New at Leuphana: Prof Dr Kevin Drews - View of the Unseen

2024-02-12 The literary scholar Kevin Drews has been appointed Junior Professor of Literature and Theory. His research focusses on the role and critical potential of literature in historical and current contexts of social crises and transformations.

New at Leuphana: Prof Dr Kevin Drews - View of the Unseen ©Leuphana/Teresa Halbreiter
New at Leuphana: Prof Dr Kevin Drews - View of the Unseen ©Leuphana/Teresa Halbreiter
New at Leuphana: Prof Dr Kevin Drews - View of the Unseen ©Leuphana/Teresa Halbreiter
Professor Drews, what is your particular research interest?
One fundamental question is: What does literature offer us for recognising and dealing with the challenges of the present? Not just our present, but also from a historical perspective.
Literature always works with fiction, but often also draws on historical images, newspapers, archive documents, and diaries. And it is this interplay, this particular negotiation between fiction and fact that intrigues me most. There is no yes or no; no black or white. Things are complicated and literature can help us to experience these things through concrete objects, concrete lifeworlds. And the theory of literature helps us, especially in teaching, to develop a resilient vocabulary in order to communicate about such ambivalences and ambiguities. This is how literature can make something visible that doesn't appear in other texts.
You recently conducted research in the DFG project "Literary Chronistics", in which you are also still associated. Why is this traditionally medieval form of historiography relevant again?
One basic assumption of the project is that certain historical-philosophical concepts such as progress became fragile with the outbreak of the First World War, if not before. Until then, modern historiography had made use of grand narratives, with chronicles being a useful tool at best. But at the beginning of the 20th century, a new fascination arose for this reductive form of historiography, which is more of a notation process and attempts to depict what happens day by day.
Even now, as a result of the war in Ukraine, there are more and more literary texts that are organised as chronicles. Chronicles are therefore anything but an anachronism. In literary criticism, the term is often categorised as an "authentic" stylistic device. It means that someone is writing with their finger on the pulse of the time.
You wrote your doctoral thesis on aesthetics and politics in the work of Walter Benjamin and Salomo Friedlaender. How did the two influence each other?
Friedlaender was a well-known writer and philosopher in his time. Unlike Benjamin, who only became a founding figure of modern literary and media cultural studies posthumously. These opposing movements are very exciting in themselves.
Walter Benjamin spent his whole life studying Friedlaender. In a comparative study, I have shown how both authors use the concept of 'polarity' as a medium for diagnosing time in order to conceptualise the crises, tensions, and extremes of time. Today, polarity usually means something that is completely divergent. But in polarity, the centrifugal forces must not diverge to the point where they no longer have any field of tension. Both were concerned with thought in intensities, with charging time with opposites, with the simultaneity of attraction and repulsion, for example between the poles of Marxism and theology in Benjamin's case.
In a new research project, you are looking at the literature of the Anthropocene.
When we talk about the Anthropocene, we are confronted with very different concepts of time. On the one hand, there is the unimaginably distant geological deep time. On the other hand, there are imperceptible ecological tipping points that have a dramatic time index. In this context, I am interested in what specific literary processes are used to make such confrontations between different time structures tangible and negotiable. Something like climate fiction has been around for a long time. I'm thinking of "The Swarm" by Frank Schätzing, for example. However, I am interested in writing styles that are used to model Anthropocene times and to create interpretations of this time. I am deliberately not focussing solely on the novel. The diary with its subjective impressions can be a literary device, such as Saci Lloyd's "Carbon Diaries", i.e. not exclusively so-called "high culture". Even montages or essays can be a means. The Anthropocene needs different, more complex literary processes than a story that goes from A to B. From this perspective, literature has much more to tell us in view of the current upheavals in the order of knowledge in light of the Anthropocene.
Thank you very much for the interview!

Kevin Drews studied German Studies and History at Ruhr Universität Bochum (B.A.) and at Humboldt Universität Berlin (M.A.). He completed his doctorate at the Doctoral Programme in Humanities at Universität Hamburg. Until 2019 he was an associate member of the PhD-Net 'The Knowledge of Literature' at Humboldt Universität Berlin. From 2019 to 2020, he was a research assistant at the professorship of Prof Dr Cornelia Zumbusch at Universität Hamburg. In 2022, he completed his doctorate on the topic 'Inmitten der Extreme. Ästhetik und Politik bei Walter Benjamin and Salomo Friedlaender", published by Brill/Fink in 2023. Until the end of 2023, he researched in the DFG project "Literarische Chronistik. Elemente einer Schreibweise der deutschsprachigen Literatur des 20. Jahrhunderts" under the direction of Prof Dr Daniel Weidner (Universität Halle). In 2024, he was appointed Junior Professor (W1) of Literature and Theory at Leuphana.