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Tote by Gerhard Richter, 1977 (MOMA, New York)

























































































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Colloquium 1 Abstracts 

Women dying: victims, suicides, mourning


Death and/as Woman: Ambiguity and Ambivalence in the Philosophical Imaginary
Pamela Sue Anderson, Oxford

As the sex/subject who gives birth, woman personifies an inevitable ambivalence. Life turns to death, good to evil, purity to impurity. Death’s ambivalence generates man’s fear, violence, even matricide - if not, suicide. Man’s domination of woman is one means for him to avoid confrontation with death and embodiment. Avoidance of thinking death and woman results in the ambiguity of ‘woman.’ The unthought elements which constitute ‘the philosophical imaginary’ include the non-rational asides and unnoticed images in cultural texts. The duplicity of imagery becomes tied to the duplicity of woman. In this way, nature and culture are shaped by the mbivalence of human embodiment and the ambiguity of patriarchal concepts.


The “Perfect Death” as Represented in the Lives of Medieval Women Saints: Agency and Victimhood
Jane Tibbets Schulenburg, Madison

Medieval saints’ Lives, as rhetorical constructions, were very much concerned with women and their proper roles and behavior in the church and society.  Female saints were to serve as exempla of the vita perfecta: their lives were to be admired and imitated.  Excluded by their gender from a number of the major paths that led to sainthood, the visibility and status of women saints were frequently predicated on heroic, self-destructive behavior which hastened their “perfect deaths.”  Their vitae provide detailed descriptions of some of the creative strategies and extremes to which these women were driven to prove their worthiness and resolve as brides of Christ.  This paper will focus on the complex relationship of victimhood and agency as exemplified by some of these fascinating saints.  Against a background of the misogynist culture of the period, the traditions of the early virgin martyrs, the imitatio Christi, etc., it will explore a number of cases of heroic or transgressive acts of martyrdom, extreme asceticism, self-starvation, self-mutilation, and illness found in the Lives of these medieval women saints.


Iphigeneia and others: Virgin Sacrifices in Ancient Greece
Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood, Oxford

Iphigeneia was sacrificed to Artemis to enable the Greeks to sail to Troy. Other virgins were also sacrificed for the good of their community in other myths, only one male, a volunteer like some girls – others were coerced. Some were killed at a deity's altar like Iphigeneia in some of the versions in which she dies – she does not die in all –, others are sacrificed metaphorically: they give their life to save their city. Historical Greeks did not practise human sacrifice, which for them was an exceptionally practised rite of the heroic past. Why did they construct myths in which it was almost exclusively girls who were sacrificed? To modern eyes this would seem to reflect a perception of woman as victim, and of a maiden's life being of less value than a youth's. But I will argue that in Greek eyes these myths expressed much more complex perceptions, and that they became a locus for the problematization of a variety of (religious and more generally ideological) issues.


Endgames: the literary fates of Iphigeneia and Jephthah’s daughter
Anna Linton, London

The story of the sacrifice of Iphigeneia at Aulis (Cypria, Aeschylus, Euripides) and the Old Testament account of Jephthah the Gileadite giving his only daughter as a burnt offering to Yahweh (Judges 11) have fascinated German authors, poets and playwrights over the centuries.  The striking similarities do not operate solely at the plot level: for the sake of military victory and political gain two young women are sacrificed by fathers who claim to love them.  Both accounts have also sparked controversy because of their ambiguous endings: Iphigeneia is either sacrificed on the altar or saved by Artemis through the substitution of a hind; Jephthah’s nameless daughter is either offered as a holocaust or dedicated to lifelong chastity in Yahweh’s service.  The open endings permit writers to exploit these stories, forcing closure on them to particular polemical ends.  Workings of the stories revolve around two central conflicts: the private realm versus the public sphere and culture versus barbarism, reason versus myth.  My paper will concentrate primarily on the former.  It will ask whether it is significant that the victims are teenage girls, and will consider how and to what ends dramatists, poets and novelists have explored the encroachment of the male domain of politics and military conflict into family life.


Cause of death: Loss of honour. Dimensions of the concept of victimhood
Gesa Dane, Göttingen

If a woman died in the traditional European societies of the 17th and 18th centuries after having lost her honour, she never was the only victim. In the context of the traditional concept of honour the whole family was affected. Her death restored her family’s honour. After discussing the key concept of honour in contemporary social sciences, my paper will analyze some literary cases of infanticide.


Authorship, Gender, Remembrance: Woman and the Problem of Suicide from Lucinde to Wally
Nicholas Saul, Durham

In this paper the theme of women and death is treated in the framework of gender theory as elaborated by Weigel, Butler, Bronfen and others. Suicide, traditionally regarded in occidental tradition as a transgressive and taboo act, is argued in this context also to be capable of an (in a sense) positive construction, as the expression of agency, indeed authorship – both of self and oeuvre. It is argued that the celebrated women suicides of the era, from Günderrode to Charlotte von Stieglitz, are best understood not through the lens of the mainstream Judeo-Christian western tradition but that of Romantic theory as set out in Lucinde and fragments by F. Schlegel and Hardenberg. That innovative and unique theory suggests that suicide under certain conditions is a paradoxical act of creative self-destruction, fulfilment of life, monument to and triumph of love over death. It also however appears to be an exclusively female privilege. Thus Günderrode’s death can at one level be seen as morbidly Wertherian and in fact sub-Romantic. At another, it can be seen as appropriating the received Romantic model, exposing its relation to patriarchal discourse (Pygmalion and Galatea) and re-writing it, inscribing it anew onto her body with the dagger as writing instrument. The same, at least in Mundt’s literary monument to her (1835), cannot be said of Stieglitz’s willed self-sacrifice on behalf of her husband’s poetic career. Gützkow’s Wally is thus a savage feminist deconstruction thereof.


