Maximilian Stobbe has pursued master’s degrees in English studies at the Freie Universität Berlin as well as in media and communications at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He has received a scholarship from the German National Academic Foundation and worked as a student editor for the Shakespeare Jahrbuch. His research interests range from serial narration, postmodernity, and popular culture over intertextuality and adaptation studies to social media practices and affect theory. His media thesis investigated the affectivity of the immensely successful ‘reaction video’ genre on YouTube, principally focusing on reactions to prominent TV series like Game of Thrones. He has recently become fascinated by the ways in which affect and storytelling intertwine, especially regarding the affective potential of non-mimetic narrative practices.
Daniel Handler’s popular 13-part children’s book series A Series of Unfortunate Events (1999 – 2006 under the pen name Lemony Snicket) is heavily characterized by two central, recurring narrative strategies: playful intertextuality and highly self-aware seriality. The books – like many popular series – have frequently been accused of flat characterizations, cyclical plotting, repetitive narrative techniques, and an all too generous use of metafictional ‘gimmicks’. Frederic Jameson has charged such postmodern aesthetics with a lack of representational depth and a resulting ‘waning of affect’ (1991), suggesting that texts which merely mirror the ‘surfaces’ of other texts do not provide intense feelings or tonal warmth. This, however, contradicts the substantial – even rising – popularity of Snicket’s work. In addition to over 60 million sold copies and their ongoing, quite successful adaptation as a high-budget Netflix series, the books have sustained passionate communicative practices among diverse online audiences. Postmodern metafictionality apparently did not prevent strong affective ties between Snicket’s stories and their recipients.
Indeed, the enduring notion that ‘emotional realism’ – i.e. unbroken mimetic representations of the inner lives of coherent, fully-fledged characters – is needed to generate a considerable affective potential has recently been challenged by Rachel Greenwald Smith (2015). She terms it the ‘affective hypothesis’ and sees in it a propagation of neoliberal individualism, given its implication that only subjective identification processes with ‘authentic’ individuals in fiction promise personal, emotional enrichment. In her work on several contemporary American novels, Smith conversely illustrates ways in which postmodern distancing effects undermine neoliberal individualism by eliciting more collectively experienced, ‘impersonal’ feelings. However, she does not explicitly theorize the affective potential of intertextual play and popular seriality in this context, which is the contribution my research seeks to make. Among various dispersed branches of affect theory, Margaret Wetherell’s ‘affective practice’ approach (2012) is a highly suitable theoretical basis for this endeavor, due to its productive interfacing of the affective and the discursive. By drawing on Snicket’s books, the Netflix series and illustrative samples of online communication surrounding the two, this interdisciplinary project intends to establish Snicket’s self-aware intertextual and serial strategies as affective practices that help to undermine the insular subject at the center of the affective hypothesis. This will complement Smith’s overall goal, shed light on the unexplored affective dynamics of both Snicket’s texts and their Netflix adaptation, and more generally offer new insights into the affective dimensions of intertextuality and popular seriality.