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“Impossible Subjectivities” describes Nazism by analyzing practical paradoxes that concern either the SS or the German Nazi concentration and death camp prisoners. Intellectually we are faced with a variety of impossibilities: Nazism’s SS judiciary, for example, investigated SS officers’ illegal killings of prisoners in the German Nazi concentration and death camps. Also Nazism’s murder was ideologically framed as “decent.” Furthermore self-identifying National Socialists who were vocally fond of unity and obedience have been corrupt and some high-ranking officers treated Jewish prisoners as if colleagues. By contrast, memories that remain from concentration and death camp prisoners suggest that the drive to survive was as much collaboration as a fight against suicide. The prisoners paradoxically report of prisoner sadists, of a general self-distancing of prisoners from the weakest in the camps, while many survivors identify with the strength of their will to survive and insist on the body’s memory as much as on hope.These socio-historical narratives represent ideational and physical complications. They imply that juridical (un)consciousness, Kant’s subject or Foucaultian discourse, is insufficient to describe the human, affected, affective and paradoxical bodies that individuals performed from within their systemic position: By focussing on situations in which people were producing a difference within the biopolitical order in which they existed, and where still nothing systemically changed, “Impossible Subjectivities” addresses the relation between biopolitics and subjectivity, between both affected but unchanged discourse as forms of “negative agency.” This project shows why rationality and social norm applications alone cannot suffice to resist biopolitical oppression. It shows how Nazism, too, idealized heroism and rationality. It shows how human bodies can even systemically-subjectively and disruptively relate to one another without that anything fundamentally changes. And it asks: Can the historical threshold of Nazism’s particular impossible subjectivities tell us anything about our contemporary modes of oppression? Methodologically, “Impossible Subjectivities” focusses on philosophies of difference – from existentialism to performativity – in order to analyze historical source material such as diary entries, memoirs, letters, recordings to drawings and sculpture. Categories such as tone, voice, feeling, affect, receptivity, weak will, drag and naked life are core conceptual parameters for the inquiry.
Conceptualizing space as both a social product and a social agent, my thesis examines the Jewish ghetto that the Nazi German occupiers created in Warsaw in the years between 1940 and 1943 from a distinct spatial perspective. Following the example of authors such as Dan Stone, Anne Kelly Knowles, Tim Cole, Alberto Giordano, Paolo Giaccaria and Claudio Minca, my study, thus, makes a case for the relevance of spatial analysis in the context of the Holocaust.Seeing the ghetto itself as a form of violence exerted against the Jews, I proceed in two steps: In the first part of the study, I trace out which German policies and actions created and shaped the space of the ghetto and how it changed over time due to shifts in the Nazi German agenda and the practices on site. The analysis is guided by the objective of making transparent the administrative processes and responsibilities involved in the ghetto’s creation and management. At the same time, the analysis pursues questions regarding violence, power dynamics, segregation, spatial appropriation and ownership, identity-formation, as well as social, cultural and economic exclusion. In the second part of the study, I shift the focus to explore the space of the ghetto as it was perceived, experienced and described by the people held within it. Building largely on war-time diaries and post-war memoirs, the study investigates particular examples, constellations and recurring situations to further explore how the spatial environment – both in its physical and social dimensions – negatively affected Jewish everyday life, cultural practices, social and personal identity-formation and social relationships. By showing that the ghetto space was inherently adverse to Jewish life, I will advocate a view of the ghetto that emphasizes the violent nature of the spatial environment itself.The analysis of the observations from first-hand accounts is based on concepts and terminology from a broad range of theoretical approaches from the fields of history, urban studies, architecture, (human) geography, anthropology, political theory, philosophy, and sociology, making the study inherently interdisciplinary.