Ziegler Lecture: Claudia Breger, “Literary Dreaming (Under the Weight of Political Nightmares)”

Monday March 4, 2024
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM

Join us on March 4th at 2pm PT for an online Ziegler Lecture featuring Dr. Claudia Breger (Columbia University). This lecture will be co-hosted with UBC’s Centre for European Studies.

Abstract: Looking at literature and the arts as media of dreaming is by no means a new idea. In modern European aesthetics alone, it has been prominent from Romanticism via Sigmund Freud’s methods of (literary) dream interpretation to Ernst Bloch’s conceptualization of the arts as utopian daydreaming. Recently, though, the conceptual keyword of dreaming has seen a renaissance across the arts and humanities, as a topic of Biennales (e.g., Venice 2022) as well as scholarship in queer studies, radical Black and indigenous theory. This may seem counterintuitive in a historical moment of neoliberal exhaustion, renewed fascism, and planetary exhaustion much more conducive to apocalyptic fear and fantasy. But as I propose in this talk, we can best contour the current resurgence of dreaming in the arts and humanities from precisely this angle, in a two-fold sense. First, the return of dreaming constitutes an explicit countermove towards political hope and futural imagination in the face of political nightmares. Second, it operates as an experimental practice that does not (naively) deny or (miraculously) overcome, but actively includes the negativity of surrounding worlds. As Hengameh Yaghoobifarah puts it in a play on the linguistic overlap of the German words for “dream” (Traum) and “trauma,” the dream factory of literature and the arts doubles as a trauma processing plant (“Traumafabrik,” Ministerium der Träume, 229).

In our ongoing moment of shrinking humanities programs, the renewed interest in dreaming also contributes to the discussion of what literature, film, and the other arts offer towards the goal of reimagining and remaking contemporary worlds. My talk will address these questions in initiating a dialogue between several recent novels from Germany’s literatures of migration and the indicated range of theoretical traditions (mindful of not short circuiting different contexts of historical trauma and political violence).In addition to Yaghoobifarah, I plan to draw on Dinçer Güçyeter’s Unser Deutschlandmärchen (2022) and Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s Ein von Schatten begrenzter Raum (2021). The talk will conceptualize their literary dreaming practices in the encounter of twentieth-century European models of literary dreaming with contemporary work in queer, Black, and indigenous theory.

Bio: Claudia Breger is the Villard Professor of German and Comparative Literature. Her research focuses on twentieth- and twenty-first century culture, with emphases on film and theater; literary, media, and cultural theory; and the intersections of gender, sexuality and race. She is particularly interested in combining theory with historical perspectives, and cultural studies approaches with aesthetic inquiries and close reading practices. Her earliest book, Ortlosigkeit des Fremden (Böhlau 1998), traces the genealogy of modern representations of Romani and other itinerant people at the intersection of race and gender around 1800. Prof. Breger’s secondbook, Szenarien kopfloser Herrschaft (Rombach 2004), investigates reconfigurations of royal imaginaries beyond sovereignty in twentieth-century German culture, in scenarios ranging from imperial Egyptology to queer drag king performances. Her more recent An Aesthetics of Narrative Performance (Theory and Interpretation of Narrative, Ohio State University Press, 2012) seeks to reconcile the fields of narratology and performance studies in order to conceptualize contemporary world making practices in different media. The smaller German-language volume Nach dem Sex? (Hirschfeld-Lectures; Wallstein, 2014) probes methodological dialogues between queer turn-of-the-twentieth century sexology and twenty-first century affect studies. Prof. Breger’s most recent book, Making Worlds: Affect and Collectivity in Contemporary European Cinema, has been published by Columbia University Press (2020). The study reconnects her work on affect to questions of narrative and form by way of asyncretic concept of cinematic worldmaking. Prof. Breger deploys this concept to argue for contemporary cinema’s imaginative productivity in reimagining collectivity for our moment of heightened public affectivity.

Watch Claudia Breger’s Lecture Online:

Missed Claudia Breger’s  lecture on March 4th? You can access the video and audio recording on UBC’s cIRcle database.