New studies about couples

Review by Johanna Bossinade

Annegret Heitmann, Sigrid Nieberle, Barbara Schaff, Sabine Schülting (Hg.):

Bi-Textualität.Inszenierungen des Paares.

Ein Buch für Ina Schabert.

Berlin: Erich Schmidt 2001.

418 Seiten, ISBN 3–503–04991–6, € 39,80

It seems only appropriate that this work contain two rather than merely one preface. The editors discuss the issue of literary partnerships, using Bram Stoker’s Dracula as their first example. Here, the collective effort of Mina and Jonathan is to triumph over Dracula’s authentic vampirism. Next, Bußmann introduces the same book as an honourary gift to Ina Schabert, professor of English at Munich University, whose work English literary history from the perspective of gender studies draws on the motive of the co-authoring couple.

When taking into consideration the complexity of its topic, this collection of essays lacks a binding or even just a more closely defined theoretical perspective. More specialised works are needed here. One can be certain that such works are to follow, as the figure of the couple is emerging as a new field of study within literary studies[1]. Thus, the above collection cannot offer new insights, but partial insights, suggestions for further research, and questions. All in all, the broadening field of literary studies lets one more closely examine the hoped-for critical perspective gained from previous works. Does the image of the couple do justice to the demands for autonomy of the individual partners? How are potential compromised legitimised? Is there a change in aesthetics? How do different images relate to theories of psycho-sexuality which argue that the image of the couple is missing, as early childhood observations of difference continue on a level of description?[2]

Questions such as these may accompany the readings of these essays.


It remains to be seen whether the title word of the collection, bi-textuality, a newly coined phrase referring to bisexuality and intertextuality, is going to be used again in the future. The editors of this work use it to refer to authorship is voiced here which re-emerged in the 1990s[3] and has also been extended[4] to female authors with regards to questions of authorship.

Four chapters each address issues like correspondence, competition, open relationships and intratextuality. All in all, the work contains 26 individual contributions, several of which are written in English, and some of which contain pictures. The range of topics includes epic and lyrical works from Russian, French, English, American, and German literature. Furthermore, one essay addresses correspondence of antiquity, another one talks about minnesong, there is an essay on translation, two deal with film, others with same-sex relationships. The absence of the genre of drama may be coincidental, but could also be related to issues of genre and society. Scientific essays are accompanied by light reading, such as an essay on the reception of Hölderlin in film and literature, or a sketch on the marriage of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. A series of personal essays makes for the charme of this book, also making it a great present for colleagues and friends. For example, the co-authoring couple Peter Roos and Friederike Hassauer present the process of their writing in 14 paragraphs as a “miracle of co-authoring.” (p. 104)

What, then, are the characteristics of bi-textuality? Bi-textual writing ought to be manifold and reflexive, moreover it ought to bring about a change in power relations, questioning the claim for dominance by male authors, as well as open access to specific couple relationships such as symbiosis or a ménage a trois. The phenomenon of intertextuality is moreover constructed from a communicative aspect, guided by the “instability of gender identity.” (p. 17) Viewed from a radical perspective, clearly not all of the essays meet the standard of showing such instability. On the other hand, not all the females featured here are mainly defined as secretaries typing up the male writer’s notes, or as the victims of a (male) vampire (cf. p. 14). None of the relationships presented in the book appear particularly passionate. A more direct symbol of female sexuality only appears in the essay “Male voice—female voice in Neidhard’s summer songs” by Müller. It would be useful to further investigate this issue in the future, as it presents a particular challenge to the code of perception of its audience. In the semiotic system of cultural modernity female sexuality is often accompanied by strongly negative associations, as it addresses a central aspect of sexuality, particularly its persistence. The semantic connection between “couple” and “coupling” generally evokes fantasies of conception, birth, and creativity, which are at the centre of modern views on art.

Changing Role Patterns: Two Examples

I choose two essays which can be read to indicate a limited change in traditional role patterns. The first essay is “Difference of Gender or Difference of Poetics? Annette von Droste-Hülshoff and Levin Schücking” by Renate von Heydebrand. Droste-Hülshoff is an author who, despite her daring work and firm place in the canon of German literature did not capture the scholarly interest for many years. It has only been in the past one or two decades that she has re-emerged into the interest of literary scholars thanks to new interpretations of her work[5]. Von Heydebrand approach to Droste’s life and her place in the history of poetry pays particular attention to Droste’s relationship with her critic and friend of many years, Levin Schücking. The traditional cliché of the male writer and his female muse has been turned upside down here, to the benefit of both participants, particularly the female part of the couple. This work offers a new layer to the popular portrayal of Droste as a isolated and lonely spinster by portraying her as a hard-working poet who was well aware of the value and importance of her work.

The second essay is “Gendering Curiosity. The Double Games of Siri Hustvedt, Paul Auster and Sophie Calle” by Elisabeth Bronfen. In the works of the US-American writer couple Hustvedt and Austen and the French conceptual artist Calle a persona becomes visible whom Bronfen analyses as part of the “Pandora myth” first introduced by feminist scholar and film critic Laura Mulvey. According to Bronfen, Calle counters the fetishist gaze by placing herself at the centre. Calle addresses existential fears by looking at their fear-inspiring effect from the perspective of Pandora. In so doing, she gains critical distance to destructive and self-destructive relationships, a process which may be inspirational to her readers. Perhaps it would be appropriate for women to direct their gaze outward and toward men in order to avoid only focusing on themselves. Droste, for example, dared to look at and communicate with a mirrored self, with women friends and a male counterpart.


[1]: Cf. Gerda Marko, Schreibende Paare. Liebe, Freundschaft, Konkurrenz. Zürich/Düsseldorf 1995.

[2]: Cf. Elke Roevekamp, Das Paar existiert nicht—Konstruktionen des Geschlechterverhältnisses bei Freud. Berlin 1994. (Forum ‘Berliner Wissenschaftlerinnen stellen sich vor’; 29)

[3]: Cf. Texte zur Theorie der Autorschaft. Edited by Fotis Jannidis, Gerhard Lauer, Matias Martinez and Simone Winko. Stuttgart 2000.

[4]: Cf. Elke Brüns, Außenstehend, ungelenk, kopfüber, weiblich. Psychosexuelle Autorpositionen bei Marlen Haushofer, Marieluise Fleißer und Ingeborg Bachmann. Stuttgart/Weimar 1998.

[5]: Peter von Matt, for instance, offers a new interpretation in “Das doppelte Gesicht der Annette von Droste-Hülshoff. Über das Gedicht ‘Die Schwester’.” in Die verdächtige Pracht. Über Dichter und Gedichte. München/Wien 1998, S.213–245.

URN urn:nbn:de:0114-qn032023

Prof.Dr.Johanna Bossinade

Freie Universität Berlin


Die Nutzungs- und Urheberrechte an diesem Text liegen bei der Autorin bzw. dem Autor bzw. den Autor/-innen. Dieser Text steht nicht unter einer Creative-Commons-Lizenz und kann ohne Einwilligung der Rechteinhaber/-innen nicht weitergegeben oder verändert werden.