The Broken Medium. An Austrian Modernist Theory of the Event

The project sought to uncover and analyze a unique model of aesthetic temporality, which arises, according to its guiding hypothesis, in and through a specifically Austrian modernist rethinking of dramatic, operatic, and narrative plot structures. The logic behind this hypothesis runs as follows: Since, in the Habsburg empire of the 19th century, the relationship between time and form was not conceived along primarily geschichtsphilosophical lines, Austrian artists of the early 20th century must have had other means at their disposal than their German counterparts for responding to the demise of the privileged geschichtsphilosophical genres. The conventions of the bourgeois drama, the Wagnerian opera, and the Bildungsroman thus received at their hands—so the claim—a radical reconceptualization that opened up their previously unified temporalities to an entirely different understanding of aesthetic formation or Bildung. This rethinking, which has a political valence as well as an aesthetic one, rests on an unfamiliar interpretation of the notion of a temporal turning point, defined here as the transformative event—the peripeteia, the revolution, the conversion—that bestows coherence on the trajectory of a subject, a community, or an artwork.

The project sought to bring the basic structure of this alternative model to light through interpretations of works by Hofmannsthal, Schoenberg, Berg, Musil, Broch, Rilke, and others. And it attempted to answer the questions thereby raised—how is it possible that a failed past-tense political paradigm like the double monarchy of the disintegrating Austro-Hungarian empire can morph into a springboard for so many pivotal innovations in the domain of aesthetic form? How does this self-consciously regressive return to a purely “Austrian idea” of social (in)coherence come to engender a new approach to the broader European conundrum of a postwar, trans-national future?—with a new theory of Austrian modernist time.

Program funding through the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) 2018–2019
Head researcher(s): Sarah Pourciau


Sarah Pourciau

  • A/logos: An Anomalous Episode in the History of Number, in: Modern Language Notes: German Issue 134 (2019), 616–642
  • God’s Broken Medium: On Genre and Geschichtsphilosophie in Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, in: The Opera Quarterly 33.2 (2017), 140–160


18 Oct 2019 · 10.00 am

Sarah Pourciau: The Face of the Waters. Wave Pictures from Grimm to Saussure

eikones / Universität Basel

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23 Sep 2019

Sarah Pourciau: Zauberspiegel. Zur Medialität der Bekehrung in der Geschichte der christlichen Ästhetik


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05 Feb 2019

Sarah Pourciau: Musil’s Portals

Duke University

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17 Oct 2018 · 6.00 pm

Sarah Pourciau: Die Mediatrix der Kunst. Zu den weiblichen Medien der ästhetischen Transfiguration (Beatrice bis Lulu)

Universität Basel, Deutsches Seminar, Nadelberg 4, 4051 Basel (CH)

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Seminar at the 42nd GSA Annual conference in Pittsburgh
27 Sep 2018 – 30 Sep 2018

Science of the Psyche

Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown, 600 Commonwealth Pl, Pittsburgh 15222 (USA)

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07 Sep 2018 · 2.00 pm

Sarah Pourciau: The Closed and the Open. A Tiny Mathematical History

Technische Universität Berlin

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