Windows: Their Literary, Cultural, Artistic and Psychological Significance in the German-Speaking Territories from the Middle Ages to the Present
An interdisciplinary conference at the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies, University of London, 4th – 5th July 2013
‘und aus dem Fenster eines kleines Kabinetts übersieht er mit einem Blick das ganze Panorama’ (E. T. A. Hoffmann, “Des Vetters Eckfenster”)
Windows: those thinner patches in the external skins of buildings that function as a barrier or channel between the individual and the outside world, shielding us from noise, the environment, weather, potential threat and intrusion; allowing entry to light, images, sounds, sun. They structure the façades of buildings, thereby helping to construct their identity, to locate them in time and space and, in the process, to construct our everyday environment, signalling to us when we are elsewhere. Windows frame our view and reception of the outside world and its inhabitants if we look out; of interiors and their inhabitants if we look in; we, in our turn, are framed by them as we move through space. They reflect us and our surroundings back at us, locating us in two dimensions at once; far from static, they allow us to see landscapes and cityscapes move by through windows of trains, cars, planes, marking our location on a journey. Shop windows display and entice, advertising cultural values and concerns; indeed, memory itself has been compared by Proust to a shop window. Window furniture – curtains, blinds – also influences our view of the world, revealing and obscuring, denying or granting fuller vision. Windows signal new departures (Bauhaus); they have even changed European history (Prager Fenstersturz (1618)).
Windows also allow us ingress into the symbolic: the Virgin Mary is the translucent pane of glass through which the Light, Christ, entered this world; the jewelled colours of mediaeval stained glass recall the heavenly Jerusalem. They also allow us ingress into ourselves: in the Bible, eyes are described as windows to the heart (Mark 7:20-23); for the Classical and Middle Ages they were the windows to the soul (an idea that has resurfaced in recent medical research: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-436932/Scientists-discover-eyes-really-window-soul.html). In film, literature and art, windows function to introduce, structure and direct narrative: setting the scene (Adolph Menzel: View from a Window in the Marienstrasse); introducing characters Das Nibelungenlied; Adolph Menzel: The Artist’s Bedroom in the Ritterstrasse); furthering the plot; allowing alternative viewpoints onto the narrative world or onto alternative worlds within the narrative (Iwein; “Des Vetters Eckfenster”); condensing the narrative (Carl Spitzweg, The Intercepted Love Letter) or hinting at events undepicted; signalling containment, threat or liberation (Wolfram’s Tagelieder; Caspar David Friedrich, Frau am Fenster); anchoring the reader / viewer in this world or opening a passage into the next. The Avant-Garde introduced the window as a metaphor of mediality (cf. Gerhard Rühm, Oswald Wiener “fenster” (1958)). In music the Hollies exhorted us to “Look Through Any Window” (1966); myths provide windows into the past that simultaneously illuminate the present, providing models for its understanding; mystical writing opens windows onto the divine; whilst psychoanalysis opens windows into the individual or collective psyche. Museums, libraries, archives, literature itself are windows onto culture and society past and present; books have been described as “windows on the world” (Schopenhauer); computer interface systems claim similar opportunities and insights . . .
However, for all their resonance, the literary, cultural, artistic and psychological significance of windows has yet to be investigated in any systematic way. Thus the organizers invite the submission of abstracts of c. 300 words on any aspect of “Windows” in the literature, art, thought, science, technology, architecture, film, politics, history and music of the German-speaking territories from the Middle Ages to the present.
Date of submission: Monday 7th January 2013
Anne Simon [log in to unmask]
Heide Kunzelmann [log in to unmask]
The German Studies Call for Papers List
Editor: Stefani Engelstein
Assistant Editor: Olaf Schmidt
Sponsored by the University of Missouri
Info available at: http://grs.missouri.edu/resources/gerlistserv.html