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TU Berlin

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Betiel Wasihun


"How has global surveillance technology affected the way stories are narrated since 9/11? My research examines how technologies and theories of surveillance inform the narrative situations in contemporary literature. Literary scholarship has had a rather marginal position within surveillance studies so far, but "if surveillance is on some level, all about reading and authorship, so literature has been deeply engaged with, and transformed by, changing ideas about observation and control" (Rosen and Santesso 2013)."


Biographical sketch

Before coming to the TU Berlin, I was a Montgomery-DAAD Fellow and Lecturer in Modern German Literature at the University of Oxford (Lincoln College and Somerville College). I hold an M.A. (2005) and PhD (2009) in German Studies from the University of Heidelberg and was also a Research and Teaching Fellow at the German Department of Yale University during my graduate studies (2006-2008). In 2010 I published a monograph on the phenomenon of competition in selected texts by Kafka, R. Walser and Beckett, with a primary focus on Kafka (Heidelberg: Winter). In 2013 I co-edited the volume Playing False: Representations of Betrayal (Oxford: Lang). Kafka has been an ongoing research topic for me but I have also published articles on a wide range of other authors, including  Heinrich von Kleist, Philip Roth, Haruki Murakami, George Orwell, Ulrich Peltzer, Emine Sevgi Özdamar, Teju Cole, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Dinaw Mengestu. My IPODI project “Surveillance and Narrative” has grown out from my research on betrayal as a literary topic (book in preparation: “Emotions and the Justification of Betrayal. A Comparative Study from the ‘Nibelungenlied’ to Roth’s American Trilogy”). I have also published a co-edited volume on “Narrating Surveillance” (published 2019, book series “Literatur - Kultur -Theorie”, Ergon Publishers).


Research interests

  • German literature from the 18th century to the present, with a particular focus on 20th and 21st century
  • 20th and 21st century American literature
  • surveillance studies
  • narrative theory
  • theories on emotions
  • migration and diaspora studies



Email: betiel.wasihun[at]tu-berlin.de

Telefon:       +49 (0)30 314-23366

Sekretariat: +49 (0)30 314-23611



IPODI Research Project

Surveillance and Narrative

Duration: 15 September 2017 - 31 March 2020

Mentor: Prof. Dr. Hans-Christian von Herrmann, Faculty I, Institute of Philosophy, History of Literature, Science, and Technology

Abstract: In the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks and after the ensuing increase in digital surveillance practices, questions revolving around authority, privacy, civil rights and individual freedom call for re-examination – as claimed by German writers Ilija Trojanow and Juli Zeh in their polemic pamphlet Attack on Freedom (2009).  Hard-fought democratic ideas and rights in Western countries are in danger of being discarded as a result of the omnipresent surveillance technology. Edward Snowden’s disclosure of the surveillance practices by the NSA then led to Trojanow’s and Zeh’s “Writers against Mass Surveillance,” an open letter to Angela Merkel, and a petition against the global mass surveillance, which was supported by more than a thousand international authors and representatives of the cultural sector. This political protest against surveilling authorities is also mirrored in contemporary literature. And, indeed, there is – at least in contemporary German literature – a rejection of narrative instances of control. The resistance towards “authorial narration” in contemporary German literature seems to be mirroring the political resistance towards what Deleuze calls “control society,” that is, an all-pervasive surveillance by technology in contemporary society. The heightened ubiquity of surveillance technology in the age of terror questions traditional narrative forms, too. The objective of “Surveillance and Narrative” is both to examine how this political resistance towards digital surveillance practices has manifested itself in contemporary German and American literature and to also elucidate how modern surveillance technology affects narrative styles in contemporary literature (e.g. Peltzer’s Teil der Lösung or Egan’s Black Box). “Surveillance and Narrative” will not only contribute to the latest debates on narrative and surveillance theories but also to the comparative literary studies of the representation of surveillance – which still is a gap in research.




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