Please activate JavaScript!
Please install Adobe Flash Player, click here for download

uni'wissen 01-2014_ENG

ophy, ethnology, sociology, Slavic studies, and psychosomatic medicine. Reflecting on the Self One of these subprojects is called “Suspended Time and Narrational Spaces of Seclusion” and includes the Freiburg professors Thomas Klinkert, Romance studies, and Dieter Martin, German studies, as well as the PhD students Anna Senne- felder and Georg Feitscher. They want to find out how authors describe their own narrative situa- tion: Do they incorporate their place of writing into the narrative, and if so, how do they portray it? How does time pass when they are writing? Quickly, slowly? Or are they writing under time constraints and not in a state of leisure? The researchers are investigating how the authors present their narrative and not how leisure is experienced and described in the text. What they are interested in is the identities behind the narratives. Thus, all of the texts the team is analyzing are autobiographical in nature, or, as the Romance scholar Sennefelder puts it, “texts written in the first person in which the narrator reflects on him or herself and narrates. It is then up to the readers to interpret this text as an account of reality or as fiction.” The history of the term leisure is comparatively complex, explains Klinkert. The connotations of the word “otium,” the freedom from pressure and activity, were exclusively positive in ancient times. “Negotium,” its negation, was understood as forced activity. Starting in the Middle Ages, and even more so with the rise of Protestantism, leisure often came to be associated with laziness, lethargy, or sin. The ambivalence of the term also occupied a lot of authors. One of them was Michel de Montaigne, who described idleness as a state between creativity and threat in an essay written in 1573. “He describes leisure not only as an opportunity but also as something that can give rise to the craziest of ideas,” says Klinkert. Even in contemporary German language usage, there is no clear distinction between “Muße” (“leisure”) and the negatively connoted “Müßi- gang” (“idleness”). Sennefelder and Feitscher are currently comb- ing through seven French and seven German auto- biographical narratives by Stendhal, George Sand, Marcel Proust, Günter Grass, Christa Wolf, Thomas Bernhard, and others. While Feitscher is focusing on the 20th century, the texts Sennefelder is analyzing go back to the early 19th century. The PhD students want to demonstrate that the ideal- ized space of leisure becomes ever more fragile over the centuries. Whereas Chateaubriand still situates his first-person narrator in an idyllic space of seclusion, Christa Wolf can only stare in a strained manner at her typewriter in her book Patterns of Childhood: “The sheet remained in the typewriter; no one typed on it for nine days,” she notes, and in another passage she com- plains: “The pressure to produce several pages per day can cast a cloud over the days.” For Wolf, there is no longer any leisure. In addition, it is striking that the author does not introduce her first-person narrator until the last pages of the novel. “The past and the present self are not automatically identical,” explains Feitscher. “Rather, it is first necessary to construct the relation between the two in the strenuous process of writing.” In Modernism, Everything Seems Possible This is just one example of how authors in more recent autobiographical texts explore – and more often than not problematize – the question their own identity. Nothing is idealized anymore in the modern age: Even Stendhal interrupts his dreamy experience of leisure by informing the reader in a brief footnote of how many pages of text he has succeeded in writing in but an hour. Less and less remains of the idyllic space of seclusion – the garden, the island, the library. Up until the 19th century, authors began by describing this space and then went on to fill it out of a feeling of leisure: with facts, thoughts, and emotions concerning their own selves. The process of filling this space was a fulfilling experience. It was as if time stood still, or better: as if it receded into the background. Also typical of this type of experience was that it was not possible to plan in advance what would come out of it. It just happened. Authors continue to draw on this tradition in the present. Günter Grass, for instance, begins narrating in his autobiography Peeling the Onion during a Suspended time: The garden is a place where many authors experience leisure. Photo: Helen Hotson/Fotolia “Leisure resists being defined in terms of the contrast between work and free time that characterizes existence in modern society.” 37