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Mellon Postdoctoral Fellows:

Current Fellows

Yoon H. Choi
A Kantian Theory of Self-Knowledge

Yoon H. Choi received her PhD from the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. Her dissertation, Kant's Theory of Self-Consciousness, traced the development of Kant's doctrine of inner sense and the emergence of the notion of apperception in the pre-Critical years. It culminated in a study of the relation between inner sense, apperception, and freedom (both spontaneity and autonomy) in the Critical period. Her doctoral research was supported by the Darwin Trust of Edinburgh and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). In her time at CHAT, she intends to explore whether the kind of self-consciousness Kant thinks we possess is robust enough to support self-knowledge, and if so, what kinds of self-knowledge we can lay claim to. We can know what we are (presently) thinking; perhaps we can know what we believe; but can we ever know what we intend or will or have intended or have willed? Yoon is also interested in the nature of memory; the relations between memory, consciousness, and selfhood; and the explanatory and justificatory roles of memory-claims.

Margareta Ingrid Christian
'Atmo-Sphaera': Biological Models of Habitation in German Art and Literature (1900-1929)

Margareta Ingrid Christian received her Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University with a dissertation titled "Horror Vacui: A Cultural History of Air around 1900." Her project at CHAT extends this research and shows, first, how in aesthetic, scientific, and occult evocations of air the media-theoretical notion of medium and the biological concept of milieu and Umwelt (environment) intersect. Second, it shows how this air-as-environment refers not only to a cosmic milieu but also to micro-milieus, namely, concrete realms of habitation such as rooms and houses. German art and literature in the first half of the 20th century relied on biological theories of "environment" to describe habitation. Biological models of habitation served, in turn, as templates for social forms of collectivity. The project centers on the interface of art history, literature, and the history of science. It traces a prehistory of disciplinary crossovers in the work of early twentieth century thinkers for whom air both constituted their object of study and determined their method of inquiry. Their work relies on the assumption of a common shared medium – one that enables crossovers between such heterogeneous domains as art and physics, literature and biology. Around 1900, this medium is conceived as an aerial environment that can mediate between the most disparate objects and that entwines notions of a concrete biological milieu, a social environment, and an interdisciplinary medium. The project explores not only why biological forms of habitation become prevalent in art-historical and literary texts; it asks what these texts reveal about the knowledge transfer between art, literature, and biology at the time.

Doreen Densky
The Poetics of Advocacy and Circumspection in Modern German Literature

Doreen Densky received her PhD from the Department of German and Romance Languages and Literatures at Johns Hopkins University in 2013. Supported by the ACLS/Mellon Foundation, the Max Kade Foundation, and the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, her dissertation examined the extent to which Fürsprache (advocacy) acts as a constitutive device in the writings of Franz Kafka. With roots in legal, sociopolitical, and religious spheres, Fürsprache is the triangulated scenario of speaking for someone (or a group) before someone (or an institution). The study shows how Fürsprache manifests itself in the narrative structure and topics of Kafka’s literature and how it, both as a subject and a category of analysis, serves as a mode of literary production and reception. As a fellow at CHAT, Doreen Densky will extend her inquiry into how rhetorical and narrative devices shape and are shaped by discourses and knowledge in two dimensions. First, she will further expose the nexus between legal–political and literary–aesthetic representation by surveying the range of strategies employed to stage narrative authority in relation to the Jewish question in modern German–Jewish writings. Second, she will trace the complex interplay between voice, visual perception, and knowledge in a project on the notion of circumspection in nineteenth-century prose. Doreen Densky contributed to the volume Kafka for the Twenty-First Century (Camden House, 2011), as well as taught and presented on topics in German and Austrian literature and culture from the nineteenth century to the present, law and literature, modern city narratives, and nature–culture relations in literature.

John Robbins
Negative Spaces: British Women Playwrights and the Staging of Absence, 1770-1830

John Robbins received his Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from Cornell University with a dissertation focusing on women playwrights of the Romantic period. His research at CHAT will extend this project: by examining mediums ranging from poems and closet plays to paintings and dramatic reviews, it argues that women playwrights of the Romantic period created "negative spaces" within their works, in which they conspicuously depicted the absence and removal of female characters from the stage. The project demonstrates that by generating these spaces (for example, by foregrounding the forcible silencing of a titular female character), these writers were able to draw into focus the marginalization, containment, and exclusion to which they were subject in ways that conventional representation failed to provide. His previous research has been supported by a Cornell University Provost’s Diversity Fellowship and travel grants to the British Library, the Cambridge University Library, and the Chawton House Library’s Women’s Writing in English 1600-1830 Collection, where he was a Visiting Research Fellow in 2013. A dedicated teacher, he has been awarded numerous commendations for pedagogy, has been recognized for peer mentorship of graduate students, and was named a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Cornell University’s Center for Teaching Excellence.

At CHAT he will also begin a secondary project on the relationship between scientific and theatrical discourses during the eighteenth century and the Romantic period, tentatively titled Acting Like a Scientist: How the Romantic Theater Created Modern Science. This project will argue that the notion of science as a public activity, as opposed to the purview of a narrow elite, which arose during the eighteenth century was deeply indebted to theatrical concepts such as performance, presentation, and wider public accessibility. At the same time, it hopes to demonstrate that the theater during this period also became more "scientific" in turn, adopting an emphasis on physiognomy and specialization, and becoming more codified as an empirical discourse in the process.

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