Document Actions

IPP KNL | Dr. Elizabeth Kovach (JLU): "Writing Work: Ethics and Aesthetics of Work in U.S.-American Literature"

IPP 20th Anniversary Keynote Lecture Series


May 18, 2022 from 02:00 to 04:00 (Europe/Berlin / UTC200)


GCSC (MFR) & Online

Contact Name

Add event to calendar


It does not make sense to speak of 'the' U.S.-American work ethic as if it were a uniform phenomenon. The history and legacy of slavery, the experiences of migrant laborers, the relegation of women to domestic and affective labor, and most generally the alienating effects of labor under capitalism are just some major facets of U.S. economic and social history out of which very different experiences of and attitudes towards work have grown. The new millennium has witnessed a surge in academic research, popular nonfiction, journalistic accounts, and manifesto-style social theory about the resistance to and the end of work in the face of precarious labor conditions, digitalization and automation, and the most recent changes to work that the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted. Literary expression has been largely overlooked within this discussion, even though it has continuously and in various ways contributed to moments of re-evaluation of the ethics of work over the course of capitalism's history. My contention is that literary ways of imagining, contesting, or codifying the ethics and aesthetics of work can help us rethink both historical and contemporary meanings and values surrounding work. After a general introduction to this topic and establishing a working definition of 'literary fictions of work,' this talk will focus on how to analyze literary fiction in terms of ethics and aesthetics of work, which are contextual categories as well as matters of content and form. It will end with a discussion of U.S.-American proletarian fiction of the 1930s, which challenged privileged articulations of 'the' U.S.-American work ethic, in which a tireless commitment to work that contributes to market growth, and a refusal of idleness, is seen as the right path in life – the key to security, social standing, mobility, and personal satisfaction. Such challenges to cultural values went hand in hand with challenges to the meaning, aims and aesthetics involved in the work of writing.


// Dr. Elizabeth Kovach is the current Coordinator of the IPP and a postdoctoral researcher at the GCSC. Her field is U.S.-American literature and culture, and she completed her PhD at the JLU with a dissertation entitled "Novel Ontologies after 9/11: The Politics of Being in Contemporary Theory and U.S.-American Narrative Fiction." She received an M.A. degree in Comparative Literature at the Ludwig Maximilians University Munich and a B.A. degree in English and Film Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University.




Please, register here for Dr. Elizabeth Kovach's Keynote Lecture (in person or online)