Research Projects

jpg not foundMy research interests include 19th and 20th century German and Austrian opera, 19th and 20th century German fiction, Wagner studies, Jewish studies, performance studies, theater, and staging, video game studies, posthumanism, eco-musicology and eco-literature, and embodiment.

For an abstract of each project, please click the corresponding button below. When you're done reading one abstract, just click the large grey button again to return to this screen.

Walser's Militant Walkers in ''Der Spaziergang''

Accepted with revisions at German Quarterly

In Robert Walser's short story "Der Spaziergang", written in 1917, the narrator is obsessed with his own usefulness but doesn't do much of anything we could see as conventionally useful: he visits the tailor, has lunch, walks into the forest, sends off a provocative letter, muses about culture and technology. What does use mean in a text where nothing of any traditional use is done? In which, in fact, the only continuous activity is the walk itself? This paper reads the apparently aimless walking in Robert Walser's Der Spaziergang as an aggressive, militant act, analogous to the Swiss armies concurrently marching through the country. Written in Switzerland during the First World War, by an author actively serving in the Swiss military, Der Spaziergang is not only pervaded with the wartime allusions that one would expect, but also reimagines everyday activities that take up space as acts of belligerent aggression. First I trace out Walser's narrator as he anxiously performs his usefulness through walking. Then I show how this conception of usefulness is tied to the military activities in which Walser participated and to Swiss war strategy more generally. In particular, I cite Robert Walser's personal letters from periods of military service and Generalstabchef Oberst von Sprecher's postwar writings on the undeniable value of performing war-readiness and building defensive trenches throughout Switzerland. By maintaining a standing army that marched across the countryside, Sprecher and the military high command successfully occupied their own country and prevented the surrounding nations from attacking. The narrator of Der Spaziergang applies this aggressive, performative mentality to walking and talking, both of which he uses to occupy space and display his readiness to fight. Using de Certeau's comparison of the speech act to the walk act, I argue that the narrator speaks to take up page space in the same way he (and the Swiss military) walk to control physical space. I conclude that the anxiety about usefulness, evident in the narrator's demeanor and in postwar analyses of the Swiss military, is combatted by apparently useless space-taking gestures, which prove to be more useful than they initially appear.

Zombie Parsifal: Undead Wanderers and Postapocalyptic Stagings

Revised and resubmitted to Opera Quarterly

Nikolaus Lehnhoff's 2004 production of Wagner's Parsifal is set in a bleak, postapocalyptic landscape, populated by humans who play the roles of flora and fauna (flower maidens as actual flowers, Kundry as a bird or insect). Lehnhoff's posthumanist interpretation goes beyond depicting humans as innocuous nonhumans, however, when he treats the Grail Knights, Kundry, and Parsifal himself as a style of zombie - unhappy and undying wanderers. Mythologically evolved from the story of the wandering Jew, the undead wanderer in Parsifal is an encapsulation of the tension in Wagner between the spiritual and the political: the wanderer is at once a spiritual metaphor of purgatory and a political one of diaspora and homelessness. Contemporary productions of Wagner operas, like Lehnhoff's, utilize the current fascination with zombies to explore late-19th-century fears of religious and national homelessness as analogs to today's fears of apocalypse and globalization.

This paper close reads zombies in Parsifal and places them both within their 19th-century context and within current theories of posthumanism. I trace the idea of the undead wanderer from the wandering Jew to Rosi Braidotti's Nomadic Theory and Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust: a History of Walking. In broader theoretic terms, I build from Deleuze and Guattari's idea of musical movement as a continuous state of development to look for metaphorical "undying" musical movement in Parsifal itself, in relation to the Wagnerian concept of "unendliche Melodie."

Eco-guilt in Schätzing's Der Schwarm

In Development

This project is in development and will be submitted for peer review by March 2016.

