This lecture has been postponed to the fall, time and date tba.
The literary works of Marlen Haushofer and Sibylle Berg intersect in their avoidance of “happy endings”, their accounts of death, destruction, and apocalyptic events as well as their portrayals of failing ideals such as romantic love and the concept of family. In academic discourses and newspaper articles, these depictions are frequently labelled as pessimistic: There, we encounter phrases such as “Sibylle Berg writes spectacularly pessimistic books” (Baum, 2012) or interpretations of Haushofer’s texts as following an “unrelenting pessimism” (Fliedl 1986, 36). Thus far, the pessimistic character of their works has not only been taken for granted but has also often been equated with a condition of hopelessness.
In order to investigate what is it precisely about the quality of Berg’s and Haushofer’s texts that inclines readers to label them as both pessimistic and hopeless, my presentation will be considering the following questions: What purpose does the label of “pessimism” serve? How is the concept of pessimism used in public discourses and how does it differ from its actual meaning? Does hope exist for the future or for the present? By looking at different examples from Berg’s and Haushofer’s texts, I am exploring how we might be affected by depictions that prompt us to relate to the world without the image of a future that holds redemption and betterment.
Elisabeth Lange is a PhD candidate in the Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures at the University of Toronto.
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