German Ophelia Poems 1940-2000
Ruth J. Owen, Oxford

This paper examines how a myth whose origin is English, theatrical and seventeenth-century is re-written in a tradition which is German, lyric and twentieth-century. For Ophelia figures proliferate throughout twentieth-century German poetry and are not confined to the Expressionist era of Heym’s, Benn’s and Brecht’s drowned females. Poets use the gaps around Shakespeare’s Ophelia for speculation on her drowning, mental disorder and erotic beauty. Her meaning as a dead woman is contested anew at different times in the century, especially in terms of sexual violence and political murder. Decades of speechlessness end in the 1980s with Ophelia voiced as the lyric ‘ich’ in texts by female poets.


Women vampires, victimhood and vengeance: E.T.A. Hoffmann's "Gräßliche Geschichte"
Jürgen Barkhoff, Dublin

Famous vampires from Byron and Polidori to Bram Stoker typically represent a very masculine, phallic sexuality. When, however, the vampire entered the German literary scene around 1800, the undead changed gender and appeared predominantly as threatening and aggressive, but equally threatened and traumatised female figures. Texts like Goethe's ballad Die Braut von Korinth (1797) and Hoffmann's tale [Vampirismus] "Gräßliche Geschichte" (1820) position the liminal figure of the destructive, deadly female clearly within gendered discourses of religion, power, sexuality, the body and the family. The latter text also establishes numerous links to the gendered anthropology of mesmerist aura-vampirism in theory and literature. Overall these texts present a multi-facetted dialectic between victimhood and vengance which the paper seeks to analyze in its psychological and aesthetic dimensions.


Zombies and mourning in Elfriede Jelinek's Die Kinder der Toten
Ben Morgan, Oxford

For Jelinek, the language of the victim is almost indistinguishable from lower-middle class clichés. On the other hand, she has not abandoned all hope of genuine communication. A recurring image in the texts could be said to function as a bridge between these two impulses: the dead or undead woman. The vampires in Krankheit oder moderne Frauen and Kinder der Toten, the dead princess in Der Tod und das Mädchen II could be seen as both the critical recycling of pop cultural images and as something more: an existence beyond existence, a life beyond patriarchal consumer culture. In places, female vampires could even be read as alternatives to victimhood, as extrapatriarchal utopian beings. My paper investigates the degree to which Jelinek can be said to have found an authentic alternative to the language of the victim in the image of the zombie.


Beauty meets Horror: The motif of death and the maiden in early modern art
Stephanie Knöll, Düsseldorf

The motif of ‘death and the maiden’ was largely restricted to Germany. From around 1500  it occurs in numerous drawings, paintings, prints and even in sculpture. Such images show young beautiful women surprised by death. The encounter frequently is of an erotic nature and the women’s reactions range from pure horror to a seductive welcome. It is a widespread belief that the motif originates from dance-of-death-cycles. Starting with Hans Sebald Beham’s print ‘Death and the sleeping woman’ (1548), this paper will explore other pictorial traditions such as depictions of vanity and voluptuousness. It will also examine the changing treatments of the motif between 1480 and 1550.


Venus or Victim? Waxworks of Women in the long 19th century
Uta Kornmeier, Oxford

One of the more memorable waxworks in Castan’s famous Panoptikum in Berlin is the representation of the “Camelien-Dame” or Dame aux camélias: “Having returned exhausted from the ball she has thrown herself onto her silken daybed and is now dreaming happily of new triumphs,” the Guide to the Panoptikum explained in 1890. Although there is no mention of it in the text, her impending death is implied not only in the figure’s title, but also in the pose. Yet, a mechanical device implanted in the figure’s chest made her bosom rise and fall as if asleep – the “Camelien-Dame” is not only the victim of her disease and object of the spectator’s gaze, but also a moving, active, almost living body. The paper will examine the link between the material, the iconography and the “reading” of the figure of the reclining female in wax.


Mourning ‘with a female heart’: Grief and gender in the late eighteenth century
Anna Richards, London

Historically the female sex has been associated with emotionality and thus with expressive and/or prolonged mourning. With reference to Friedrich Theophil Thilo’s novel Emilie Sommer (1781-1782), I argue that in sentimental works from the late eighteenth century, the emotional work of grief is liberated from any essential gender association to circulate freely in the sympathetic epistolary exchange between characters. The gendering of mourning in the late eighteenth century is to be sought elsewhere: in psychological investigations which problematize the binary opposition between thought and feeling and examine the impact of grief on perception. An autobiographical text from the period, Sophie von la Roche’s travel journal Erinnerungen aus meiner dritten Schweizerreise (1793), illustrates that female mourners are expected to adhere to ‘objective’ standards where emotion and reason are concerned, not to portray their grief as subjective, creative process.


Weiterschreiben. Marie Luise Kaschnitz' and Friederike Mayröcker's Requiems

Gisela Ecker, Paderborn

In my presentation I will examine texts of mourning by two women authors:  Marie Luise Kaschnitz’ poem „Requiem“ in the context of her anthology Mein Schweigen -  deine Stimme (1962) and  Wohin denn ich (1963) and Friederike Mayröcker’s Requiem for Ernst Jandl (2001) and Und ich schüttelte einen Liebling (2005). I will trace the ways in which these texts write and perform ‘Trauerarbeit’, how they draw on different archives of images and gestures at hand in a rich tradition and produce forceful and exceptional poetic forms. I will explore how for both writers ‘weiterleben’ is intricately bound to ‘weiterschreiben’ and then try and raise questions about gendered distributions of ‘cultural work’.