In Frank Schätzing's Der Schwarm, a bestselling German eco-thriller from 2004, a series of escalating attacks from marine creatures is revealed to be the work of an ancient species of amoeba that scientists name the Yrr. In the depths of the world's oceans, the Yrr have evolved a collective intelligence that dwarfs anything humans have managed in their comparatively short time on the planet. Deducing that humans are destroying their ecosystem, the Yrr infest sea creatures (including whales, jellyfish, and crustaceans) and use their inert bodies to attack boats, communication lines, and, eventually, the seabed itself, causing a massive earthquake and calamitous tsunami in northern Europe. Eventually human scientists attempt to communicate with this alien species and belatedly atone for their environmental crimes before the Yrr, acting as avengers for the wronged mother earth, cause environmental apocalypse by stopping the gulf stream and releasing huge amounts of methane into the atmosphere. This paper explores connections between Schätzing's wildly successful novel and two cultural touchstones in the German context: Theodor Storm's 1882 novella Der Schimmelreiter and Wolfgang Petersen's 1991 film Das Boot. In Storm's text, the protagonist builds a scientifically perfect dyke, but neglects to pay proper homage to natural forces and is drowned in an enormous flood, thus warning against the disrespect of ancient natural power. In Das Boot, the brave German crew of a World War II submarine are forced to confront their complicity in an evil regime, just as the scientists in Der Schwarm must recognize their very species as tainted by human eco-crimes. Together, the three texts illuminate a contemporary German connection between powerful natural forces and political guilt (also supported by the foundation and evolution of the German Green Party), offering a message of humility and atonement.

Controlling Sound: Musical Torture from the Shoah to Guantanamo

The Appendix

This began as a Digital Humanities project (see Holocaust Geographies) and developed into a paper published online at The Appendix: "Controlling Sound: Musical Torture from the Shoah to Guantanamo,".

In this paper, I examine how music which ostensibly is used to torture political prisoners actually functions to galvanize their torturers. In her article "Music as weapon/Music as torture," Suzanne Cusick examines the use of music as a component of "no touch torture" in US interrogation of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, particularly attempting to differentiate the physical pain of of music played at high volumes from the psychological deformation and identity deconstruction music can provoke. Played for 20 hours in combination with a dark, cold, sleepless, and chained environment, the music was, she argues, a vital component in "breaking" prisoners' wills, but, overall, what mattered most was the function of the music as unending noise. Despite that, the songs chosen represent a culturally specific agenda, seemingly designed to enact the sort of identity deconstruction Cusick describes as possible. One can break down the 28 artists or songs which were played into four broad categories: angry/aggressive, culturally uncomfortable/ironic, nationalistic, and juvenile/sentimental. Considering that these lyrics might not carry weight for non-English speakers, and in line with Cusick's argument that "no touch torture" is a way for homophobic male soldiers to "get inside" detainees without risking their own masculinity, I question the extent to which these songs were chosen not to deconstruct prisoners but to encourage American soldiers. Next, I compare these songs and the motives behind them with the songs prisoners of German concentration camps were forced to sing. Again, the music seems to function largely as painful noise, but the chosen songs, which fall into the same four categories, seem intentionally picked to a) deconstruct prisoners' identities from the inside out and b) encourage soldiers.

Walking Simulators and the Gender of Wandering

Forthcoming book chapter in Nerds, Wonks, and Neo-cons

The paper is forthcoming in the 2015 Year's Work in Nerds, Wonks and Neocons from the Indiana University Press, edited by Benjamin Schreier and Jonathan P. Eburne. It began as a presentation at the 2015 MLA convention in Vancouver, as part of a panel called Literature and Digital Games, chaired by Patrick Jagoda.

This chapter examines a new kind of video game, the walking simulator, and how it stages a conflict between old "hardcore gamer" culture and a newer perception of gaming as fundamentally mainstream, artistic, and diverse. In walking simulators, gameplay is largely spent wandering around a surreal landscape, exploring and collecting items, and having an aesthetic experience without achieving goals or racking up points. These games, including critically acclaimed gems like Dear Esther, Gone Home, Proteus, and Ether One, shed light on what games are and can be—and what gamer culture currently is. This chapter will put walking sims in context—of literary scholarship, gamer trends, and historical concepts—and examine a few of the games themselves in detail. We begin with wandering texts and digressive literature, the literary forerunners of walking simulators. By foregrounding the discussion with this genre, we can observe how the rise of walking sims are part of a long tradition of gendered wandering, of coding certain kinds of exploration as manly and others as (unacceptably) feminine. This leads into an examination of the #GamerGate controversy as a dramatic reaction to the rise of the walking sim. During the debacle, walking sims are painted as particularly feminine. By comparing this rhetoric with historical conceptions of female walkers, we can see how a gendered value distinction between passivity and activity has been imported to walking sim reception. We'll look closely at several games and consider how the slur of feminization affects boredom, art, and the nerd culture surrounding gaming, the borders of which have grown increasingly porous. As nerdiness itself goes mainstream, games and gamer identity get pulled in that direction as well. This chapter explores the ramifications of that shift.

