Nicola Gess is a Professor of German Literature at the University of Basel. Before coming to Basel in 2010, she worked in the Comarative Literature Departement at the Freie Universität Berlin and in the German Departement at the University of Regensburg. She did her graduate work in German Literature and Musicology at Princeton University and received her PhD in German Literature and Cultural Studies from Princeton University and the Humboldt Universität Berlin. She has worked on a wide variety of issues in German studies, but her main foci are poetics and aesthetics, the intersections of literature and the other arts, theatre and opera studies, literature and science, literary primitivism. She is the author of "Gewalt der Musik. Literatur und Musikkritik um 1800" (2011, 2nd edition), and "Primitives Denken. Wilde, Kinder und Wahnsinnige in der literarischen Moderne (Müller, Musil, Benn, Benjamin) (2013). She is currently involved in two research projects funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation: "Poetics and Aesthetics of Amazement" and "The Visuality of Baroque Opera", and she is a founding member of the DFG-Research-Network "Auditory Knowledge in Transition. An Epistemic History of Listening in Modernity".
German literature from the 18th to 20th. century, poetics and aesthetics, the intersections of literature and the other arts (especially music), theatre and opera studies, literature and science, literary primitivism, history of listening
Portrait and Poetics
My project discusses the role of the portrait in German and English literature between 1760 and 1830, i.e. in the heyday of the cultural use of portraiture. In these texts, the portrait figures not only as a requisite, but as a main mover of the plot. The most prevalent narrative goes as follows: a young man finds a miniature painting, falls in love with and goes on a quest for the depicted woman, is in the best case united with her or in the worst case goes mad in a layrinth of revenants and doppelganger. Just as common are genealogical varriations of this narrative, in which the portrait draws the observer / pursuer into the abysses of his unknown family history. The main thesis of my project is, that the portrait in these texts can be understood as a figure of poetological reflexion. By way of the portrait and its narrative the texts discuss important aesthetical and poetical concerns of their time: 1. the detachment from established models of mimesis and the problematization of the concept of „original image“; 2. the aesthetic paradigms of the gothic and of a (new) marvelous; 3. models of literary animacy / animation and the supremacy of literature over painting.