Dr. Gerrit Vorjans


On the 'Foolishness of Dying deliberately': The Function and Meaning of suicidal Methods in German Literature around 1900

Suicide as a tragic solution of literary conflicts is as old as occidental literature itself. Hence, it is not surprising that literary research has dealt with suicide in several studies. So far, all of these studies, which either focus either on the reasons or moral evaluation of the suicide, have neglected one aspect: the way of suicide.

Following different literary texts, which were published between 1880 and 1914 – a phase, in which the topic of suicide was hotly debated within and outside of literature –, the production of a particular cultural knowledge about the modalities of suicide will be investigated. Do literary texts, maybe, contribute to the generation of a specific cultural code, which defines what mode of suicide is appropriate to which subject? In order to elaborate on that, I will investigate the following question: Who has taken his life under which circumstances in which way? To ascertain this “who”, the suicidal literary figures will be focused from theoretical perspectives on subjectivation and social history. Through an analysis of the practices represented in the texts, I intend to carve out the representations of the suicidal figures' historical subject-forms. My thesis is that the suicidal person's form and course of subjectivation, as it is represented in the text, is connected to the suicide-method chosen.

By following this thesis, literary or even macrocultural patterns of similarities between suicidal-cases and their methods of suicide could emerge, which transcend the individual texts or maybe even go beyond the literary realm. My project's intention is, however, not to halt at a mere detection of similarities and patterns. Those texts which balk at an integration into certain patterns are even more interesting. It is in these texts, where literature's specific potential develops, i.e. the potential to go beyond a mere representation of reality, to artistically transpose representations of the subjects and methods of suicide. Looking at artistic adaptations of the suicide-topic and investigating the aesthetic potential of suicide-methods, promises to be a further benefit of my study.

(Changed: 20 Apr 2022)