Tobias Boes University of Notre Dame

Tobias Boes

current projects

Thomas Mann Time MagazineMost of the work that I have done since arriving at Notre Dame deals with the porous boundaries between national and global forms of identity.  More specifically, I am interested in what happens when the ideas, concepts and images that have traditionally been used to define a German way of life enter into global networks of intellectual exchange.

My first book took its starting point from the observation that the Bildungsroman, or “novel of formation” has long led a paradoxical life within literary studies, having been construed both as a peculiarly German genre and as a universal expression of modernity. Rather than try to resolve this paradox by siding with one camp over the other, I instead argued that both of these definitions are equally valid, and that the true appeal of the Bildungsroman lies in its ability to mediate between those discourses that take the nation as their ultimate frame of reference, and those that aim to describe the entire world.

My second book, tentatively called Down from the Magic Mountain: Thomas Mann, American Culture, and the Making of a Twentieth-Century Author will investigate the American reception of Germany’s greatest modern novelist during the 1930s and 1940s, and retrace the story of how Mann, who delighted in assuming the role of a personified German national self-consciousness, could became enshrined on the cover of Time magazine and be courted by liberal icons such as F. D. Roosevelt, Fiorello La Guardia, and Reinhold Niebuhr.  While recent scholarship, especially Hans Rudolf Vaget’s monumental study Thomas Mann, der Amerikaner, has done much to clarify what the United States meant to Thomas Mann, large questions still remain about what, precisely, Mann meant to the United States. I recently won a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities that will allow me to spend the calendar year 2015 in Germany working on this project.

A secondary research interest of mine focuses on the environmental humanities.  This interest grows directly out of my primary concerns, for as I argue, German identity in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is partially defined by a certain stance towards the environment and by an understanding of the world as a shared cultural heritage.  I explored the problematic genealogy of this understanding in a recent article on Germany’s great nature documentarian Bernhard Grzimek (1909-87). More recently, my colleague Kate Marshall and I have been collaborating on the “Writing the Anthropocene” project, which examines the repercussion of humanity’s entry into an age of geological agency through the lenses of literary and media theory. As a first step in this direction, we are co-editing a special issue of the minnesota review that will appear in the summer of 2014. I am also pursuing work on a short book that is tentatively titled Poetics of the Anthropocene. Excerpts from the book manuscript are forthcoming in the journals Environmental Humanities and NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction.