een analyse van de stilistische kenmerken van dit verslag, dat werd geschreven door ene Ambrosius Zeebout, en meet ze af tegen die van drie prominente contemporaine Westerse reisverslagen over het Nabije Oosten: die van Anselm Adornes, Bernhard von Breydenbach, en Felix Fabri. Hiermee beoogt ze niet enkel de vermeende uitzonderlijkheid van Zeebouts verslag te evalueren, maar ook dieper inzicht te verwerven in de gemeenschappelijke kenmerken van vroegmoderne reisverslagen, en bij te dragen tot de ontwikkeling van een typologie waarmee hun eigenschappen kunnen worden gedefinieerd en gemeten.

Deze studie brengt de stilistische overeenkomsten en verschillen in het corpus aan het licht, en stelt dat Zeebouts verslag inderdaad uniek te noemen is, met name in zijn emotionele onthechting, sobere stijl, ongeëvenaarde kritische en empirische houding, en uitgebreid gebruik van vergelijkingen met de streek van de reiziger. Bovendien betoogt ze dat, in tegenstelling tot vroegere opvattingen, de status van de reiziger, of de persoonlijke autoriteit van andere bijdragers aan de verslagen, amper werd gebruikt, en werd vervangen door de karakterisering van de reizigers als belezen en nauwkeurige waarnemers. In vroeger onderzoek heerste een gebrek aan een geschikte terminologie om het discours van reisverslagen te karakteriseren. Om dit probleem te verhelpen maakt deze studie gebruik van de theorie van de zogenaamde discourse modes, die een meer gedetailleerde typering van individuele teksten mogelijk maakt. Zo kon deze studie verifiëren dat het gebruik van de informatieve en de argumentatieve modus in Zeebouts verslag ongeëvenaard is in het vergelijkende corpus. Deze vaststelling bevestigt de uitzonderlijke focus van de tekst op de neutrale beschrijving van wat werd waargenomen, en op de kritische omgang met bronnen. De geavanceerde naturalistische aard van het verslag wordt verder aangetoond door het uitgebreide gebruik van vergelijkingen in de beschrijving van landschappen, steden, gebouwen, fauna, en flora. Tot slot bakent deze studie de formele componenten van emotionele onthechting en van literaire soberheid af, waardoor de uitzonderlijke objectiviteit van Zeebouts verslag kan worden aangetoond. Een case study over uiteenzettingen over de profeet Mohammed en de Semitische religies bevestigt andermaal de uitermate onthechte stijl van het verslag. Samenvattend preciseert deze studie verschillende parameters voor de karakterisering van de stilistische eigenheid van vroegmoderne reisverslagen. Deze typologie leent zich tot een brede toepassing voor de verdere bepaling van zowel de gemeenschappelijke als de unieke eigenschappen van dit genre.

The idea of art in the philosophy of Giorgio Agamben - Virginia Tassinari (05/02/2018)

Virginia Tassinari

  • 5 February 2018
  • Supervisors: Prof. Vivian Liska and Prof. Peter Reynaert

Abstract

The aim of this thesis is to study the role of art in the philosophy of Giorgio Agamben. An extensive study of the secondary literature on this contemporary Italian philosopher shows that this thesis is possibly the first study to specifically address the role of art in his body of work. After the publication of Homo Sacer, scholars around the world – from Eva Geulen (Geulen, Kaufmann and Mein 2008) to Andrew Norris (Norris 2005) – paid a great deal of attention to Agamben as a political philosopher, but relatively little attention has been paid to his early writings, in which he speaks of art (The Man Without Content, Stanzas and Infancy and History). 

In writing this thesis I have been inspired by the scholar Leyland de la Durantaye, who claims that Agamben’s most recent books should be read as a continuation of his early ones (de la Durantaye 2009, P.10). Specifically, he recognises the idea of ‘potentiality’ as a key topic of Agamben’s philosophy that can be traced back to Agamben’s first book, The Man Without Content: i.e. ‘the possibility for a thing not (cursive in the original) to pass into existence and thereby remain at the level of mere – or “pure” – potentiality’ (ibid., P.5). For Agamben, this is the originary, unmystified idea of ontology, one he juxtaposes with the traditional one, which to him is the ontology of a human subject acting in linear history. According to de la Durantaye, Agamben’s views on art offer a ‘most promising means of envisioning potentiality’ (ibid., P.47). While agreeing with this position, I add that this is also the case for Agamben’s idea of ‘messianic state’, the unmystified idea of history that he juxtaposes with the traditional idea of history, i.e. history considered as a line running from the past towards the future.

