Living Houses. Literary ‘Biotectures’ of the 20th and 21st Centuries

As a constructed transition between “I” and World, the house has always attracted the attention of thinkers and writers. Its walls shield the residents from a potentially inimical external (Heidegger) and build a space of “protected intimacy” (Bachelard). At the same time the house is not only a dwelling to the human being, but really a “casing” (Benjamin). But what happens if the house does not only seem inhabited but also appears to be “living”? If the architectural boundary between internal and external, between the I and the world becomes alive? This PhD project tackles literary narrative texts of the 20th and 21stcenturies, where the house in a way develops a life of its own – for example by breathing or decomposing, changing its location, form or size, ejecting its residents or even elevating itself to the position of the narrator.

While research has primarily focused on works of the 19th century and analysed fictional depictions of houses and interior spaces mainly as an expression of an “I” or, respectively, as a projection surface for the protagonists’ mental conditions, this project veers instead in a different direction: In my reading of the selected corpus (i.a. Boris Vian’s L’Ecume des jours, Julio Cortázar’s “Casa tomada”, Ilse Aichinger’s “Wo ich wohne”, J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise und Brittani Sonnenberg’s Home Leave) the dominant position of an I that is able to animate things – in this case, houses –is challenged. The focus thus shifts from the animation of a given house (such as in ghost visitations in stories of haunted houses), to its invigoration or even aliveness. The working title “biotecture” takes into account this entanglement of the lively and the architecturally constructed.

The aim of this work is to identify and to contrast the narrative and rhetorical means which generate such invigoration in the respective works. The key issue is: How does the invigoration and the empowerment of the house affect its residents? In other words, how do these texts design the relation between I and the house, and thereby I and World? How do they blur the line between the lively and the lifeless?

ZfL Doctoral Fellowship 2017–2020
Associate Researcher(s): Lena Abraham


Lena Abraham, Kira Jürjens, Edith Anna Kunz, Elias Zimmermann (ed./eds.)

Fenster – Korridor – Treppe
Architektonische Wahrnehmungsdispositive in der Literatur und in den Künsten

Aisthesis Verlag, Bielefeld 2019, 220 pages
ISBN: 978-3-8498-1317-8


16 Nov 2018 · 11.00 am

Lena Abraham: Del andrógino al siamés. Mito, cuerpo y arquitectura en »Laura y Julio« (2006) de Juan José Millás

Universität Osnabrück

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27 Apr 2018 · 5.25 pm

Lena Abraham: Poetics of Pending in F. Hernández's »The Balcony«

University of Glasgow

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Media Response

17 Jun 2020
Fenster – Korridor – Treppen. Architektonische Wahrnehmungsdispositive in der Literatur und in den Künsten

Review by Ross Lipton, in: Monatshefte Vol. 112, 1 (2020), 150152

02 Jan 2020
Fenster – Korridor – Treppe. Architektonische Wahrnehmungsdispositive in der Literatur und in den Künsten

Review by Susanne Hauser, in: Zeitschrift für Germanistik, New series XXX (2020), 277–279