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Newly Minted PhD: Japhet Johnstone

Submitted by Stephanie N. Welch on March 2, 2016 - 4:23pm
J Johnstone
Japhet Johnstone

Japhet Johnstone studied French and German at the University of Missouri, Columbia and Sciences Po, Paris before commencing his graduate work at the University of Washington, Seattle and the University of Münster. In autumn 2015, he completed his dissertation, “Stages of Inversion: Die verkehrte Welt in Nineteenth-Century German Literature,” which examines the literary and cultural history of inverted worlds  from Hegel’s dialectical inversions to the sexual inversions used to explain same-sex desire by, for example, Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Sigmund Freud. He currently holds the position of academic editor and translator at the Center for Literary and Cultural Research (ZfL) in Berlin. His co-edited volume Crimes of Passion: Representations of Sexual Pathology in the Early Twentieth Century was published with de Gruyter in 2015.

When I first started the MA/PhD program at the University of Washington in 2006, I really only had my deep conviction that the study of literature was a worthy life-long occupation. Other than that I could write my name and had read a few books myself—at least that is what it felt like at the time. The Germanics Department then provided me with a rigorous curriculum and invigorating colleagues who would help me develop as a writer, intellectual and teacher over the years. It was certainly a challenging path with few straight lines that has brought me to my current position as Wissenschaftsredakteur at the Center for Literary and Cultural Research, Berlin (ZfL).

The Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Berlin (ZfL) is a unique research center in the heart of Berlin. As an independent institution, the Center prides itself on its ability to foster innovation in literary and cultural studies while adhering to a tradition of scholarship with roots in the Akademie der Wissenschaften. My role as the academic editor for English is to help my colleagues bring their work to a wider, global audience. What I love most about my job is the diversity of topics I get to learn about in pursuing this goal. One day I’ll be helping someone translate a talk on the Sovietization of Russian romanticism and the next I’ll be editing an article on Reinhart Koselleck and Begriffsgeschichte in Scandinavia. Now with the new director, Eva Geulen, at the helm the Center is reconnecting with its original focus on the study of literature, while continuing to pursue interdisciplinary research projects and international collaborations.

The ZfL was only the last station in my course of doctoral study en route to completing my dissertation on Stages of Inversion: Die verkehrte Welt in Nineteenth-Century German Literature. Prior to arriving in Berlin I held a PhD fellowship granted by the Hans-Böckler-Foundation. The foundation supported my research and writing in Münster as a member of the doctoral college with the thematic title “Literaturtheorie als Theorie der Gesellschaft”. The connection to Münster grew out of the UW Germanics Department’s teaching exchange program that I participated in after completing my MA in 2008. The exchange led to developing a dual PhD program, which has helped me to integrate myself into both academic landscapes, in the US and Germany.

As for the content of my doctoral research, Stages of Inversion presents a literary ahistory of inverted subjectivity that runs parallel with, and at times contrary to, the historical consolidation of homosexual desire in the pathologized figure of the “invert.” Its argument builds on five different literary moments in the nineteenth century from Ludwig Tieck’s Die verkehrte Welt, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Prinzessin Brambilla, Georg Büchner’s Leonce und Lena, Gottfried Keller’s Kleider machen Leute, and Arthur Schnitzler’s Der grüne Kakadu. The literary and theatrical inversions in these works suggest a potential for queer identities avant la lettre that resists identitarian pressures and raises questions about the intersection of identification, theatricality, and the history of (homo)sexuality. Indeed, the irony of inversion runs throughout the nineteenth century, proving again and again how difficult it is to instrumentalize inversion, especially in the name of codifying identities. The project allowed me to combine my interests in the history of sexuality, intellectual history, and theatricality/performativity, all of which grew out of my coursework at the UW.

I would like to thank the Department for its support over the years and helping me hone my tools as a scholar. It was a great pleasure to return to the UW campus last fall for a final quarter of teaching and conversations with old friends and colleagues. I am particularly grateful to my committee for their dedication to my project and their willingness to collaborate across nine time zones. And, of course, I would like to give a very special thank you to the committee chair at the UW, Richard Block, whose shared interest in queer and inverted worlds contributed immensely to my work.


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