Theses Doctoral

Writing Scenes and Telling Time: Post-War German Journal Literature, Between Diary and the News(papers)

Watzka, Michael

Located at the intersection of literary, journalistic, and socio-historical discourses, “Writing Scenes and Telling Time” looks at diaristic texts in post-war German literature through the lens of news reporting and mass media. Since the 1970s, diaristic texts in German emerged across genres in the works of canonical authors. These works are widely read as subjective texts and linked to their authors’ supposedly diaristic interest in introspection and self-expression. However, these texts’ orientation towards the outside world and their interest in the temporality and scene of writing does not fit into this existing narrative. This dissertation looks at four decades worth of journal texts by Peter Handke, Sarah Kirsch, Jürgen Becker, and Rainald Goetz. Considering these texts between the poles of diary and news(papers), “Writing Scenes and Telling Time” argues that the modes of writing that emerged must be read as a new genre. Looking at novels, poetry, prose, blogs, and epics, “Writing Scenes and Telling Time” analyses writing as the site of narrative experiments that resulted in new attempts to define literary categories. “Writing Scenes and Telling Time” establishes links between the accelerating and alienating effects of mass media and the narratological impact of journalistic reporting on literary writing. The project takes reporting and the report as its methodological cornerstones and looks at the journal’s conception of scene, time, image, narrative, and writing through the lens of contemporary literary theory. My project situates itself within the temporal turn and contributes to recent studies on literature and time.

The three chapters of this dissertation trace different modes of journal writing emerging since the early 1970s. Chapter I investigates how the texts of Jürgen Becker focus on the temporality of short-term memory and its implications for a new definition of plot. Chapter II traces journal writing in Sarah Kirsch’s poetry and prose and the way in which it focalizes settings of spatio-temporal liminality. Chapter III looks at the works of Peter Handke and their focus on the temporal simultaneity of writing and its relation to the surrounding scene. My conclusion revisits these modes through the lens of 2000s journal writing in the works of Rainald Goetz.

“Writing Scenes and Telling Time” suggests that these texts’ very rigid repudiation of mass media and journalistic reporting lies at odds with the extraordinary phenomenological influence both have on the conceptions of writing contained in them. This dissertation, therefore, intervenes in a literary history of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s by challenging common center/periphery binaries that imply an author’s supposed degree of (non)involvement with the modern world. It expands existing theories on diaristic writing, looking at journal writing as a specific genre that transcends existing categories. “Writing Scenes and Telling Time” concludes that a broad range of supposedly diaristic texts from the German post-war era must be reconceived with regards to their genre status. Through its focus on writing, this dissertation ultimately aims at establishing journal writing as a new theory of genre.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Germanic Languages
Thesis Advisors
Simons, Oliver
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 14, 2021