As a Branco Weiss Fellow, Dr. Marie Kolkenbrock will investigate how the concept of “distance” emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century as both a problem of and a solution for life in modern societies. Through readings of works of psychology, philosophical anthropology, literature, and film, the project aims to explore the function of the conceptualization and cultivation of distance for this era’s responses to the fundamental question of how to live together in private relationships, within societies, and across nation states.
- Research Fellow at King’s College London, 2020-
- Research Associate at University of Cambridge and Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for the History and Theory of Biography, Vienna, 2015-2019
- Lecturer at University of Salzburg, 2014-15
- Visiting Graduate Student at University of Chicago, 2012
- PhD in German at University of Cambridge, 2010-2014
- Visiting Graduate Student at University of Cambridge, 2009
- MA in German Literature at Freie Universität Berlin, 2008-2010
- BA in German and Philosophy at Freie Universität Berlin, 2004-2008
- DAAD Cambridge Trust Workshop Funding, 2018
- Marbach Research Fellowship from the German Schiller Society, 2017
- Gates Cambridge Scholarship, 2010-2014
- German National Academic Foundation Scholarship, 2007-2010
- Die Presse (Austrian newspaper): „Jung Wien“ aus der Nähe betrachtet (German)
- The Guardian: Alternative ending discovered to book behind Eyes Wide Shut
- Merkur (German monthly): Männlicher und weiblicher Geist? (German)
- The Hedgehog Review: The Dance of the Porcupines
Branco Weiss Fellow Since
German and Comparative Literature, Cultural Theory and History
Department of German, King's College London, United Kingdom
While the notion of “distance” reflects some of the fears arising from modernity – particularly when understood as a failure of interpersonal intimacy – it nevertheless also informs several positive theoretical re-imaginations of the public sphere in the twentieth century. Schopenhauer’s “hedgehog dilemma,” a parable of freezing porcupines that struggled to keep warm without poking one another, provides a powerful image for the human need for distance even in the most intimate relationships. The notion of distance appears as a point of intersection between various modern knowledge systems of the Western world, and particularly in those disciplines concerned with the human experience: sociology, philosophical anthropology, psychology, and aesthetics.
Through readings of works of psychology, philosophical anthropology, literature, and film, Dr. Marie Kolkenbrock aims to explore the function of the conceptualization and cultivation of distance for this era’s responses to the fundamental question of how to live together in private relationships, within societies, and across nation states. Taking into account the intersections of these different knowledge systems, the project will not only offer the first cultural history of “distance” to date; it also will provide an extremely relevant interdisciplinary theoretical backdrop for current political and societal debates. In the first instance, Dr. Kolkenbrock seeks to map out how distance emerged as a category in twentieth-century psychology and philosophical anthropology, and how it became relevant in attempts to address public life through the consideration of psychic reality. In the second instance, she will examine “distance” as an aesthetic trope in twentieth-century literature and culture. Among the questions are how this trope responds to the conceptualizations of distance in other knowledge systems, and how those conceptualizations may be influenced by the trope in turn. The main question driving this project is: what role does the imagination and cultivation of distance play in the twentieth century’s cultural and intellectual responses to the fundamental question of how to live together in private relationships, within societies, and across nation states, and what can we learn from them today? As the second decade of the twenty-first century draws to a close, we are witnessing the phenomenon of an extreme social and cultural divide as a central political challenge in the western world, and the rise of far-right populists promoting an ideal of a homogenous, close-knit unity through the distancing exclusion of entire ethnic and religious groups. As literature and film provide a controlled space for political intervention in which challenges to existing power structures can be mapped out, an interdisciplinary approach to the study of works of cultural production can yield important insights to the understanding of some of the most pressing social, political, and cultural issues of our times.