Tobias Boes University of Notre Dame

Tobias Boes


Links to electronic versions of some of the academic articles that I have published.

  • Writing the Anthropocene. the minnestoa review 82 (December 2014): 60-72.
  • This introduction to the focus section on “Writing the Anthropocene” examines the challenges that the entry of our species into a new geological epoch poses for the humanities in general and for literary and media theory in particular. It proposes the hypothesis that the Anthropocene can best be understood as a form of writing, a process by which humankind inscribes permanent messages into the geological, climatological, and biochemical records of our planet and is forced, in turn, to study those records for messages pertaining to its future. It discusses the relationship of the Anthropocene to the wider discourse of posthumanism and also touches upon the importance of speculative realism as well as genres like the science-fiction novel to help us conceptualize our new condition. A brief summary of each of the ten essays in the focus section follows.


  • Beyond Whole Earth: Planetary Mediation and the Anthropocene. Environmental Humanities 5 (November 2014): 155-70.
  • This article examines the hermeneutic and poetic operations by which we as human beings turn our very planet into a signifier for our collective existence as a species, a process which I refer to as “planetary mediation.” I identify the so-called Whole Earth images first generated by the Apollo Space missions as the characteristic form of planetary mediation during the late twentieth century, and argue that our current emergence into a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, calls for radically different representational strategies. Whole Earth images draw their strength from their iconographic and indexical qualities—in other words, their seeming ability to ground symbolic discourse in something that is undeniably and materially real. In the Anthropocene, however, physical nature itself has become a medium for the inscription of human messages, and effective planetary mediation can now take place only in virtual environments such as those of Google Earth and advanced climate modeling systems. I analyze the work of Soviet biologist Evgeni Shepelev as a starting point for this form of planetary mediation and discuss the multimedia installation The Place Where You Go to Listen by American composer John Luther Adams in order to show the challenges that contemporary environmental art will still have to overcome if it wants to illuminate our current planetary condition.
  • Aschenbach Crosses the Waters: Reading Death in Venice in America. Modernism/modernity 21.2 (April 2014): 429-45
  • Thomas Mann is an author whose international reputation rests to an unusual degree on English translations of his fiction, since for more than a decade his works were banned by the Nazis and difficult to obtain in their original language. And yet, Mann’s long-time translator Helen Tracy Lowe-Porter has traditionally been castigated as a mere amateur in the secondary literature. In this article, I show that many of her mistranslations and stylistic idiosyncrasies can instead be read as the result of a deliberate strategy to repackage Mann’s works for an American audience. Focusing on the example of Death in Venice, I show how the “American Mann” differs from the German original–and how Mann the author eventually came to appreciate and even adopt the mask that his translator had created for him.
  • The Vocations of the Novel: Distant Reading Occupational Change in Nineteenth-Century German Literature. In Distant Readings: Topologies of German Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century, eds. Matt Erlin and Lynne Tatlock (Rochester: Camden House, 2014).
  • This essay presents a computer-aided approach to a large corpus of nineteenth-century German novels, arguing that the quantitative evaluation of the depiction of professional life in these texts can shed new light on several questions that have long vexed traditional formalist and text-immanent literary historiography. I particularly focus on genre problems and present three case studies devoted to the Schulroman, the Künstlerroman, and the clerical novel.
  • Political Animals: Serengeti Shall Not Die and the Cultural Heritage of Mankind. German Studies Review 36.1 (February 2013): 41-59.
  • Bernhard Grzimek’s 1959 nature documentary Serengeti Shall Not Die has recently been the subject of intense scrutiny by environmental historians and film scholars, who have unmasked it as a projection of colonialist fantasies. Building on their work, this article draws attention to Grzimek’s description of the East African steppes as a “cultural heritage of all mankind” and examines the visual tropes deployed to support this claim. In this way, the film emerges as an early illustration of a new form of planetary conscious- ness that would find other examples in orbital photography and in the language of international treaties.
  • Germany. In The Cambridge Companion to European Modernism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
  • An introductory article on the development of German literary modernism in a European context aimed at advanced undergraduates and beginning graduate students in the field.
  • On the Nature of the Bildungsroman.  PMLA 124.2 (March 2009): 647-59.
  • Translation of Karl Morgenstern’s 1819 lecture Ãœber das Wesen des Bildungsromans, now generally accepted as the origin of this technical term in literary studies.  In the critical introduction that accompanies the translation, I situate Morgenstern in the intellectual context of his day and argue that his cosmopolitan biography necessitates a reevaluation of the putatively “national” form to which he gave the name.
  • Apprenticeship of the Novel: The Bildungsroman and the Invention of History , ca. 1770-1820.  Comparative Literature Studies 45.3 (2008): 269-88.
  • This article, winner of the 2007 A. Owen Aldridge Essay Prize of the American Comparative Literature Association and the 2009 Essay Prize of the Goethe Society of North America, traces the effects of a profound change in the popular understanding of “history” during the last third of the eighteenth century on the nascent genre of the novel.  Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship provides an especially resonant example of the transformation.
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the “Individuating Rhythm” of Modernity.  ELH 75.4 (Winter 2008): 767-85.
  • In this essay, I reexamine the relationship between Joyce’s novel and the Bildungsroman tradition and argue that the distinctive form of A Portrait is the result of Joyce’s attempts to adapt the genre to the demands of Irish modernity. Drawing in equal parts on the poetics of Mikhail Bakhtin and Henri Lefebvre’s sociological ‘rhythmanalysis,’ I show how Stephen Dedalus’s peculiar developmental trajectory, caught between progressive and regressive elements, mirrors the situation of his country, which was similarly entangled in a web of contradictory conceptions of historical development.
  • Beyond the Bildungsroman: Character Development and Communal Legitimation in the Early Fiction of Joseph Conrad.  Conradiana: A Journal of Joseph Conrad Studies 39.2 (Summer 2007): 113-34.
  • This article interprets the early fiction of Joseph Conrad – specifically the novels Lord Jim and The Nigger of the Narcissus – as attempts by the Polish-born author to forge a connection with the national community of his English adoptive home.  To do so, Conrad appropriates narrative techniques from the Bildungsroman tradition but puts them to a radically new purpose.  His protagonists end not as integrated members of society, as they would in a traditional novel of formation, but as outsiders and scapegoats, who through their very act of failure allow an otherwise fragmented community to come together.
  • Modernist Studies and the Bildungsroman: A Historical Survey of Critical Trends.  Literature Compass 3.2 (March 2006): 230-43.
  • The term Bildungsroman, or “novel of formation,” remains at once one of the most vexing, but also one of the most fruitful contributions that German letters have made to the international vocabulary of literary studies. This article presents a survey of critical trends in Bildungsroman studies, from the early twentieth century to the present, but with an emphasis on scholarship from the last decade. Special attention is paid to work done in modernist studies. The article is divided into three parts. The first presents a broad historical overview and explores the problems raised by diverging critical traditions in Germany and the English-speaking world. The second focuses on the rise of feminist and historicist modes of inquiry between 1980 and 1995. The final part explores some of the most recent contributions to the genre, with special emphasis on colonial and post-colonial studies.