Carsten Meiner

Carsten Meiner


I am professor of French literature and principal investigator of the research project French Literary history: cultures of topology. I graduated in 1997 from comparative literature at the University of Copenhagen and in 2002 I defended my PhD at the University of Paris VIII with professor Jacques Rancière as supervisor. I was appointed Professor of French literature and culture, Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies, University of Copenhagen in 2011. I have published works on different topoi in French literature and cultural history for instance Les Mutations de la clarté, Honoré de Champion, Paris, 2007, Le défi de la topologie littéraire, eds Carsten Meiner and Remo Ceserani, Revue Romane 42-2, Copenhagen, 2007, Le Carrosse littéraire et l’invention du hasard, « Les Littéraires », PUF, Paris, 2008, The Cultural Life of Catastrophes, eds. Carsten Meiner og Kristin Veel, De Gruyter Verlag, Berlin, 2012 and La Clarté à l’âge classique, «Actes du colloque international La Clarté à l’âge classique » eds. Carsten Meiner and Emmanuel Bury, Garnier Classiques, 2013. I will be visiting scholar at Columbia University and at Stanford University this fall. 

Current research

My research pertains to commonplaces, topoi in modern French literature. If topoi necessarily contain conventional, recognizable features that make them common it also seems that these very conventional frames are used by modern literature to less conventional ends. In fact literature often uses these conventional frames to show the cultural backside or reverse of what we take for granted. The book I am writing contains chapters on the literary topology of gastronomy, orphans, horse-carriages, gallantry, and revolutions, and emotional unclarity. The literary use of these quite different commonplaces have one trait in common: they are re-functionalized in literature. This goes for the use of the meal which is not related to French Haute Cuisine but rather to different kinds of gastronomical and cultural errors of preparation or behavior. The ride in the horse-carriage is ever-present in French literature but its use hereof is not to have the characters go from A to B but rather to make something unforeseen happen in between. The revolution is also a topos but in literature it is very often presented at a distance, out of focus and mediated by other personal and non-political filters. The same goes for gallantry which was for a long time codified as the essence of French social life. In literature gallantry is shown under its coercive, manipulative and fallacious aspects. The theoretical goal of the book is to modernize literary topology and show that topoi do formally come across as recognizable and conventional but that their governing semantic principle is contingency and arbitrariness.

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