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Name: Karin Vivien Punte

PhD: Comparative Literature

(Provisional) Thesis Title: Colonies as experimental spaces of modernity: Afterlives of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in German and English fictions


Thesis Description:

My study is a comprehensive investigation of responses to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in German and English language literary and cinematic fictions. These fictions extend a critique of modernity implicit in Conrad’s critique of colonialism, where colonies are the site of an ‚experimental modernity‘: for social interventions, politics of ethnicity, or new technologies. Through comparative Anglo-German literary and film analysis, my PhD intervenes in the ongoing debate about postcolonialism as “the retrospective re-phrasing of Modernity within the framework of ‘globalisation’” (Hall 1996). Involving “the imperial regulation of land, the discipline of the soul, and the creation of truth” (Turner 1990, 4), modernity is significant in colonial discourse as it separates colonizing and colonized cultures as “modern” and “pre-modern”. My thesis starts by mapping historical and theoretical context (e.g. Taiwo 2010, Mignolo 2012), followed by a rereading of Conrad’s novella as a critique of both colonialism and modernity. The third and largest part deals with case studies of post-1960s literary and cinematic sources responding to Conrad while also casting their postcolonial critique as a critique of modernity. In the chapter on Conrad I map four thematic strands which I will return to in my case studies. Those thematic strands outline the various aspects at the interaction between colonialism and modernity:

1. Uncanny (dis)continuties

Continuities and discontinuities of colonial control will be determined (globalisation, capitalism, neo-colonialism)

2. Challenges of change

Urbanisation, technology, environmental problems, colonies as experimental spaces (military, science, medicine)

3. Testing humanity in transcultural space

 Eugenics, social engineering, translating cultures, cross-cultural mobility

4. Postcolonial dystopias

 Bureaucracy, administration, political systems, Kafkaesque elements

Working on these four strands will reveal structural and symbolic similarities and differences between past and present forms of colonialist actions across cultures and regions and point out that the critique of (post)colonialism is a critique of modernity.


Supervisors and Institution: 

supervised by Professor Dirk Göttsche and Dr Joe Jackson at the University of Nottingham


Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

year 2014:

  • Regular participant in “Brown Bag” talks at the University of Vechta 
  • International Competence (DAAD)


Other Research Interests:

  • Travel Writing
  • Children Literature
  • Victorian Literature




University email address:

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Twitter: @PunteKarin

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