In his first book, Agamben argues that both these understandings of history and ontology are today manifested by artworks. There he says that – although art’s original vocation is to communicate the ideas of history and ontology - artworks were until now not able to fulfil this vocation, as what they communicated were not the originary, unmystified ideas of history and ontology, but rather the mystified ones (i.e. linear history and ontology of the subject) (Agamben 1999a, pp.110-111); this, however, is no longer the case. According to him, art’s vocation is now finally fulfilled: today artworks are finally able to communicate the unmystified ideas of history and ontology (Ibid., pp.114-115).

In my opinion, the idea of art that Agamben introduces here does not find a match in the theories of other scholars. He tries to justify it on the basis of his personal reading of some examples arbitrarily chosen from the history of art to prove himself right. In this thesis, I argue that this approach affects the truthful, universal character which he attributes to this concept. The latter is therefore “instrumental” for him to underpinning his philosophy. I strongly disagree with this “instrumental” positioning of the idea of art, as in my opinion it deserves to be researched more in depth rather than being used in such ways.

Another potential obstacle is that Agamben does not explain in his first book what provides artworks today with this possibility. In order to understand his line of reasoning, one needs to make use of concepts that are not explicitly formulated in his first book but are nevertheless indispensable in order to fully understand how artworks can in his opinion succeed today in manifesting the originary ideas of history and ontology. The reader therefore needs to work as an archeologist and find in his first book traces of topics that he will only develop later, and yet cannot be overlooked if the idea of art formulated there and its implications are to be fully understood. Not only do I agree with de la Durantaye that to understand Agamben’s philosophy as a whole one needs also to look at his idea of art and to consider the latter in sequence with the other topics he introduces in his following books (de la Durantaye 2009, P.10), but also the other way around: to fully understand his idea of art, in my opinion, one needs to look at his philosophy as a whole. 

Another difference with de la Durantaye’s approach is that I recognise that the analysis of Agamben’s topic of art brings to light a dogmatic character in his philosophy. In my opinion Agamben does not succeed to prove that artworks today can manifest the ideas of messianism and potentiality: he simply believes it. As these assumptions play a key role in his philosophy, I argue that this gives a dogmatic character to his philosophy. A philosophy based on belief is, in my opinion, not acceptable. I assert that the study of Agamben’s idea of art therefore provides the possibility to critique his philosophy.

Furthermore, not only do I find the manner in which to assess these ideas of ontology and history problematic, but I also have difficulty with their meanings. While de la Durantaye does see some hope in Agamben’s philosophy (de la Durantaye 2009, P.17), I contend that Agamben’s ideas of history and ontology leave no hope. The messianic state - being for him the unmystified idea of history - and therefore also the idea of being in the messianic state envisioned by Agamben are not meant for humans. To him, salvation is only for that which precedes humans: the pre-human. My critique of this idea of salvation is to question what its relevance might be.

Thus, my thesis shows how a closer assessment of Agamben’s views on art also exposes key problematic points in his philosophy in general.

The idea of art in the philosophy of Giorgio Agamben - Virginia Tassinari (05/01/2018)

Virginia Tassinari

  • 5 January 2018
  • Supervisors: Prof. Vivian Liska and Prof. Peter Reynaert

Abstract

The aim of this thesis is to study the role of art in the philosophy of Giorgio Agamben. An extensive study of the secondary literature on this contemporary Italian philosopher shows that this thesis is possibly the first study to specifically address the role of art in his body of work. After the publication of Homo Sacer, scholars around the world – from Eva Geulen (Geulen, Kaufmann and Mein 2008) to Andrew Norris (Norris 2005) – paid a great deal of attention to Agamben as a political philosopher, but relatively little attention has been paid to his early writings, in which he speaks of art (The Man Without Content, Stanzas and Infancy and History). 

In writing this thesis I have been inspired by the scholar Leyland de la Durantaye, who claims that Agamben’s most recent books should be read as a continuation of his early ones (de la Durantaye 2009, P.10). Specifically, he recognises the idea of ‘potentiality’ as a key topic of Agamben’s philosophy that can be traced back to Agamben’s first book, The Man Without Content: i.e. ‘the possibility for a thing not (cursive in the original) to pass into existence and thereby remain at the level of mere – or “pure” – potentiality’ (ibid., P.5). For Agamben, this is the originary, unmystified idea of ontology, one he juxtaposes with the traditional one, which to him is the ontology of a human subject acting in linear history. According to de la Durantaye, Agamben’s views on art offer a ‘most promising means of envisioning potentiality’ (ibid., P.47). While agreeing with this position, I add that this is also the case for Agamben’s idea of ‘messianic state’, the unmystified idea of history that he juxtaposes with the traditional idea of history, i.e. history considered as a line running from the past towards the future.

