MLN 121.3 (2006) vi-vii
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This issue of Modern Language Notes is dedicated to the memory of Bianca Theisen. Bianca Theisen, Professor of German and Director of Film and Media Studies at Johns Hopkins University, died in November of 2004, at the age of forty-four. Her work is marked by two outstanding books which were each highly influential in their respective fields. Her book on Kleist, Bogen-Schluß. Kleists Formalisierung des Lesens (1996) was deeply rooted in the specific refinement and theoretical rigor of close reading available at the time of its appearance. More than merely applying, however, the subtleties of literary theory to Kleist's work, her book rather exhibited the inherent precision of the Kleistian text itself. It is for that achievement in particular that her book on Kleist still wields its impact on Kleist scholarship and the intellectual challenge of his work for understanding German Romanticism in general. The other book, which appeared in 2003, Silenced Facts. Media Montages in Contemporary Austrian Literature, is a magisterial study of contemporary Austrian literature, from Handke and Bernhard to Gerhard Roth. In this book, which takes its departure from the literary experiments of the Vienna group in the 1950s, Bianca Theisen had shifted her thematic focus and her theoretical references but not the intensity of reading or the clarity of argumentation. It is now literature as a specific form of media among and in conjunction with other media, mainly photography, that is at issue; and the critical vocabulary is deeply influenced by her intensive theoretical work on systems theory, and on Niklas Luhmann in particular. At the heart of this book is the notion of montage, which she takes up from the earlier debates in film theory and develops into a fundamental term of constructivist literary [End Page vi] theory. Montage, according to Bianca Theisen, is not restricted to film (or photography), but is a characteristic of all kinds of crossings and couplings of different media; and moreover, montage is an inherent quality of that which makes literary texts themselves into the primordial objects of media studies. Montages require and produce forms—forms that orginate in the selection and combination of possible events and in introducing distinctions.
In all of her writing—and not only her writing—a specific, sometimes rather hidden mode of elegance was the distinctive mark. Elegance I mean in the sense of the elegant solution of a mathematical problem or even an experimental set-up. As serious and as strict as she was about the correct rendering of an argument or exhibition of a reading, nothing was more characteristic than her sheer delight in finding the most elegant 'solution'—a dedication to beauty as much as to the theoretical rigor of understanding.
In this issue the reader will find the posthumous edition of papers by Bianca Theisen from 1996 to 2004, as well as papers which were read and discussed at a colloquium in October 2005 in memory of Bianca Theisen.
Bianca Theisen's papers as they are presented here form two groups: the first section—On Literary Form. From Kleist to Bernhard—presents selected conference papers Bianca Theisen gave mainly during the late 1990s. Some of these papers are closer to the books or to her published articles (Dancing with Words, The Art of Erasing Art); others are ventures in other directions (The Drama in Rags, Simultaneity of the Media). In cases where a paper published here overlaps with work already available in print, I decided for publication either because the previously published version was in German whereas the conference paper is in English, or because the topic at issue underwent a specific rethinking and rewriting. The focal point of almost all of these papers is indeed the re-examination of semiotic theory in the structuralist and post-structuralist vein in terms of a Luhmannian theory of distinction. One may read all of these papers as an ongoing experiment and growing mastery of that re-examination which amounts to nothing less than a new hermeneutics. And also, at least in my view, these papers—written in the need...