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Eugen Zentner

PhD-Project

The Hybrid Author. Subject-Making and the Practice of Autofictional Self-Staging in the German-speaking Contemporary Literature

1. Object of Research and Interest

Self-staging, just like versatile means of subject-constitution, has always been part of the literary business. However, in recent times, people have increasingly paid attention to this (cf. Juergensen / Kaiser 2011). Two causes are crucial: In literary studies, on the one hand, the question of authorship has been put in a new way and, thus, the author has become quasi rehabilitated as a theoretical and analytical category (cf. Jannidis 1999; Detering 2002); on the other hand, the eventisation of the literary scene – a process strongly connected to thrill-seeking society – entailed a honing of perspective on the necessities of image-building, reputation-management, the presentation of the author as an attractor of attention in a media-business, which tends to personalisation. These theoretical and cultural processes have a huge importance for my project; I will, however, focus on an exceptional case of author-staging, which seems to be particularly symptomatic for the procedures and the importance of subject-making in contemporary culture and literature: i.e. the staging of the author as part of his literary work. In this way, literature challenges the boundaries of faction and fiction and conveys a borderline expectation of authenticity, which is characteristic for contemporary media-composites (cf. Martus 2012). Polemically, Juli Zeh described this as a “labeling of an understanding of literature, in which the confusion of narration and experience is not a lapse, but a programm” (Zeh 2006). This program can be observed, for example, in Burkhard Spinnen's The Black Edge from 2003, in which a medium-sized business entrepreneur meets the author at a wedding and commissions to put his difficult and adventurous career in writing. Between them, a business relationship develops, in which both produce a text on a mutual enterprise on whose production they both share 50% each: the entrepreneur provides information about his life story, the author processes it into text. This is what makes Spinnen's work extraordinary and why it has been received as a “rapprochement of literature and economy” (Pott 2004, p. 207).

It is decisive for my project that book cannot be positively integrated into any genre. The cumbersome subheading Die Geschichte des Unternehmers Walter Lindemaier aus Laubheim (The Story of Walter Lindemaier, Entrepreneur from Laubheim), seems to point at the biographical genre, in which the author-figure turns his own literary work into an object of narration. Thus, Spinnen structures The Black Edge in a way so that the story of Walter Lindenmaier functions as an internal plot of another narrated action, which intends to depict the 'evolutionary story' of the work at hand. But this framing narrative thread is explosive, as the author-figure 'Spinnen' – and hence the author himself – reflects upon his own literary work and additionally remarks that he, as an author, is quite similar to his 'protagonist'. Right at the beginning, the following statement is made:“In principle, I say, I am an entrepreneur myself. I produce something at my own risk, and try to sell it” (p. 11 f.). On the following pages, there are several passages in which Spinnen, the author-figure, demonstrates those activities and actions he is confronted with in the writing process to the reader. In short: an author-figure stages itself as a producer of the written word, who is analogous to an enterprise, who calls the text “my enterprise” (p. 165) and who adopts an entrepreneur's language as well as his manners: “Now we are partners. Both of us hold 50% of the enterprise. Any decision has to be made by the majority.” (p.181). In doing so, the author invents a particular author-type in the frame-narration, who characterises the literary field of his presence in a specific way: one, who intends to direct the audience's attention at himself, by lending an image to his literary 'self', in which extraordinariness and uniqueness emerge as his characteristics. The particularity is in the amalgamation of the author with a social type, which was traditionally considered as the author's social opponent, even if this has always been an idealisation in the first place.

Spinnen's The Black Edge stands for a practice of literary self-staging, in which the author stylises himself as an unusual author-type. This practice can be observed in John von Dueffel's collection of essays entitled Whereof I am writing published 2009. Here, though, we deal with an author, who appears in the essayistic, i.e. thetic, genre as an “athlete-author” (p. 164). The parallels are obvious: just like Spinnen, von Dueffel stylises himself as an unsual author-type, who combines two traditionally incommensurable social types. Von Dueffel frequently accentuates this opposition: “Authors and sports that does not go together well” (p. 17), “The love for sports and the love for writing, however, […] strongly contravene” (p. 18), “Literature and sport are incommensurable, you learn that in school” (p. 41); “The image of an athlete is, and always will be, not easily compatible to that of a poet” (p. 44). In picking up the author in modelling his literary self into an “athlete-author”, the author figure von Dueffel, just like 'Spinnen', puts his money on the effect of uniqueness. By choosing the “athlete” for a merging with the author, the proper act of attention-gaining takes place, since the athlete and his accentuated incompatibility with an author is equally suitable for dramatic demarcations of difference as is the entrepreneur in Spinnen's case. This peculiar 'self'-draft, in which these elements of attention-gaining become apparent, is, hence, to be understood as a reaction to the aforementioned necessities of image building in the literary scene.