In his first book, Agamben argues that both these understandings of history and ontology are today manifested by artworks. There he says that – although art’s original vocation is to communicate the ideas of history and ontology - artworks were until now not able to fulfil this vocation, as what they communicated were not the originary, unmystified ideas of history and ontology, but rather the mystified ones (i.e. linear history and ontology of the subject) (Agamben 1999a, pp.110-111); this, however, is no longer the case. According to him, art’s vocation is now finally fulfilled: today artworks are finally able to communicate the unmystified ideas of history and ontology (Ibid., pp.114-115).

In my opinion, the idea of art that Agamben introduces here does not find a match in the theories of other scholars. He tries to justify it on the basis of his personal reading of some examples arbitrarily chosen from the history of art to prove himself right. In this thesis, I argue that this approach affects the truthful, universal character which he attributes to this concept. The latter is therefore “instrumental” for him to underpinning his philosophy. I strongly disagree with this “instrumental” positioning of the idea of art, as in my opinion it deserves to be researched more in depth rather than being used in such ways.

Another potential obstacle is that Agamben does not explain in his first book what provides artworks today with this possibility. In order to understand his line of reasoning, one needs to make use of concepts that are not explicitly formulated in his first book but are nevertheless indispensable in order to fully understand how artworks can in his opinion succeed today in manifesting the originary ideas of history and ontology. The reader therefore needs to work as an archeologist and find in his first book traces of topics that he will only develop later, and yet cannot be overlooked if the idea of art formulated there and its implications are to be fully understood. Not only do I agree with de la Durantaye that to understand Agamben’s philosophy as a whole one needs also to look at his idea of art and to consider the latter in sequence with the other topics he introduces in his following books (de la Durantaye 2009, P.10), but also the other way around: to fully understand his idea of art, in my opinion, one needs to look at his philosophy as a whole. 

Another difference with de la Durantaye’s approach is that I recognise that the analysis of Agamben’s topic of art brings to light a dogmatic character in his philosophy. In my opinion Agamben does not succeed to prove that artworks today can manifest the ideas of messianism and potentiality: he simply believes it. As these assumptions play a key role in his philosophy, I argue that this gives a dogmatic character to his philosophy. A philosophy based on belief is, in my opinion, not acceptable. I assert that the study of Agamben’s idea of art therefore provides the possibility to critique his philosophy.

Furthermore, not only do I find the manner in which to assess these ideas of ontology and history problematic, but I also have difficulty with their meanings. While de la Durantaye does see some hope in Agamben’s philosophy (de la Durantaye 2009, P.17), I contend that Agamben’s ideas of history and ontology leave no hope. The messianic state - being for him the unmystified idea of history - and therefore also the idea of being in the messianic state envisioned by Agamben are not meant for humans. To him, salvation is only for that which precedes humans: the pre-human. My critique of this idea of salvation is to question what its relevance might be.

Thus, my thesis shows how a closer assessment of Agamben’s views on art also exposes key problematic points in his philosophy in general.

Mapping invention in writing: Digital Infrastructure and the Role of the Genetic Editor - Elli Bleeker (05/07/2017)

Elli Bleeker

  • 5 July 2017
  • Supervisor: Prof. Dirk Van Hulle

Abstract

In Een Studie naar het Creatieve Schrijfproces: Digitale Infrastructuur en de Rol van de Genetische Editeur wordt in kaart gebracht hoe editiewetenschappelijk onderzoek kan worden ondersteund en bevorderd door digitale technologie. Hierbij wordt voornamelijk gekeken naar het onderzoeksgebied van de ‘critique génétique’ of tekstgenese. Onderzocht wordt wat de methodologische gevolgen zijn van het gebruik van technologie voor de rol van de tekstgenetisch georiënteerde editiewetenschapper. Het genetisch dossier van de verhalenbundel Sheherazade of literatuur als losprijs (Raymond Brulez, 1932) dient hierbij als casus. De dissertatie combineert een editie-theoretische bespreking met een praktische toepassing van de bevindingen in de vorm van twee experimenten met collatie software. Deze methode kan worden geschaard onder de ‘digitale filologie’: een wetenschappelijke methode die het modelleren van tekst(en) centraal stelt. Digitale filologie pleit voor alternatieve en meer experimentele vormen van onderzoek, waarbij de computer een intrinsiek onderdeel uitmaakt van de aanpak.

