Institut für Deutsch als Fremdsprache




Supervised Dr. Thesis


Maryline Cestier

  • Mythos and Modernity in the Oeuvre of J.Cocteau – From Myths Adapted to Myths Created?

Many-talented author and artist Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) has often dealt with myths in poetry, in drama or in movies, and also in his paintings and sculptures. It is his work for stage and cinema that this dissertation project will focus on in its analysis of the adaptation or creation of myth in modern age, also in comparison to other contemporaneous treatments of myth. Jean Cocteau studied old traditions intensively, adapting them for his own time. Throughout his art, certain mythological or mystical motifs and figures keep reappearing. He often uses characters taken from ancient mythology, from Christian or heathen sources, as well as material from world literature or from fairy tales. The focus of this analysis will be on the meaning of Cocteau’s treatments of myths. Are there some connections to be discovered in his choice of material? Does he himself draw any parallels between various topics? But the main topic of this project will concentrate on dramatic and cinematic treatments of the myth of Oedipus and that of Orpheus. Cocteau seems fascinated, perhaps even obsessed by both of these: “Mais toujours cet Orphée, toujours cet Œdipe!” A large part of research literature on Cocteau’s variations of Oedipus and Orpheus is based mainly on biographical sources and usually ends up as a biographical and psychoanalytical interpretation. In the course of this project, some other methods will be used to answer questions including the following: Is Cocteau’s treatment of myth merely an unconscious poetic imagination expressing itself by depicting surreal worlds; should it be interpreted as a kind of auto-therapy in terms of Freud’s psychoanalysis, or is it to be taken as a collection of purely poetological deliberations? In his late years, Cocteau worked on the topic of Orpheus more than on the Oedipus material. The following problems remain to be explained: Did the orphic topic function as a replacement, perhaps even as a solution for the Oedipus complex? Do these two myths merge and complement each other in Cocteau’s late work, so that a new myth is created? In searching for the key to his last orphic work, Le Testament d’Orphée (1959), in which he himself embodies the character of the poet, we might find some answers. The intention is to look for indications that might support the thesis of myth creation by means of myth adaptation and self-mythologization.


Aprilia Zank

  • The Word in the Word. Literary Text Reception as Biased by Linguistic Relativity

Paradoxically enough in an era in which technical communication devices have reached tremendous standards, human communication itself is still highly deficient. Politics, social life, religion as well as private matters suffer from lack of, superficial, or completely erroneous understanding. Culture is no exception to it. We steadily encounter difficulties of reception in the various cultural fields, of which the verbal is one of the most important. Language as main semiotic system of communication is the key to human understanding, but also the origin of sometimes fatal message misapprehension.

This work focuses on one of the sources of such failures in the process of communication, i.e. the linguistic relativity.

Initiated by Benjamin L. Whorf and Edward Sapir at the beginning of the 20th century, the thesis of linguistic relativity had a period of ‘disgrace’ in the 1960s, when cognition was strongly related to humans’ genetic endowment. New significance was granted to linguistic diversity within cultures and communities towards the end of the last century; happily enough we can talk of a revival nowadays.

The topic being in no way new, the novelty of the approach in the present work consists in the attempt to establish to what extent linguistic relativity may be declared responsible for a special domain of problematic understanding, namely for difficulties which arise in the process of literary text reception.

With brain screening providing more and more accurate information about cognitive and emotional processes in the mind, one may hope that the full insight will come from the machines, but since this stage has not yet been reached, we can but stick to the empirical study of literary texts as source for a better understanding of readers’ response to various texts.

This is the main concern of this work, too, in that it dedicates an extensive part to the design, performance and results of an extensive two-phase experiment carried out in six languages and as many countries. This experiment aims at the empirical testability of the hypothesis alluded to in the title of the book: the role of linguistic relativity in the process of text understanding during the act of literary reading.

Under this perspective the work addresses a large audience of both scholars and students of  various domains such as literature, linguistics, psycholinguistics, and even sociology and cultural and educational studies.

By rendering more acute the awareness of how the basics of the mother tongue can influence the apprehension of reality, the book helps get a new insight into second language acquisition, attain a fresh sensitiveness to matters of translation, develop new reading strategies, all of which can enhance the students’ linguistic, literary and cultural competence.

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