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Magical Things, Haunted Objects II: The Clock Strikes Back! Gender and Object-Oriented Ontology in German Women’s Literature up to 1918 (Women in German)

Event: Women in German
Categories: German, Women's Studies
Event Date: 2024-10-24 to 2024-10-26 Abstract Due: 2024-03-03

Magical Things, Haunted Objects II: The Clock Strikes Back! Gender and Object-Oriented Ontology in German Women’s Literature up to 1918

Pre-20th Century Panel, Women in German Conference, Online, October 24-26, 2024

“Nur was uns anschaut sehen wir...”--Franz Hessel, “Spazieren in Berlin”


In Annette von Droste Hülshoff’s Die Judenbuche, the eponymous tree stands as a silent witness to human violence and weakness. In Theodor Storm’s “Marthe und Ihre Uhr,” a woman finds comfort in her relationship with a clock, and soon finds the clock preferable to human company.

Such odd moments between things and people call for a rethinking of our assumed anthropomorphic hierarchy: Do objects only have meaning when a human sees them or interacts with them, or do they hold meaning before and after human time? Can humans sense the independent nature of objects, and does this extra-human presence make the object uncanny? What are some ways that humans can define themselves anew in relation to different types of objects?

Building upon our successful Pre-20th Century panel from 2017, we continue to investigate the presence of uncanny objects in century German literature and art up to 1918, focusing on works by German-speaking women or on other works that place objects into gender dynamics. We invite papers that will provide a gendered reading of recent developments in what José Brenner calls “Mensch-Object Beziehungen” or other concepts from Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO), speculative realism and new materialism.

We are especially interested in approaching these questions as they appear in pre- and early 20th century texts. Objects that carry magical connotations or odd connections to a literary character can be found in Medieval and Early Modern texts by women, such as sexualized pots and pans in the dramas of Roswith von Gandersheim or the Hungarian Crown in the writings of Helene Kottanerin. These strange objects emerge with a vengeance in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, from Benedicta Nauberts ur-Gothic works to the Kunstmärchen of the Romantic period. As can be seen in the above citations from Droste and Storm, these strange objects even occur in Realist and Naturalist texts, where connections to objects exert power on human characters. We are happy to consider texts from the long nineteenth century, up through the first two decades of the twentieth century. We are also curious how these images of the past are reconstituted in the present and in imaginations of the future.

Questions to consider as a part of this panel:

  • How is gender constructed in relation to odd, uncanny or even haunted objects?
  • How are characters or ideas controlled by objects, and do these objects display any sort of agency? Do haunted objects challenge our understanding of subjectivity?
  • What role might race, spiritualism, sexuality or religion play in the object/human interaction?
  • What are the socio-political, psychological and narratological implications of objects that take on a life of their own?
  • What affects do these objects evoke? How do these human responses help/hurt our understanding of the objects?
  • How do these objects use and/or challenge anthropomorphism? What kind of relationships do they establish with other non-human beings?

This panel will have an experimental/creative element so that we can better adapt to an online conference. Details of the format will be communicated to participants at a later date.

Please submit a 500-word abstract and a short 100-word bio to Rob McFarland (robmc@byu.edu) and Cynthia Shin (cynshin@iu.edu) by March 3, 2024.





Cynthia Shin