‘German Intellectuals from Student Revolution to Reaction: Botho Strauß, Peter Handke, W. G. Sebald’.

This Thursday, I’ll be speaking in the University of Manchester German seminar series, on a topic related to their Public Intellectual theme. My PhD. thesis was a comparative study of Strauß, Handke and Sebald, but I’ve developed the sections on Sebald into my new book (Sebald’s Bachelors: Queer Resistance and the Unconforming Life), and haven’t given Strauß and Handke much thought since my viva back in 2008. At the time, I researched the public controversies that the three writers engaged in in the 1990s – Strauß’s ‘Anschwellender Bocksgesang’ essay, Handke’s interventions on Milosevic and Serbia, and Sebald’s Luftkrieg und Literatur lectures. I tried to see whether theories of generational guilt and of a very German version of poetic autonomy could explain these three seemingly neo-conservative interventions in the public sphere.

It’s really exciting to be able to return to that material and to reconsider it in the lights of my new research interest in literary canon, and of the Manchester seminar series and its overarching theme of the public intellectual. So far, my notes for the talk include the scrawled questions ‘Do public discourse and the ideal of communicability conflict with poetic concept of language grounded in the image’? and ‘Where do left-wing and right-wing attempts to redeem the past coincide’? I think this will be quite a speculative talk, but I’m really glad to have the opportunity to discuss my ideas in the brilliant company of the Manchester Germanists. For a long time, I’ve thought I should write up this section of my PhD as a standalone article, so I’m really grateful to the University of Manchester for giving me the impetus to do so!

Sabbatical has its own rhythm, very distinct to that of term, I’m discovering; weeks of quiet reading and writing and sudden frenetic bursts of public activity and engagement. This is one of the frenetic weeks, with lots of exciting announcements which I’ll be posting here soon. But in the meantime, I’ll have to keep trying to integrate my PhD. research and new theoretical questions into a stimulating talk by Thursday. Wish me luck!


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