Research and Teaching Profile
Sonja Boos speaks with us about her current research on the historical emergence of Neuroscience in the 19th Century, and the concurrent development of the form of the novel; She also gives us a hint of her next project that will focus on the cultural meanings in home movies. https://youtu.be/oejblRZPPZc
I am currently working on a new book-length study, Poetics of the Brain: The Emergence of Neuroscience and the German Novel. It will be the first systematic and comprehensive study of the disciplinary cross-pollination between the emerging field of neuroscience and the German novel in the long nineteenth century. Poetics of the Brain undertakes close readings of a set of German novels and novellas that convey convincingly how the essence of medical and scientific concepts both mirror and qualify the aesthetic and intellectual assumptions of the literary text itself. By illustrating how literature shaped scientific discourse and vice versa, Poetics of the Brain means to move toward a new theory of the German novel and contribute to the interdisciplinary study of nineteenth and twentieth century German literature and culture, literary theory, and the history of the neurosciences. Specifically, the book will show how German novels and novellas incorporated and anticipated the findings of contemporary neuroscience, illuminating in the process a number of theoretical questions that have been notoriously tricky for literary theorists to tackle: affect, memory, creativity, the imagination of space and time, among others.
I am also in the process of expanding a new line of research that examines the cultural meanings of home movies and amateur films. Home movies are traditionally the genre of the family patriarch, however, since the 1980s, feminist filmmakers in Germany and Austria have reinvented the “format” by rethinking the conventions of domestic, autobiographical, and documentary filmmaking, while raising important questions about the nature of amateurism and the cultural and political conditions of (feminist) film production, and the practice of art more broadly conceived. My research focuses on home movies and amateur films that are “minor” films in the sense that they focus on the domestic space, thereby presenting a (seemingly) limited picture of, typically, private events—the meaning of which is advanced through the labors of projection and memory. The project will bring into focus the tangled relationship between documentary filmmaking, autobiographical narratives, and family dramas that are often not recognizable to the uninitiated viewer. My goal is to explore the contribution of this kind of “subjective amateurism” to the filmic construction of memory and gender identity and thereby establish a new way of reading home movies as alternative, intersectional, and often transformative, counter-histories from below.
In my first book, Speaking the Unspeakable in Postwar Germany. Toward a Public Discourse on the Holocaust (Cornell University Press, 2013), I investigate canonical public speeches by Theodor W. Adorno, Hannah Arendt, Ingeborg Bachmann, Martin Buber, Paul Celan, Uwe Johnson, Peter Szondi and Peter Weiss that both facilitated and subverted the construction of a public discourse about the Holocaust in postwar Germany.
Speaking the Unspeakable in Postwar Germany is an interdisciplinary study of a diverse set of public speeches given by major literary and cultural figures in the 1950s and 1960s. Through close readings of canonical speeches, Sonja Boos demonstrates that these speakers both facilitated and subverted the construction of a public discourse about the Holocaust in postwar West Germany. The author's analysis of original audio recordings of the speech events (several of which will be available on a companion website) improves our understanding of the spoken, performative dimension of public speeches.
While emphasizing the social constructedness of discourse, experience, and identity, Boos does not neglect the pragmatic conditions of aesthetic and intellectual production—most notably, the felt need to respond to the breach in tradition caused by the Holocaust. The book thereby illuminates the process by which a set of writers and intellectuals, instead of trying to mend what they perceived as a radical break in historical continuity or corroborating the myth of a “new beginning,” searched for ways to make this historical rupture rhetorically and semantically discernible and literally audible.
As a complement to this book, original audio recordings of a selection of the speeches discussed in the book are available to stream here: http://signale.cornell.edu/multimedia/30.
Sonja Boos’ teaching focuses on 19th- through 21st century German literature, culture, and film as well as critical thought.
Recent courses: Film and Gender, Aesthetics and Politics of the Avantgarde; Drama und Recht; Representations of Terror; Poetic Realism; Sexuality; War, Violence, Trauma.