German Literature


Ulrike Steierwald is a Professor of German Literature at Leuphana University Lüneburg (Germany). She is head of the Institute of German Studies and Education and serves as Dean of Leuphana College. Her research and teaching focus on German literature and cultural history (18th-21th century), modernism/postmodernism, on the interface of cultural studies and education, on cultural memory, systems of knowledge and literary aesthetics.
After studying German Literature, Theatre and History, Professor Steierwald received her Dr.phil. degree from the University of Munich in 1992. After a postdoctoral fellowship in Library Science Research at University of Freiburg (dealing with Leibniz' theory of a universal library system) she was deputy chief librarian at the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek, Klassik Stiftung Weimar. Since 2004 she was a Professor of Library and Information Science at the Department of Media, Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences. Receiving an appointment as a Professor of German Literature, she joined Leuphana University in 2011. She is a member of the Institute of German Studies and Education as well as of the Institute of History and Literary Cultures.



Literary imaginings of the beginning

The beginning never begun, the abortive introduction of a text, are some of the nightmares which can plague an author. Were he to conform to the mythical tradition of reiteration of what has already been said, his self-image as originator and creator would be called into question. Seen from the aspect of production and reception aesthetics, any attempt to establish and retain a beginning as original thought always proves to be a retroactive, belated effort. After all, we have always started off with the text. This book presents literary imaginings from 18th to 21st century, which reveal the beginning as an interminable movement of thought particular to modernism.
New Publication  


The coincidence of the discourse of medicine and aesthetics has been a specific interplay since the enlightenment which is characterized by diagnostics, observation and determination.  Psychological diagnostics and classification are unthinkable without social agreement and fixation of pathological indicators. The specific criteria for the classification of illness depend on the thinking of origin, sexuality, inheritance and evolution which determine the physiological and psychological standards and disorders particularly represented in the aesthetics of body and soul. These iconic and linguistic representations of disorder are strikingly relevant in contemporary literature as well as in the arts. Based on Illness as metaphor by Susan Sontag I try to figure out an alternative reading of illness as text.  It’s about the materiality of the human body and the stories it tells.  My project outlines the contradictions encountered when literally configurations of bodies elude the determinations of diagnosis and interpretation. (Ulrike Steierwald)


My research focuses on literary, cinematic and theatrical perspectives on experiences of a European sense of home as a grotesque figure. It describes the tension between the place-based identity and the Grotto experience of foreignness in the literal sense of the term. The literary form of the grotesque was described in the 20th century classics by Wolfgang Kayser and Michail Bachtin, which had a significant influence on later studies. These works have in large part overshadowed the specific understanding of space as a heuristic device in the aesthetics of the grotesque – an approach uncovered by Renaissance conceptions of foreignness. The project analyses artistic examples that focus on confrontations between culture-based identity and the European identity. In these, the reflex of identifying with a specific space is taken to the extreme of grotesque border-crossings. (Ulrike Steierwald)

Formation of Selfhood in Education
Current Positions of Aesthetics between Presence and Performativity

In Germany there is still a gap between humanities and education science. In this country education owes a great deal to profoundly hermeneutic traditions. The German idealism of the 18th century, and the aesthetics inextricably intertwined with it, have been constitutive elements of all educational discourse. Even today the subject-centred interplay of human perception, reflection and action are typical features of the German model of educational theory. These historical concepts of learning and knowledge still predominate in the education systems of the 21st century. They also determine the forms of aesthetic instruction available in institutions/schools which offer education in the fields of drama, art and music.

By contrast, international modern and postmodern cultures derive their productivity from the aporia and paradigm shifts of individuation. For decades now the arts, literature, theatre and film have been scrutinised by the cultural sciences and the humanities to determine the extent of their function as innately open scenarios for awareness-raising activities, and as constructions of an individual sense of self between presence and performativity. These scenarios lead to other, performative methods of approach, which either deconstruct or recontextualise subject-centred concepts.

My project will outline the contradictions encountered when different historical and cultural-specific educational concepts clash, taking as examples current theatrical projects which fall into the category of the performativeturn. Among these examples are Sarah Kane's "Cleansed“ and Robert Wilson's physical theatre productions with children and his collaboration with Christopher Knowles. Also protagonists of contemporary visual arts, for example Ron Mueck and Berlinde De Bruyckere, create tension-filled performative dialogues between the materiality of the human body and the stories it tells. And finally, cultural constructions of human being are evident in the configurations of bodies shown in contemporary photography and video art (Rineke Dijkstra, Sharon Hayes, Martin Brand, to name but a few). The objective is to move away from "processing" literature, drama, art and films "for" educational institutes, and instead to open up schools as theatrical spaces in their own right. In terms of cultural theory, both teaching and learning can then become both describable and visible as performances. This approach is the only way they can be established as open spaces dedicated to aesthetics. (Ulrike Steierwald)