Kata Gellen
Associate Professor of German Studies

My main areas of research are German modernism, German-Jewish literature, Weimar cinema, and Austrian literature. My book, Kafka and Noise: The Discovery of Cinematic Sound in Literary Modernism , appeared with Northwestern University Press in 2019. In this study, I employ film theory to account for noise in Kafka’s writings—the inscrutable voices and senseless sounds produced by humans, animals, the natural world, and new technology. Rather than read these noises as an attempt to capture the cacophony of modernity, I see them as fundamentally out of place in the literary medium that contains them. However they gain legibility when we analyze them with the tools and vocabulary developed to discuss the phenomenon of sound in cinema. This approach reveals how noise persistently pushes against the borders of the literary medium, which makes it a useful means for exploring the limits and possibilities of literary expression. The struggle with noise thus enables Kafka to broach major questions of modernist literary aesthetics, including temporality, voice, and the transcendence of fictional worlds.

My current book project is called Once and Future Galicia: Reframing Jewish Literary Modernism Through Eastern Europe. In this study, I argue that Galicia, the easternmost region of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, plays a central yet underexamined role in the literary works of Joseph Roth (1894-1939) and Soma Morgenstern (1890-1976). A place with great personal meaning and mythic potential for these writers, Galicia allowed them to explore a range of urgent questions about Jewishness, modernity, and tradition—in particular, the role of the East in imagining Jewish futures. The study thus aims to expand our understanding of German-Jewish modernism and to situate these writers in a broader literary history of German, Hebrew and Yiddish writing on Eastern Europe in the 20th century.

In addition to these book projects, I have published articles on writers including Thomas Bernhard, Robert Musil, Elias Canetti, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Günther Anders. I have also written on Weimar Cinema, in particular the films M , Der blaue Engel , and Nosferatu . I have an enduring passion for contemporary Austrian cinema, and hope one day to write about the films of Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl.

I enjoy teaching courses in English and German at all levels, from first-year seminars to lecture courses and graduate-level seminars. Recent courses I have taught include "The Image of America in German Culture" (upper-level undergraduate course in German), "Surveillance & Society" (first-year seminar in English), and "East/West/Zion: Jewish Literary Modernism" (graduate seminar). In fall 2021, I will be teaching "Germany Confronts Nazism and the Holocaust" (in English).

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