“Is that your sister or your husband?”: Literary Realism, Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology, and Döblin’s Two Girlfriends Commit Murder by Poison
It can happen that what we think we see and even how we think see the world are subject to error or distortion. What does it mean when literary realism, as a form of reflective representation, is also subject to such unhappy outcomes? If realist writing refers to ordinary perception of objects in the world, what kind of knowing is possible when things so carefully rendered appear … wrong? Even as writer, Alfred Döblin, was consumed by a worry about the flattening and simplifying effects of narrative and descriptive strategies in his 1924 novel Two Girlfriends Commit Murder by Poison, his prose itself suggests that such failures still transmit meaningful knowledge. Following Sara Ahmed’s theory of sexual orientation, this talk will show how Döblin’s realist writing in this mixed-genre novel can tell us about how the world not only mis-appears to us, but how such distortions underpin the modern bourgeois marital economy, parallax views of same-gender friendship and desire, and the hegemonic nature of compulsory heterosexuality. By explicitly departing from conventional readings of Döblin’s novel as criminological or literary case writing, this talk will show that the reality at stake issues not from the facticity of juridical, sexological, or psychological protocols, but rather from the ambiguity and error of literary depiction. The “reality” of lesbian desire thus appears both in and against regimes of heterosexual expectation and reproductive futurity.
Lauren Shizuko Stone is Assistant Professor of German at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research on German and Austrian prose depictions of marginal figures in quotidian culture is animated by an interest in how literature renders a range of philosophical problems through poetic language. She is finishing her first book, The Small Worlds of Childhood, on the philosophical-poetics of 19th-century childhood and beginning a project that examines portrayals of lesbian desire from the standpoint of philosophy of language, phenomenology, and feminist and queer theories.
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