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Sarah Pourciau


"Ideas about how time works and about what history is have undergone a profound transformation over the past two centuries. My research focuses on the consequences of this shift for modern-day conceptions of knowledge, with particular emphasis on the German-language tradition, and on the role played by literary technique."


Scientific career

I hold a Ph.D. (2007) in German Studies from Princeton University and an M.A. (2001) in Jewish Studies from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Previously, I taught for seven years as an assistant professor of German at Princeton University, and for two years as a Mellon postdoctoral fellow at Stanford. My first book, The Writing of Spirit: Soul, System, and the Roots of Language Science (Fordham University Press, 2017), tells the story of how language becomes a scientific object, and what that means for our understanding of the way languages move through time. It explores theories of system formation, poetic structure, and historical time from the early 19th century through the middle of the 20th, in domains as disparate as historical linguistics, phonology, philology, poetics, life science, acoustics, opera theory, philosophy, and psychology. The result is a novel contribution to one of the most pressing questions of our contemporary intellectual moment, namely: the question of what role the study of history should play in the articulation of present-tense meaning systems. My general research interests include 19th and 20th century Austrian and German culture, German-Jewish intellectual history, the history of philosophy and its relationship to literature, the history of science and mathematics, the history of opera, and the roots of contemporary literary theory.  



Email: pourciau[at]tu-berlin.de




IPODI Research Project

Double Time: Austrian Sovereignty and the Poetics of the Turning Point


Duration: 1 July 2015 – 30 September 2018

Mentor: Prof. Dr. Hans-Christian von Herrmann, Faculty I, Institut für Philosophie, Literatur- Wissenschafts- und Technikgeschichte, Fachgebiet Literaturwissenschaft

Abstract: The development of 20th century Austrian culture, like the development of 20th century European culture more generally, has been shaped by its problematic relationship to the future indicative tenseThe second half of the 19th century coincides, particularly in the German-speaking world of post-Hegelian philosophy, with the end of a teleological approach to time: where history can no longer be presumed to unfold in the direction of its ultimate fulfillment, or, more ominously still, for the witnesses of two world wars, when it appears to have outlasted its own apocalyptic endpoint, the inherently teleological arc of literary emplotment becomes a conundrum that calls forth new techniques. The Broken Medium argues that during and after the Great War, the Austro-Hungarian empire’s failed model of double sovereignty—its novel approach to conserving-by-breaking the political unity of the Habsburg domains—becomes the counter-intuitive departure point for a specifically Austrian rethinking of the relationship between art and time. There is a generally unrecognized structural similarity, so the central thesis, to the way in which artists like Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Arnold Schoenberg, Franz Kafka, and Robert Musil, among others, work to “crack open” the traditionally teleological, salvation-historical arcs of their respective long genres—the drama, the opera, the novel—so as to render them newly operative for their own, anti-teleological epoch. The book proceeds by analyzing several seminal Austrian innovations in the artistic technique of the turning point, so crucial for the “organic unfolding” of 19th century geschichtsphilosophical genres like bourgeois tragedy, Wagnerian opera, and the Bildungsroman. A sequence of three chapters treats Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s anti-Hegelian understanding of the dramatic peripeteia, the Second Viennese School’s post-Wagnerian theory of musical modulation and operatic dramaturgy, and Franz Kafka and Robert Musil’s other-than-Romantic rethinking of romantic/narrative climax, in order to demonstrate that the notion of “meaningful transformation” actually means something different, against the 20th century backdrop of the Austro-Hungarian specter, than it has ever done elsewhere before or since. A concluding fourth chapter traces the postwar afterlife and philosophical implications of this broken, Austrian temporality in the work of both writers (Ingeborg Bachmann, Thomas Bernhard) and contemporary theorists of the political (Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Gilles Deleuze, Eric Santner, Slavoj Žižek).




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