Finally, I will investigate Rainald Goetz's Trash for All (1999). In this work, an author-figure which thematises his own work and hence stages himself as an unusual author-type can be found, too. Thrash for All vividly demonstrates, how the author-figure 'Goetz' creates himself as a “discourse manager”, who – just like the 'entrepreneur-' and 'athlete-'author – permanently performs at peak level, permanently works intellectually and who is always busy in the field of aesthetic reception, who semiotically interprets, processes, re-contextualises, comments and forwards his experiences, and who accentuates these accomplishments of the author, which have not been put into writing, as the real and essential accomplishments: “You can indeed write more than necessary in two hours of work per day. But ABSORBING the other, the insight in the given, the nature of – pardon – script, the current status of the word's meaning, the ever-changing meaning of each word depending on the usage of language, reading, listening, speaking and constant scribbling and quasi-breathing writing […] this just TAKES. THIS takes time.” (p. 52)

I would like to bring the works mentioned on a common denominator, in identifying a connection between the practice of self-staging and subject-making: all of them share an initiator of text, who submits a drafted-self in his narration and his work, in which the historical role of the author as an artist is associated with his social antipodes, who, hence, stylises himself as a unique author-type and makes himself an “entrepreneur of his self” within this social practice. This also means that authors adopt the already existing subject-form of the author within this practice and re-shape it in distinct ways. One of them stages himself as an 'entrepreneur'-, the other as an 'athlete'- and the third as a 'discourse manager'-author. In the end, a 'hybrid subject' in Andreas Reckwitz's understanding emerges within the respective self-drafts. Following Reckwitz, a hybrid subject is characterised “as a contingent product of symbolic arrays, which in a very specific way model that, what a subject is, how it understands itself, how it has to act, talk, move, want” (Reckwitz 2006, p. 34). These symbolic arrays are rooted on the “level of social practices” (ibid., p. 35).

Inquiring about this practice of self-staging's causes and the included cultural codes, which can be defined as patterns of meaning, one has to unclose cultural contexts: It can be noted that the formation of the literary system entailed “an increasing number of providers offering cultural products surged on the 'cultural' market place, who compete for attention, i.e. the market's scarce resource” (Juergensen 2011, p. 406). Hence, attention functions as an economic measure (cf. Franck 1998; Joch 2009), around which a distinct market emerged: the attention-market. In this cultural and economic context, authors are forced to demarcate their difference, hoping to gain 'attention', the scarce resource. Concretely, this means direct marketing in order to explicitly indicate that they are different to their rivals. This symbolic array of the literary field, composed of codes, typifications and regulations, condenses in the practice of literary 'self'-staging, so that the author-figures 'Spinnen', 'von Dueffel' and 'Goetz' make themselves subjects in the course of this practice. Admittedly, this self-making takes place in distinctly different ways; however, it follows the same cultural rules of the economised literary field.

The historical reasons for these tendencies can inter alia be found in neoliberal politics. Since the 20th century, these have adopted the market principle as a role model to answer the question about how society can be governed in the best possible way. This way of governing virtually leaves the individuals on their own in generating mini-markets within the social array, in which the individuals have to prevail in competition and in which they have to discipline themselves to do so. In the course of this logic of sovereignty, the individuals govern themselves, while the state reduces its activities (cf. Broeckling et al. 2000). This self-dependence, warranted by the market principle, is adopted by the literary discourse as a leitmotif; this discourse, at the same time, transforms this rationality, which can be demonstrated following the example of the aforementioned 'self-'marketing within the literary work, wherewith the work itself steps back behind the author person. With the overall implementation of this field-transcending neoliberal program – whose key-concepts are competitiveness, motivation and self-management –, the attention-market seems to have become established as a mini-market within the literary field. Cultural producers employ a governmental knowledge, which Foucault has described as 'technologies of the self'. These provide individuals with opportunities, “to effect by their own means a certain number of operations on their own bodies, souls, and lifestyle, so as to transform themselves, to modifiy themselves” (Foucault quot. after Broeckling et al. 2000, p. 28 f.).

