Stephan Besser is Assistant professor of Modern Dutch Literature and Literary Studies. Together with Patricia Pisters he is the coordinator of the research group Neuroaesthetics and Neurocultures at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA). He also is the coordinator of the research group Poetics of Knowledge at the Netherlands Research School for Literary Studies (together with Marieke Winkler).
Stephan's current research project The Promise of Patterns focuses on the fascination with patterns in contemporary culture, arts and science. It explores the current emergence of a new discourse of 'patterns' at the intersection of major technological and cultural developments such as digitization, cognitivism and a sense of information overload and hypercomplexity. Parts of the results of the project will be appear in his book-length study entitled 'The Promise of Patterns: On the Poetics of Regularity in 21st Century Human Sciences'. His recent articles on this topic include 'How Patterns Meet: Tracing the Isomorphic Imagination in Contemporary Neurocuture' (Configurations 25:4, 2017).
Stephan's other fields of interest are literature and neuroculture, cognitive literary studies, discourse analysis and the study of contemporary Dutch literary from a comparative and contextualizing angle. Recent work from this perspective includes his article 'Kafka on the Gulf: Male Identity, Space, and Globalization in Dave Eggers's A Hologram for the King and Arnon Grunberg's The Man without Illness' (Comparative Literature 69:1, 2017; with Yra van Dijk). A previous line of research was focused on the cultural history of German colonialism and the representation of the tropics as a space of disease and madness in German colonial culture. Pointing to Stephan's continuing interest in interdisciplinary research and the relation of literature, culture and science, this project resulted in the monograph Pathographie der Tropen: Literatur, Medizin und Kolonialismus um 1900 (2013) and a series of articles in the fields of (post)colonial studies, memory studies and the representation of illness.
Stephan has studied Modern German Literature, Media Studies and Modern History in Marburg, Amsterdam and Berlin. After having worked as a lecturer at the departments of Media Studies and Literary Studies at the UvA, he joined the department of Dutch Studies as an Assistant professor in 2011. He has served as the program director of the Netherlands Research School for Literary Studies (OSL) from 2013 to 2018. With his colleagues at the department of Dutch studies he has written the textbook Literatuur in de wereld. Handboek moderne letterkunde (Vantilt 2013).
How Patterns Meet: Tracing the Isomorphic Imagination in Contemporary Neuroculture
This essay argues that contemporary neuroculture is characterized by a disposition to detect and construct meaningful similarities between the brain and the extracerebral world on the basis of principles of analogy and morphological congruity. It analyzes several examples of this phenomenon, for which the term “the isomorphic imagination” is proposed. The essay focuses on the trope of “patterns” as a medium of such cross-mappings in William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition (2003), art historian Barbara M. Stafford’s study Echo Objects: The Cognitive Work of Images (2007), and recent work in the field of cultural neuroscience; it identifies discourses on affect and plasticity as two important conditions of possibility for the current isomorphic imagination. It is concluded that the study of the isomorphic imagination as a broad material-discursive dispositive can help to understand better the various ways in which the brain is currently related to its worldly and cultural contexts and vice versa. (Configurations 25:4, 2017)
Pathographie der Tropen. Literatur, Medizin und Kolonialismus um 1900
This study analyses the imagination of the tropics as a space of disease, madness and infection in German colonial culture around 1900. It introduces the notion of the dispositif of tropical medicine ( tropenmedizinisches Dispositiv) in order to describe the construction of disease entities such as Tropenkoller (tropical frenzy), tropical neurasthenia and tropical fever as the result of interdiscursive exchanges between medicine, psychiatry, literature and various other discourses. The case studies include detailed analyses of the poetics of Tropenfieber in works by Robert Koch and Thomas Mann, the semantics and materialities of tropical neurasthenia and vitalist constructions of the tropics in the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and in expressionist poetry. Special attention is given to the discursive nexus of malaria, race and immunity in German tropical hygiene at the beginning of the 20th century. Methodologically, the study combines David Arnold's notion of 'tropicality' with insights from postcolonial studies and recent approaches to the poetics of knowledge.
Diaspora and Memory: Figures of Displacement in Contemporary Literature, Arts and Politics
Experiences of migration and dwelling-in-displacement impinge upon the lives of an ever increasing number of people worldwide, with business class comfort but more often with unrelenting violence. In the last decades, the political and cultural realities of global migration have led to a growing interest in the different forms of diasporic existence and identities. The articles in this book do not focus on the 'external' boundaries of diaspora - what is diasporic and what is not? - but on one of its most important 'internal' boundaries, which is indicated by the second term in the title of this book: memory. It is not by chance that the 'right' to remember, the 'responsibility' to recall, are central issues of the debates in diasporic communities and their relation to their cultural and political surroundings. The relation of diaspora and memory contains important critical and maybe even subversive potentials. Memory can transcend the territorial logic of dispersal and return, and emerge as a competing source of diasporic identity. The articles in this volume explore how, shaped by the responsibilities of testimony as well as by the normalizing forces of amnesia and forgetting and political interests, memory is a performative, figurative process rather than a secure space of identity. Authors include: Carol Bardenstein, Andreas Huyssen, Marianne Hirsch, Silke Horstkotte, EstherPeeren, Soko Phay-Vakalis and Sylvie Rollet.