Julian Henneberg

PhD Candidate

Imagining Embodiment: Mind-Body Relations in Contemporary North American Literature

Mind that bears only an accidental relation to the environment occupies a similar relation to the body. In making mind purely immaterial (isolated from the organ of doing and undergoing), the body ceases to be living and becomes a dead lump.
– John Dewey, Art as Experience

Though recent work in American studies has gone a long way toward adequately theorizing the body and bodily experience, a neighboring avenue of investigation has, remarkably, not been pursued. I am referring here to the question of the interactions between body and mind, or soma and psyche. While this might seem like too broad a topic to be brought to bear on the analysis of American culture, it is my contention that engagement with this question can actually yield rich and productive readings that enhance our understanding of the intellectual climate and cultural production of the United States.

Starting from the assumption that mind-body dualism represents a cultural dominant throughout the Western world, I posit that a whole range of phenomena transcend this binary conception, thereby creating both existential and theoretical problems. From psychobiological afflictions like depression and addiction to (trans)formative experiences like sexual desire and psychosomatic symptoms, such instances of embodiment challenge dualistic modes of thinking and sense-making. North American fiction writers have incorporated and responded to such challenges in intriguing ways, prompting the need for both a survey of theoretical perspectives onto embodiment and a sustained analysis of its cultural and literary functions.

Entitled "Imagining Embodiment," my dissertation investigates the representation of mind-body relations in contemporary American literature. As the title suggests, I want to view the multifaceted phenomenon of embodiment through the lens of the imaginary. The underlying assumption is that literary narratives are informed by the cultural imaginary at the same time that they feed back into it, thus assuming both mimetic and originative functions. With this in mind, fiction can be seen as a cultural technique with which to tackle, through narrativization and imaginative processing, the puzzling questions surrounding the mind-body nexus.

Theoretically, then, my project draws on three key concepts: embodiment, narrative, and the imaginary. One might add to this a fourth concern, namely that of producing an account of how the aforementioned theoretical triad is intimately connected to notions of identity or the self. For in the final analysis, this is to whom our imaginary investments with narratives of embodiment are addressed: to ourselves and our sense of who we are.

My provisional selection of primary texts includes works by William Gibson, Philip Roth, David Foster Wallace, Richard Powers and Siri Hustvedt. As intellectual traditions that have attempted to account for the embodied nature of experience and consciousness, pragmatism, psychoanalysis and phenomenology will provide a theoretical frame for my analysis, along with current studies of the embodied mind in evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy of mind.


Since 2012

Doctoral Candidate at the Graduate School of North American Studies (FU Berlin)


Magister Artium (M.A.) degree from Freie Universität Berlin


Student of North American Studies at John F. Kenedy Institute (FU Berlin)


Student of Comparative Literature (AVL) at Peter Szondi-Institut (FU Berlin)

Grants and Prizes


Deutscher Literaturfonds translation grant (renewed 2011) for the translation of Volume II of Peter Weiss's The Aesthetics of Resistance (forthcoming from Duke University Press)


Fulbright travel grant

FU Berlin and Duke University direct exchange grant


Willi Paul Adams Prize for best M.A. thesis of 2011 at John F. Kennedy Institute



"Plots Against History: Alternate Histories in American Literature". Talk given at the John F. Kennedy Institute's student colloquium series.


  • "Race Traitors oder Self-Made Men? (Selbst-)Konzeptionen gemischtrassiger Charaktere in Philip Roths The Human Stain und Richard Powers' The Time of Our Singing." Black, White & In-Between. Hrsg. Laura Bieger und Dietmar Meinel. Aachen: Shaker Verlag: 51-82



  • "'Something Extraordinary Hovering Just Outside Our Touch': The Technological Sublime in Don DeLillo's White Noise." appeers: emerging voices in american studies 4: 51-90.