The research undertaken at the Department of Scandinavian Studies in the School of English focuses on the questions of literary theory and aesthetics, medieval poetics, and cultural and literary transfer in the Middle Ages. This research is carries out both in indivdual projects and in interdisciplinary research groups within the framework of doctoral associations.
Jun.-Prof. Dr. Rebecca Merkelbach
► ‘The Other Sagas: A New Reading of the “Post-Classical” Sagas of Icelanders’
This DFG-funden project finally gave full attention to a group of texts comprising more than a third of the Íslendingasögur genre, and reassessed the notion of the 'post-classical' sagas lack social interest. These sagas have often been characterised as lacking interest in the social concerns prominent in more 'classical' narratives. Instead, they have been argued to depict a dichotomy between an exaggerated hero figure and episodically appearing paranormal opponents. Recent studies have begun to read them alongside 'classical sagas', showing that it is only an inclusive approach that allows us to comprehend this genre as a whole. But these preconceptions had not been addressed, and the 'post-classical' corpus as a whole had not been considered, so that an inclusive reading of all 'post-classical' sagas was the project's starting point.
Rather than assuming a dichotomy of hero vs. paranormal, a triangular relationship between the individual, the paranormal, and the social was argued to underlie saga composition. Each of these aspects was considered in turn, as well as those cases in which the boundaries between them collapse. A new approach to the sagas' presumed fictionality and escapism, based on possible worlds theory (PWT), was also formulated. Narratological theories were thus applied together with sociological and psychological approaches to social interaction, trauma, and belonging, to gain a fuller picture of the narrative structure, character construction, encounters with the paranormal, social engagement, and worldbuilding reflected in these sagas. This inclusive methodology enables a reading of these texts as integrated in their socio-cultural background and as a reflection of the real-world concerns that were incorporated into their storyworlds.
This thorough reassessment of the narratives, the interactions between characters and their social context contributes to a fuller understanding of the Íslendingasögur as a whole. It has also opened up new areas of investigation, most notably readings informed by PWT, in Old Norse-Icelandic studies. Finally, it was shown that the 'post-classical' sagas need to be considered in their late medieval context, in which they are not a deviation from the norm but part of a larger engagement with socio-cultural developments also reflected in other genres.
Prof. Dr. (em) Stefanie Gropper:
► Project MoMod (Modes of Modification)
in collaboration with Karl-Gunnar A. Johansson (Oslo), Anna Horn (Oslo), Jonatan Petterson (Stockholm), Massimiliano Bampi (Venice) und Elise Kleivane (Oslo).
The sub-project "Texts in the Insular Distance. Narrative Concepts in Medieval Icelandic Literature" researches according to which selection and evaluation criteria the anonymously transmitted Íslendingasögur were given a place in the literary system of the Icelandic Middle Ages and how these criteria changed over the course of the transmission history of the texts.
► SFB 1391 Andere Ästhetik: Sub-project "Narrative (Selbst-) Reflexion in den Isländersagas"
► The Íslendingasögur as Prosimetrum (ISAP)
Dr. Anna-Katharina Heiniger
Dr. Anna Katharina Heiniger is a research associate (PostDoc) in the SFB 1391 Other Aesthetics and is jointly responsibly for the sub-project "Narrative (self-)Reflection in the Icelandic Sagas", which is headed by Prof. Dr. (em) Stefanie Gropper (https://uni-tuebingen.de/de/160780). The sub-project's research questions to what extent the seemingly casual narratorial comments in the Icelandic sagas allow for conclusions to be drawn about the aesthetic demands on these texts or their literary self-understanding.
Most of the time, the narrator of the Icelandic sagas stays in the background and adopts and unobtrusively neutral, objective stance without letting his own feelings or opinions interfere. Again and again, however, he comments on what is happening by referring to the opinions of others or the general public, referring to earlier passages in the story, or by indicating that a certain period of time has passed. One therefore frequently encounters phrases such as "sem fyrr var sagt/ritat" ('as was previously told/written'), "nú er frá því sagt" ('now it is told'), "þat segja sumir menn" ('this is what some people say'), "Þess er getit eitt sumar" ('it is said that one summer...'). In these comments, the narrator briefly withdraws from his otherwise superior attitude and relinquishes some of the responsibility for what is being narrated in favour of extra-narrative sources. While these are usually not identified and verified in more detail, they still seem to be assessed as reliable enough.
Sub-project B05 follows the hypothesis that these short breaks out of the narrator's usual attitude provide an opportunity to discover narrative and associated aesthetic strategies in the sagas, as well as to explore the literary self-image of the Icelandic sagas. In the course of the text analysis and discussion, there will be smooth transitions (among other things to discourses on the relationship between orality and literacy, questions about the genre and the dating of manuscripts, although the latter is not a core interest of the sub-project. It is primarly interested in narrative, semantic, generic, and ultimately also social and performative strategies and processes.
Juliane Witte, MA
► 'Þú er it mesta forað: The Role of Anger and Social Monstrosity in the Depiction of Women in Old Norse Literature'
Juliane Witte has been a doctoral candidate with the Department of Scandinavian Studies since October 2022. The thesis aims to investigate the role of female characters within Old Norse literature through the lenses of Emotion Studies and Social Monstrosity. While the frameowrk of this thesis emerges from comparative analysis, it is rooted in these two approaches to tease out the tension at play within the representation of these female characters. Emotion Studies, specifically the analysis of the representation of female anger, will function as a gateway into questioning the overall representation of female characters, the assumptions placed upon them, and the varying narrative duties weighing upon their shoulders. Employing the theory of Social Monstrosity offers the research the chance to then discuss in which way the representation of female characters positions them as both monstrous outliers and representations of social tensions.
A strong element of this thesis is the comparative analysis of Old Norse literature with Old English and Middle High German literature. While the focus of this thesis strongly lies on Old Norse literature, the compariosn to other medieval literatures strenghtens our udnerstanding of its female characters and will also allow for a re-assessment of previously held beliefs which stemmed from previous studies into "Germanic" literature. As such, texts from the Íslendingasögur corpus are included, with representatives from the 'Classical', 'Post-Classical' and 'Contemporary' sagas. Similarly, the heroic lays of the Poetic Edda are discussed, as are elements of the fornaldarsögur. Old English texts to be included are Beowulf, Judith, and elene, while Middle High German is represented by Das Nibelungenlied and Die Klage.