Please see Presentations button for more information.

The Path: Red Riding Hood and Wandering Video Games

Upcoming: MLA Convention, 2016

This project will be presented at the MLA Convention in January 2016 at a panel entitled ''Fairy-Tale Violence against Women: Contemporary Challenges of Representation and Adaptation,'' organized by Professor Cristina Bacchilega.

In The Path, an indie video game released in 2009 by studio Tale of Tales, the player controls six avatars of Little Red Riding Hood and directs them on their eponymous path to grandmother's house. The girls are aged 9-19, each named some version of "red" (Ruby, Scarlet, Rose), given a distinct personality, and instructed not to leave the path. But when the player obeys this rule and walks the girl straight to grandmother's house, the game's final screen chides the player ("Failure!") for having neglected to collect any of the magical items available in the woods. The only way to win, in fact, is to guide each girl away from the path and find her wolf somewhere in the forest. Each girl's wolf manifests differently; the 9-year-old gets a growling storybook wolf, the 19-year-old a predatory piano instructor. The game's mechanic requires the player to lead the girl directly to the wolf who eventually kills her (with sexual violence often implied), thus forcing the player into a villainous role and challenging her to rethink the metaphors and tensions inherent in the original fairy tale. The Path helped to instantiate a genre of "anti-games" in which gameplay is largely spent wandering around a surreal landscape, exploring and collecting items, and experiencing a story without achieving goals or racking up points as in a conventional game. Now derogatorily titled "Walking Simulators" by hardcore gamers, these games (including critically acclaimed gems like Dear Esther, Gone Home, Proteus, and Year Walk) have reinvigorated the definition of video gaming and are pushing against gender-based exclusion in the genre. This paper will read The Path as an argument for how wandering games apply fairy-tale logic to game landscapes and idioms, as well as offer a female space within a predominantly male art form.

Meyerbeer's Monarchs as Shaped by their Cities: The Protagonists of Ein Feldlager in Schlesien, Vielka, and L'Etoile du Nord

Upcoming: 19th Century Music Conference, 2016

This project has been submitted to the 19th Century Music Conference at Oxford (Summer 2016) as part of a panel on "Opera and Character"

Meyerbeer composed three versions of an opera between 1844 and 1854: Ein Feldlager in Schlesien (1844, Berlin), Vielka (1847, Vienna), and L'etoile du Nord (1854, Paris). Originally commissioned for the re-opening of Berlin's Royal Opera House, Meyerbeer's Singspiel was to be a nationalistic celebration of the Prussian House of Hohenzollern and feature its most famous member, Frederick the Great. Except he himself could not be depicted directly, due to stringent censorship laws prohibiting members of the royal house to appear onstage. Instead, he's heard playing a flute offstage, giving a mysterious aura of displaced authority to the folkish characters that are actually seen and heard. When Meyerbeer revised the work for performance in Vienna, Fredrick was renamed, demoted to a Duke, and given music to sing onstage, among other large shifts in the plotline, as Habsburg Vienna would not appreciate a work valorizing its Prussian enemies. Finally, the opera comique performed in Paris, L'etoile du Nord, follows a similar plot and set of themes, but the main character is now Russia's Peter the Great and not only is he shown onstage, he becomes the romantic lead. This paper compares the three incarnations of Feldlager, examining how the main character evolves depending on the political atmosphere of Prussia, Vienna, and Paris respectively. Meyerbeer, astutely sensitive to public taste and royal interests, crafted and re-crafted his opera to best fit the predilections of each city. Turning around a political reading of opera (in which the musical work has political consequences), this paper interrogates how these cities shaped the opera and its main character rather than vice versa.