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Sophia Lohmann

PhD Candidate

Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin

Research Interests

  • History of knowledge and culture, aesthetics, gender and queer theory, postcolonialism, psychoanalysis
  • Theory of literature, literature of the 20th century, essayism, factographic writing, transcultural writing and translation, African American literature
  • Practices and poetics of resistance, embodiment and body politics, minor poetics
  • Film studies


8/2022 – 11/2022

Visiting PhD Scholar, Department of Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley

Since 10/2020

Doctoral Candidate, Graduate School of North American Studies, John F. Kennedy Institute, Freie Universität Berlin and Department of Cultural Theory and History, Humboldt University of Berlin (Chair of Cultural History and Theory of Aesthetics)

10/2016 – 9/2019

Master of Arts in Cultural History and Theory, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Thesis: Essayistic Transformations. Transcending Genre and Gender, the Fluid (Textual) Body and the Queer Ethics of Dialogue in Maggie Nelson‘s The Argonauts

 9/2017 – 1/2018

Postgraduate Visiting Student, MSc Comparative Literature and MSc Film Studies, University of Edinburgh

 10/2012 – 9/2016

Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature (Peter Szondi Institute) and Political Science (Otto Suhr Institute), Freie Universität Berlin

Thesis: Figurations of Transgression. Language, Gender and Insanity in Robert Musil‘s novel The Man Without Qualities

Scholarships and Awards

11/2020 Doctoral Scholarship, Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes

 3/2020 Doctoral Grant for three-year PhD program, Graduate School of North American Studies, John F. Kennedy Institute, Berlin

 10/2019 Humboldt Research Track Scholarship, Funded by the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin within the Excellence Initiative of the states and the federal government

Work experience

Since 5/2020

Head of editorial department, ROM – Gesellschaftsmagazin

 9/2020 – 12/2020

Project assistant, Anthropocene Curriculum, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin

 2017– 2020

Freelance writer and editor (i.e. ZEIT online, Epitext -Blog zum Internationalen Literaturpreis Haus der Kulturen der Welt, ROM – Gesellschaftsmagazin)

10/2015 – 9/2019

Student assistant, Peter Szondi-Institute of Comparative LiteratureFreie Universität Berlin, Chair of English and Comparative Literature

The Essay as cultural practice: Ethics of regarding/writing the other, gender knowledge, and political (text) bodies in the North American essay and its transatlantic theoretical entanglements (1966-1992) (dissertation project)

Dissertation in Literature

Mentoring team:
First supervisor: Prof. Ulla Haselstein
Second supervisor: Prof. Iris Daermann (Department of Cultural History and Theory, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Third supervisor: Prof. Florian Sedlmeier

The dissertation project examines essays by North American women writers in the second half of the 20th century as cultural practice and aesthetic and discursive intervention.

Essayistic forms of writing are commonly understood as undisciplined, democratic, antinormative, and, in this, genuinely critical. However, can a form be critical in and of itself? What role do the historically and culturally specific contexts of textual production and reception play? And who is acknowledged as author and public intellectual in the first place?

An analysis of the essay’s historical literary and social form(-ation) will show, on the one hand, that the idea and critical ideal of the essay has, since its beginnings, most often contradicted its actual materialization as a genre of an exclusive, white "maleness of reason." On the other hand, the outline of a corrective genealogy of the epistemic and social exclusions of the essay serves as a foundation for investigating its fractures, counter-movements, and alternative forms of essayistic thinking and writing.

Beginning in the 1960s, North American writers increasingly embraced the essay as a medium for criticizing social and cultural phenomena, for political intervention, and for developing distinct aesthetics of factual writing. Women and African American writers in particular used the essay as a medium of political self-authorization and literary renegotiation of cultural knowledge and female and minority subjectivity. Analyses of paradigmatic essays by Joan Didion, Audre Lorde, Susan Sontag, Alice Walker, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Toni Morrison can shed light on the variability of essay writing as a cultural practice and on the cultural work of individual essayists. The texts need to be understood and interpreted in their cultural, epistemic and socio-political context of the Cold War, youth and protest movements, desegregation debates and new forms of knowledge and publication.

Moreover, the project will conceptualize new kinds of essayistic poetics that mediate between the fields of literature, journalism, epistemology, and activism, draw on autoethnographic methods and practices of witnessing, and, finally, assign a crucial position to the corporeal.

Bodies read as female and racialized have long figured as the essay's constitutive other, but have emerged in the genre in the period under consideration in different ways: as a lens for and repository of social critique, as a phenomenological perspectivization, in pathographic investigations, as a matter of politics in quasi-pamphlets – or as a deliberate blank space.

An analysis of the various essayistic textual bodies allows for a re-examination of the traditional boundaries of the epistemic genre of the essay and presumptions about the relation between the (female) body, intellectual analysis and non-fiction aesthetics. Changing representations and the traces of and resistances to hegemonic epistemologies of the body as marked in social as well as gendered terms can be distilled from the texts. Furthermore, the texts lend themselves to exploring alternative conceptualizations and signatures in which the body operates as a locus and medium of knowledge, visibility, aesthetic experience and body politics.

Finally, the changes in the influence, role, and figure of female public intellectuals during the Cold War era will be highlighted using the essayists studied as examples. The distinctively American image of the female essayist as a cultural figuration emerges here in an area of tension between transnational crises, emancipation movements, canonization processes, and the social (im)mobility of structures of intellectual authority, speaking positions and literary discourses.

“Welt empfangen, Frieden verweigern. Dimensionen des Versammelns, Transformierens und Affizierens im Essay.“, in: Köthe, Sebastian; Lucci, Antonio; Absalon, Beate et al. (Hg.): Empfangen. Die andere Seite der Gabe. Berlin: De Gruyer, 2023 (im Erscheinen).

„Wider den Stand. Transformatorische Schreibweisen, Essays im Wandel(n) und der fluide Textkörper in Maggie Nelsons The Argonauts“ in: Iris Därmann / Andreas Gehrlach (Hg.): Widerstand und Ablehnung. Berlin: De Gruyter, Publikation geplant für 2023.

“The Phantasmatic and the Real. Navigating the Essay’s Critical Potential”, in: Delbecke, Jasper (Hg.): From the Scenic Essay to the Essay-Exhibition. Expanding the Essay Form in the Arts beyond Literature and Film. Gent: S:PAM – Studies in Performing Arts & Media, 2023.

Rankine, Claudia: Just Us. In: Arnold H.L. (eds) Kindlers Literatur Lexikon (KLL). Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-476-05728-0_23193-1

Conference presentations and talks

6/2023             Your silence will not protect you. Widerrede, Anrufung und Ethiken der Begegnung bei Audre Lorde“, Ringvorlesung Kulturwissenschaftliche Ästhetik, Humboldt-Universität Berlin.

8/2022             „Paradigmen, Ausschlüsse, Ermächtigungen. Die Schreibszene des Essays von Montaigne bis Didion“, Berkeley-Cologne-Yale-Summer School: Aesthetic Possibilities, Yale University.

4/2022             “Ways of Seeing and not Knowing. Gendered Exclusions and Embodied Positions in the Essay”, From the scenic essay to the essay-exhibition. International conference at the Research Centre S:PAM, Ghent University.

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft