I am Professor of Comparative Literature and German and Director of Research for Comparative Literature and Modern Languages at Queen Mary University of London. I am interested in the intersections between literary studies, philosophy and other humanities disciplines such as critical theory, anthropology and psychoanalysis, and my work is mostly concerned with the German and Anglophone traditions from the late eighteenth century through to the twentieth century. Alongside my strictly academic publications, I have written for outlets such as the TLS, The Conversation, The Monthly, and Texte zur Kunst, and I have done interview and consulting work for the ABC (Australia), the BBC, the British Museum and Deutschlandfunk.
My current book project, entitled Literature and the Science of Comparison in Nineteenth-Century Germany and Britain, explores the relations between academic literary studies and the natural sciences during the nineteenth century, with a particular focus on the ‘comparative method’ developed in disciplines such as biology, anthropology and philology during that century. You can read more about that project here.
I wrote my doctoral dissertation on Goethe and his ancient and modern philosophical contexts (see my first monograph Goethe’s Concept of the Daemonic, Camden House 2006). Between 2011 and 2013, I held an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Senior Research Fellowship at the University of Stuttgart and at the German Literary Archive in Marbach. During that period I wrote a book on the theory of myth and its relation to literary studies, anthropology, philosophy, religious studies and political theory (Myth and the Human Sciences: Hans Blumenberg’s Theory of Myth, Routledge, 2015; paperback, 2016) and also co-edited (with Felix Heidenreich) a critical edition of Hans Blumenberg’s text on political myth, Präfiguration (Suhrkamp, 2014; French edition: Seiul, 2016; Italian edition: Morcelliana, 2018). Due to my work on Blumenberg, I was elected to serve on the advisory board of the recently founded Hans Blumenberg Gesellschaft.
Other more diverse and interdisciplinary areas of my research include a project on the literary and philosophical prehistories of psychoanalysis (see my co-edited volume Thinking the Unconscious, Cambridge UP, 2010; paperback, 2012), and a sustained interest in German-Anglophone Cultural Transfers, which I have examined in my co-edited volumes on Anglo-German Mythologies (De Gruyter, 2010), and on the Oxford-based German philologist Friedrich Max Müller (Routledge, 2017), as well as in a series of publications on the German explorer of Australia Ludwig Leichhardt. My work on Leichhardt includes a commentary on his Australian diaries, commissioned by the Queensland Museum, along with a paper based on new archival research, which demonstrates Leichhardt’s direct literary influence on the novelist Patrick White.
I currently serve on the editorial boards of the book series Legenda Studies in Comparative Literature, the Bithell Series of Dissertations in German Studies published by the MHRA, and the Goethe-Lexicon of Philosophical Concepts. I was formerly co-editor of two journals which address my two main areas of research interest, and I remain on their editorial boards: the Publications of the English Goethe Society (covering German literature and culture from circa 1749-1832, including its later reception, co-edited from 2012-18), and History of the Human Sciences (which is concerned with the history of the humanities and of the psychological, sociological and anthropological sciences, broadly conceived, co-edited from 2013-18). I was also founding co-editor of Angermion, the Yearbook of the Centre for Anglo-German Cultural Relations at Queen Mary.
I have an interest in street photography and portraiture and my photos appear in Soe Tjen Marching’s collection of personal accounts of the 1965 genocide in Indonesia, The End of Silence (Amsterdam UP, 2017). I also occasionally write journalistic pieces on popular music.
I currently hold an honorary post in the School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics at Monash University, and I have previously held visiting teaching and research appointments at the Europa Universität Viadrina (Frankfurt an der Oder), the Universität Stuttgart, the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach, the University of Antwerp, the Descartes Centre at the University of Utrecht and the Zentrum für Literaturforschung in Berlin. From October 2021 until January 2022 I was a Senior Fellow at the Vossius Center for the History of Humanities and Sciences at the University of Amsterdam, and from March to July 2022 I was a visiting Professor at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Bielefeld, funded by the Alexander von Humboldt foundation.