Vier componenten van een digitale editie kunnen worden ingezet als digitaal onderzoeksinstrument voor tekstgenetische studie: (1) transcriptie; (2) automatische collatie; (3) digital visualisatie; (4) de classificatie en organisatie van tekstversies en documenten. De kennis van een editeur, waaronder informatie over de tekstgenese en de verschillende schrijflagen op een document, kan – tot op zekere hoogte – worden opgenomen in de transcriptie. Collatie software kan gebruik maken van deze gecodeerde informatie om tot een beter resultaat te komen. Digitale visualisatie biedt de mogelijkheid om de tekst gelijktijdig vanuit meerdere  invalshoeken te bestuderen, en geeft editeurs de gelegenheid om op visuele wijze hun analyse van de tekstgenese presenteren. Het systematisch ordenen van tekstversies en documenten, tenslotte, ondersteunt een studie naar zowel de lineaire kenmerken van tekst als de netwerkstructuur van de ‘avant-texte’.

Het uitvoeren van deze handelingen met behulp van de computer biedt editiewetenschappers en letterkundige onderzoekers een waardevol nieuw  perspectief op tekst. Inzicht in de werking van de gebruikte technologie is hierbij onmisbaar, en resulteert in een diepere bewustwording van de tekst en de tekstgenese. De dissertatie concludeert dat de inzet van computationele methodes als modelleren een gunstig effect heeft op digitaal editeren en tekstgenetisch onderzoek. Hieruit volgt dat de editiewetenschap en computationeel onderzoek nader tot elkaar komen.

On identity and singularity: Responses to the imperative of identity in German-language literature around 1900 and 2000 - Lene Rock (20/06/2017)

Lene Rock

  • 20 June 2017​
  • Supervisors: Prof. dr Anke Gilleir (KU Leuven) and Prof. dr Vivian Liska (UAntwerpen)
  • Joint defence UAntwerpen - KU Leuven

Abstract

This dissertation presents a historical comparison between German-Jewish literature around 1900 and contemporary German ‘literature of migration’. At both ends of the 20th century, the German public debate is characterized by comparably polarizing discourses on identity, and by increasing hostility toward religious or cultural minorities – Jews at the beginning of the century, and immigrants in the final decades.  That polarized and hostile climate offers fertile literary ground. Countless writers have disclosed in varied and original ways the subtleties of cultural identity, assimilation, normative culture, stereotype, and exclusion.

The central research question of this dissertation is how German-Jewish and ‘new’ German writers approach the delicate issue of identity in a social climate where minority groups are consistently portrayed as cultural ‘Others’, and where these writers are often received as ‘not quite German’. A comparative close reading of a selection of texts demonstrates that, in a context of intense identity discourses and perceived threat to ‘German’ culture, literary authors re-enter into a dialogue with the Enlightenment. That dialogue involves not a return to but a re-evaluation of its premise, i.e. the humanistic ideal of self-cultivation and the insistence on autonomy as preconditions of a society of equal individuals. In a variety of themes the texts reveal the wavering confidence in the enlightened individualism that underpins assimilation/integration narratives.

At the same time, they draw the contours of unexpected, tentative, and ephemeral forms of intimacy that resist the embrace of collective identity as well. These non-foundational experiences of community are illustrated in reference to the philosophy of Jean-Luc Nancy, and investigated from the perspective of three particular figures: the aesthete, the city dweller, and the family hero. A comparative reading of four texts by Arthur Schnitzler, Navid Kermani, Richard Beer-Hofmann, and Feridun Zaimoglu explores the erosion of assimilation narratives through the lens of the aesthete. Presenting aestheticism as the dead end of Bildung, these novels criticize radical assimilation as a process of self-aestheticization leading to self-commodification. At the same time, the novels outline the aesthete’s ‘conversion’ to experiences of kinship and genealogical awareness.

A comparison of texts by Ludwig Jacobowski, Terézia Mora, Franz Hessel, and Emine S. Özdamar investigates the metropolitan experience at both ends of the twentieth century. The city is imagined as a site of recalibration, as an ambivalent space where the futility of emancipatory effort is exposed, but where the erosion of individualism engenders vulnerability and intimacy as well. The four city dwellers discussed here illustrate that neither radical individualism, nor collectivism can lay claim to the city. The final chapter discusses four family (hi)stories by Joseph Roth, Dimitré Dinev, and Zsuzsa Bánk – authors who write against the backdrop of disintegrating empires. The intertwining narratives of family and imperial history expose the fissures in the smooth surface of imperial myth. Through the lens of the family hero, the texts imagine the recovery of singular voices from the ‘collective individual’ produced by imperial or communist regimes, and from the silence imposed on individuals by those regimes and by insistent modernity.