Bodily Desire – Desired Bodies juxtaposes German and Austrian novels and paintings from the 1910s and 1920s that gave spectacular expression to shifting trends in male and female social roles and the organization of physical desire and the sexual body. The interdisciplinary study assembles works by writers Vicki Baum, Franz Kafka, and Thomas Mann, and artists Christian Schad, Otto Dix, Egon Schiele, and Franz von Stuck, who have not been analyzed together previously. Bauer reveals these authors and painters’ focus on the body as they modeled characters and developed concepts of sexual selves intended to upset received notions of masculinity and femininity and physical attraction. Bauer's analysis pinpoints remarkable similarities between these works' corporeal turn and the present-day gender debate, in which scholars have proposed that gender roles and the body as we encounter it, are discursively constituted. Similarly, the works in this study suggest that notions of sexual difference construct and define bodies as artifacts of culture. In the early twentieth century, the German-speaking countries saw radical changes in the definition of masculinity and femininity and in the structures organizing sexual politics and the perception of the sexual body. This study shows that the literary and visual works did not simply reflect these socio-cultural developments, as more traditional scholarship has claimed. Instead, they rehearse the conventions and highlight the ability of socially endorsed gender norms to create and shape bodies, while at the same time they present '"deviant," novel modalities of desire that appear as a subversive force difficult to control as it challenges the gender category or operates entirely outside or beyond it. As sites of negotiation and innovation, these works thus became instruments of social transformation. As the writers and artists emerge as actors of gender trouble beyond or ahead of their times, this book proposes a reevaluation of their canonical and iconic works.
Esther Bauer is an Assistant Professor of German at Virginia Tech, where she teaches German language, literature, and culture. A native of Germany, she holds an M.A. in German and English from the University of Freiburg, Germany, and a Ph.D. in German literature from Yale University. Her research specializes in German literature and culture since the late nineteenth century, particularly the Weimar Republic and today, and focuses on questions of subjectivity, gender, desire, aging, and visualizations of bodies.
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