Small Forms. Aesthetics – Media – Modernity

Transatlantic Interdisciplinary Research Colloquium

09/09 – 11/09/2022

Small Forms. Aesthetics – Media – Modernity

Cornell University

A cooperation between the Institute for German Cultural Studies (Cornell University) and the Research Training Group „Literary and Epistemic History of Small Forms“ (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)


The contemporary boom of small textual forms and genres is a media phenomenon. In the age of digital technology, short messages, hashtags, and posts are ubiquitous and dominate everyday communication. Yet similar interactions between media and forms also occur in earlier periods. Since the early modern era, for example, the press has expanded its domain through the distribution of pamphlets, newspapers, and magazines, responding to the pressures of increased media competition through the use of forms including letters, dispatches, notes, reports, critiques, faits divers, anecdotes, feuilletons, caricatures, and cartoons. In their brevity and ephemerality, such texts index not only practices of media consumption and production, but also temporal relationships. Their formal compactness in particular contributes to the impression that their contents are new and worthy of attention. Whether appearing as pointed observations, quick sketches, ironic comments, parts of a series, or elements of a montage, small forms participate in the emergence of a modern consciousness framed by a sense of the current and the contemporary.

Through a series of case studies, the Transatlantic Research Colloquium will explore how small forms have structured understandings of the contemporary since the 17th century by presenting themselves as up to date, fashionable, avant-garde, anachronistic, or timeless.

The sessions will foreground three aspects, beginning with the aesthetics of small forms. What styles and modes of writing do writers and editors deploy to reflect experiences of temporality and to enable critique of the present? How and when do aesthetic choices align forms with—or distance them from—new social, artistic, or technological developments? A second focus will be on media ecology. How do small forms come to be “in-formation,” and how are they themselves “informed” and formatted through the materiality, periodicity, or mobility of their dissemination? How can attention to textual form chart new paths through media history? Finally, we are interested in the specific disruptions that avant-garde artists sought to achieve through the radical deconstruction of form in their prose and poetry.




Friday, September 9

Timelessness, Timeliness, Truth

Cornell University | A. D. White House | 27 E Avenue | Ithaca, NY 14853


9:30 – 9:45 Welcome and introductions

9:45 – 11:15  Reading Seminar 1: Small Forms and the Factography of Modernity
Ethel Matala de Mazza (Humboldt-Universität Berlin, moderator)


11:30 – 12:30   Research Report 1: Patrizia McBride (Cornell University)
The Truth of Fake Forms: the Feuilleton and the Lure of Ornamental Writing


1:30 – 3:00      PhD Student Presentation Group 1: Media Platforms, News, Updates

Stephan Brändle (Humboldt-Universität Berlin)
At the Litfaßsäule: Telegraphic News and the Advertising Column During the Franco-Prussian War

Ron Sadan (Princeton University)
The Topicality of “Bildnachricht” in the German Daily Tempo (1928–1933)


3:15 – 4:45     PhD Student Presentation Group 2: Snapshots, Miniatures, Truth Effects

Dennis Wegner (Cornell University)
Vladimir Nabokov’s A Guide to Berlin (1925) as Metropolitan Miniature

Christian Struck (Harvard University)
BeReal. Selfies That Don’t Lie


5:00 – 6:00     Keynote 1: Devin Fore (Princeton University)
Factography: Narrative Forms and Mass Technics of the Document




Saturday, September 10

Media Ecologies and Embedded Forms

Cornell University | A. D. White House | 27 E Avenue | Ithaca, NY 14853


9:30 – 10:30 Research Report 2: Madeline Zehnder (Humboldt-Universität Berlin)
The Excerpt, The Gift Book, and Washington Irving’s Poetics of Portability


10:45 – 12:15 PhD Student Presentation Group 3: The Politics and Ambiguity of Small

Thomas Howard (University of Washington, St. Louis)
Aphorismus and Nineteenth-Century American Literature: Reading “Double-Consciousness” Aphoristically

Nora Siena (Cornell University)
Inoperative Brevitas: The Contamination of Literary and Philosophical Short Forms in Giorgio Agamben’s Work


1:15 – 2:15     Research Report 3: Paul Fleming (Cornell University)
Reading for the Anecdote: On the Persistence of Small Forms in Big Ones


2:30 – 3:30     Research Report 4: Matthew Miller (Colgate University)
Splinters of the Real: Uwe Johnson’s Jahrestage in the 21st Century

3:30 – 4.30      Research Report 5: Peter Gilgen (Cornell University)
The Shape of Time: Oswald Egger’s Small Forms


5:00 – 6:00     Keynote 2: Bruno Bosteels (Columbia University, New York)
Formas breves: Jorge Luis Borges and Ricardo Piglia




Sunday, September 11

Small Forms and the Avant-Garde

Cornell University | Physical Sciences Building | PSB Conference Room | 245 Feeney Way, Ithaca, NY 14853


10:00 – 11:30 Reading Seminar 2: Montage, Cut-Up, Self-Imposed Constraints.
Small Forms as Minor and Minimalist Forms
John Hamilton (Harvard University, moderator)


11:45 – 12:30 Research Report 6: Franziska Schweiger (Hamilton College)
A Minor Revolution: Hannah Höch’s Handarbeitskleinigkeiten

12:30 – 1:15   PhD Student Presentation Group 4: Small Forms and Art Brut

Chiara Sartor (Humboldt-Universität Berlin)
Jean Dubuffet’s Jargon Texts, Art Brut Writings, and the ‘Raw’ Artist’s Book


 Farewell and Lunch



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