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Moving Identities: Metamorphosis in contemporary German literature and beyond

Research Team:


What are emotions – are they external threats, animal forces, semi-rational appraisals or free-floating intensities? This project investigates historically changing understandings of the ways in which emotions act upon or constitute the self.

Project No. G 215

Tara Beaney

Literary representations of metamorphosis, as a process of radical and fantastic bodily transformation, call into question ones identity as a human, as a person, as a socially and culturally formed individual and as a physical body. As an articulation of the changing self, literary metamorphoses tend to be highly emotionally charged, with a horror and disgust of becoming other as well as a longing for transformation. By investigating the affects of metamorphosis this project aims to provide insight into experiences of unstable selves and identities, and more broadly into socio-cultural models of the self and its emotions.

The project focuses on a small corpus of literary texts written in German from the Romantic period to the present day, considering how the texts deal affectively with the threat to the self posed by metamorphosis. For example, in considering tales of metamorphosis by E.T.A. Hoffmann, questions are asked about the extreme emotionality of the texts, and the way this relates to the emergence of an unstable modern self. This is followed by an exploration of works by Franz Kafka, with focus on the association between emotionality and the languageless state of being animal. As well as these canonical metamorphosis texts, the project considers late twentieth century texts by Marie Luise Kaschnitz and Jenny Erpenbeck involving girl’s metamorphoses. At stake in the focal texts is the repression of negative affect and the use of metamorphosis as a temporal rupture forcing a confrontation with unwanted pasts. The project concludes with an analysis of the work of Yoko Tawada, in which fluid identities and metamorphic bodies are embraced, and the loss of self is no longer a cause for negative affect.

By considering the affects of metamorphosis in the focal literary texts this project aims to contribute to understanding changing socio-cultural models of the self and its emotions, as well as to understanding the use of metamorphosis as a literary topos, and the ways in which emotions are at work in constructing selves and identities.


Literary studies


Prof. Dr. Stefan Keppler-Tasaki

Prof. Dr. Jutta Müller-Tamm