In so far, the practice of 'self-' staging within the literary field is a place, in which the field-transcending neoliberal imperatives exert their influence, too; an influence that regulates the authors and turns them into a subject, which Foucault calls the “entrepreneur of his self” (id. 2004, p. 314) and which Broeckling calls “The entrepreneurial Self” (id. 2007). Following Broeckling, this label nowadays stands for a “bundle of interpretative schemas, through which people understand themselves and their ways of existence” as well as “normative demands and role-proposals, on the basis of which they orient what they do and do not do” (ibid., p. 7). Does this mean that the author-figures 'Spinnen', 'von Dueffel' and 'Goetz' follow this neoliberal program by executing practices of 'self-'staging? Do they build, transform and modify themselves into “entrepreneurs of their self”, because they adopt a “form”, which “corresponds with and recognises” the neoliberal program's “normative demands” (Alkemeyer et al. 2013, p. 18)? Do these transformations and modifications of the self – just like the neoliberal codes –, ultimately, have an impact on the 'subject-' and 'self-'drafts, which can be found within the literary works mentioned? The respective sketches of a hybrid subject, in which the author amalgamates with an entrepreneur, athlete or discourse-manager is a social type, who is characterised as competitive, self-reliant and self-managing. Hence, my preliminary thesis is: the neoliberal schemas of interpretation take effect in the respective 'subject-' or 'self-'drafts of 'Spinnen', 'von Dueffel' and 'Goetz'. In adopting these neoliberal patterns of meaning and “showing their capability to play along” (Alkemeyer et al. 2013, p. 18), they make themselves “entrepreneurs of their self”, precisely because they model their “self” according to these neoliberal imperatives.

2. State of Research and Embedding of the Project

German Cultural Literary Studies has only marginally dealt with this connection between subject-making and neoliberal patterns of meaning within staging practices, although the issue of author-representation and the practices of staging connected to this have gained importance. Autorinszenierungen (Kuenzel / Schoenert 2007), Schriftsteller-Inszenierungen (Grimm / Schaerf 2008), Schriftstellerische Inszenierungspraktiken – Typologie und Geschichte (Juergensen / Kaiser 2011) and Medien der Autorschaft (Gisi et al. 2013), in which practices of staging the authorship since the 18th have been analysed in various paratexts and media, are most relevant. None of these scholarly works poses the question, whether a self-staging as such takes place – that this is the case seems common sense. It is rather the 'How' (cf. Porombka 2007; Blumenkampf 2011 / Husemann 2011) and thus the 'local' and 'habitual dimension (cf. Juergensen / Kaiser 2011) of these practices, which is at the centre of attention, although this is always investigated following perspectives on typologies of staging. Often, these investigations emanate from a certain author, whose various staging-practices are analysed in different paratexts. On this basis, the author is ultimately characterised as a specific staging-type, without, however, referring to subject-makings and neoliberal implications – as if the rat race for attention was only due to the larger number of authors in the literary field. These analyses disregard the neoliberal imperatives, which have an impact on these self-stagings since the end of the 1990s.

In my PhD-project, I tie in with these approaches, but intend a change of perspective: I do not intend to follow certain authors or their staging-activities, but rather author-figures in certain literary works – in which, after all, the 'self'-staging functions as a part of the distinct literary work – and construe this mode as “subject-making”. Against this background, the following leading questions emerge: (1) Why are figures, such as the 'entrepreneur-', the 'athlete-' and 'discourse-manager', chosen for a modelling of the “author-ego”? Do elements of a “practical (re-)arrangement of existing subject-forms” (Alkemeyer et al. 2013, p. 21) come to the fore? (2) What are the neoliberal schemas of interpretation which can be found in the respective 'self'-modelling and where are the individual subjectivation's own contributions? (3) Do the author-figures make themselves to “entrepreneurs of their self” due to these very own contributions?

Methodologically, the literary 'self'-stagings will be investigated regarding the ways in which the authors appear in their works, which stylistic devices they employ in doing so and how they structurally shape their 'self'-stagings as a part of the literary work. While the analysis follows means of Literary Criticism, such as “figuration”, “aut(h)o(r)fiction” and “narrative structure”, methods of Cultural Sociology will be employed in the next step, in order to investigate the author's 'self'-staging within the literary work as a procedure of subject-making. Particularly important concepts are “social field” and “subject culture”, since they allow an investigation of relations between the practice of literary 'self-'staging and subject-making on different levels. In Cultural Sociology, “social fields” are understood as different social area, which have their own logic and structures, which limit the social actors' scopes (cf. Bourdieu 2001). “Subject culture”, in Andreas Reckwitz's understanding, is, in contrast, a network of cultural codes, whose application allows individuals to adopt a subject form in the first place (cf. Reckwitz 2006). These instruments will allow an investigation of the literary field in terms of its action-directing structures as well as an analysis of 'self'-staging practices in terms of its level of neoliberal codification. This will provide the basis, to analyse the question, in how far the aforementioned author-figures make themselves into subjects and adopt the form of an “entrepreneur of their self”.

3. References

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