Program in Media and Modernity

Princeton University

December 3 // Doctoral Colloquium : Session II

M+M Program in Media and Modernity presents

Doctoral Colloquium Fall 2019 : Session II
Sebastian P. Klinger
Martín Cobas
Tue December 3, 2019 @6pm
Princeton University – School of Architecture – Room N107

Sebastian P. Klinger (Ph.D. Candidate, German)
“Better living through Chemistry: Modern Culture and the ‘Holy Hypnotic’ in Peter Altenberg”

With the invention of the EEG (electroencephalograph) in 1929, a chapter in sleep’s cultural significance came to an end. It had begun only 25 years earlier when the companies Bayer and Merck introduced the new sleeping pill Veronal. During these 25 years, sleep – typically experienced as an absence of experience – turned into a hot topic, as its nature remained elusive and it could only be described from the perspective of different disciplines simultaneously, while it assumed unprecedented social and economic importance. How did literature and science imagine, reflect and construct sleep between Veronal and the EEG? My interdisciplinary dissertation, entitled “Veronal Culture: Sleep Experiments in Literature, Science and Society, 1904-1929” explores this question with close readings in a rich corpus that includes authors such as Kafka, Altenberg, Schnitzler, Rilke and Proust, scientists such as Freud, Constantin von Economo and W.R. Hess, as well as documents from the corporate archives of Bayer. I argue that before the EEG, any knowledge on sleep was inextricably tied to language. Yet still, to make sense of modern cultures of sleep, literature, and science had to experiment with the language of sleep persistently and to transgress standing linguistic structures, grammar and literary forms. Building on existing scholarship in science studies, Veronal Culture, therefore, provides not only a pioneering analysis of sleep in some major German authors and an account of sleep under the conditions of modernity, but it also offers the first book-length study that brings the experimental and the experiential dimension of sleep into a dialogue.

“Better living through Chemistry: Modern Culture and the ‘Holy Hypnotic’ in Peter Altenberg” attempts to approach this question by accessing it via the backdoor. It sheds light on the conditions for the nascent success of Veronal by way of reading Peter Altenberg, a cultural icon of Fin de Siècle Vienna who has been described as a “drug addict and a fanatic proponent of a healthy lifestyle at the same time” (Barker). Altenberg, a self-described avant-gardist, championed both sleep and sleeping pills in a radically affirmative way early on: “I would like to count as the preacher of holy sleep, like Jesus Christ counts as a preacher in general matters […] and like Liebknecht and Tolstoy for other things!” Not only did Altenberg’s identify the praise of sleep as the hallmark of the “real poet”, but he would also extend this assessment to include the praise of sleeping pills, as his texts became increasingly infatuated with questions of health and hygienic-dietetic techniques of self-care. In which way did health and sleeping pills go together for Altenberg? How does his style, a unique blend of prose poetry, hygienic ruminations and self-help literature, expose his time’s discourses and practices? Which aporias of modern self-care does Altenberg throw into relief? In the talk at the M+M Doctoral colloquium, I will argue that this writer renders a new social type visible – the modern customer of health products. This social type is obsessed with a healthy lifestyle, embraces pharmaceutical innovations of all kinds, and strives for self-improvement. For Altenberg, the use of sleeping pills opens up both a symbolic-phantasmagorical restoration of the productive body and quintessential drug experience. Thus, this talk not only explores new avenues in a major but understudied figure in German literature, but it also addresses larger questions on sleep and sleeping pills in modern cultures of sleep.

Martín Cobas (Ph.D. Candidate, Architecture)
“Cabinet/Zoohaus: Dead Things (and Zoological Life) in the Casa De Vidro ”

Although often referred to as a paradigm of “modern transparency,” the Casa de Vidro (Glass House) designed by Italian-born Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992) in 1951 in the outskirts of the city of São Paulo is in fact several houses at once: the glass house (the pavilion), the vernacular house (with its patios and rooms in enfilade), the primitive hut (a studiolo of sorts), atop of a tea façenda overlooking the Mata Atlántica (Atlantic Rainforest) and the city. Furthermore, these houses hold Bo Bardi and Pietro M. Bardi’s collections: a miscellany of decorative arts and wondrous objects, baroque sculpture, ethnographica, and a puzzling zoological menagerie, real and fantastic: a tortoise, an inventory of cockroaches, a polochon (or bigger-than-life double-butt pig sculpted in papier mâché), a mechanical cow, a parade of animals exiting a zoo… In Bo Bardi’s work, animals, creatures and architecture are enigmatically entangled. But consider the animal: Why so many animals? Why so many creatures cannibalizing architecture?

This paper, part of my dissertation “Liminal Creatures/Liminal Topographies: Rhetoric of Excess in the New World,” discusses the Casa de Vidro as a Wunderkammer or “cabinet of curiosities.” It dwells in the liminal space that separates architecture and display, and presents historical evidence and original archival material to support this counter-narrative. I hypothesize that Bo Bardi’s work derives from a highly rhetorical handling of all things collected (and collectible) and investigate how the forces of collecting delineate a liminal topography of “multiple others” — humans and non-humans, often articulated in creaturely or cannibal form. Yet it is not only their rhetorical function that interests here but also their capacity to work as ontological markers of difference, variation and proliferation. Intimations of this kind, ranging from geological and botanical to zoological inventions, are at the basis of Bo Bardi’s treatment of the barocca, the apuizeiro (an Amazonian tree) and the polochon. I argue that they eloquently display the unsettling antinomies and thresholds that Bo Bardi’s topical “modernity” had to negotiate, crucially, in the aftermath of the “discovery” of the Brazilian Northeast (and its visual allure), and predating art critic Mario Pedrosa’s cursory proclamation that Brazil was “condemned to be modern.” Bo Bardi sought to mobilize the collections and expose its “multiple others” (creatures included) to a critical cultural agenda — whether in editorial (the journal Habitat), museographic (the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, MASP), theoretical (the thesis Contribuição Propedêutica ao Ensino da Teoria da Arquitetura), social (the Sesc Pompeia), or theatrical form (the Teatro Oficina).

In so doing, this paper will trace and critically address the affective liaisons between drawings-objects-spaces — circumnavigating the practice of collecting — that facilitate the transitions between the collector’s introspection, the house as a machinery of knowledge production and space of translation, and the outside, i.e. between the collection and the city, between drawing and its architectural afterlife. It is in these transitions, I would contend, that Bo Bardi finally met an “ecology of others” and Brazil the creaturely modern.


This entry was posted on November 18, 2019 in Fall2019, lecture, presentation.