Smallpox, Interiority and the Emergence of the Modern European Autobiography
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My dissertation examines episodes of childhood smallpox illness in the autobiographies of Franz Xaver Bronner, Giacomo Casanova, Katharina II, Wilhelmine von Bayreuth, Goethe and Johanna Schopenhauer. Drawing from Habermas’ theory of the public sphere and Friedrich Kittler’s theory of Bildung as Sozialisationsspiel, my project examines the degree to which autobiographical accounts of childhood smallpox episodes initiate a “constructed” Bildungsgeschichte, one that disguises the process of socialization through a narrative of self-fulfillment (Kittler); conversely, my project also explores the degree to which such smallpox episodes present the author’s initiation into adulthood as a moment of growth that is independent of Bildung. As an inner bodily experience, smallpox equates a subjective inner transformation of the autobiographical subject; smallpox invokes interiority as a modern construction of the body (Butler) and expresses subjective experiences of the modern self, both within the autobiographical Bildungsgeschichte as a constructed narrative of socialization (traditionally associated with the Bildungsroman) and within the autobiographies that do not express a linear Bildungsgeschichte (such as the more episodic memoirs of Casanova and Wilhelmine von Bayreuth).