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Besser, Stephan

Besser, Stephan

NIAS Individual Fellowship

The Promise of Patterns: On the Poetics of Regularity in 21st Century Human Sciences

Research Question

How can we explain the fascination with patterns in the arts and human sciences in the early 21st century? What are the key elements and effects of the current discourse of patterns in these fields?

Project Description

“Great keyword of our times, pattern.” Following up on this observation by literary scholar Franco Moretti I argue that we need to know more about what it means to think, reason and act in terms of patterns and pattern recognition. In this project, I study the current fascination with patterns in the arts and human sciences, in particular in literary studies, cognitive science, cultural analytics and the history of knowledge. In a series of case studies, I examine the preconditions of a newly emerging discourse of patterns in these fields, such as digitization and epistemic shifts towards morphology, cognition and the brain. I analyse key elements of the rhetoric and poetics of this discourse and ask: How do ‘patterns’ facilitate cross-mappings of different domains (the social, the biological etc.), how do they create order and regularity and how do they support techniques and fantasies of control?

Selected Publications

1) Besser, S. (2017). How Patterns Meet: Tracing the Isomorphic Imagination in Contemporary Neuroculture. Configurations, 25(4), 415-445.

2) Besser, S. (2015). Mixing Repertoires: Cerebral Subjects in Contemporary Dutch Neurological Fiction. In J. Grave, R. Honings, & B. Noak (Eds.), Illness and Literature in the Low Countries: From the Middle Ages until the 21st Century (pp. 253-272). Göttingen: V&R unipress.

3) Besser, S. (2013). From the Neuron to the World and Back: The Poetics of the Neuromolecular Gaze in Bart Koubaa’s Het gebied van Nevski and James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’. Journal of Dutch Literature, 42).

4) Besser, S. (2013). Pathographien der Tropen. Literatur, Medizin und Kolonialismus um 1900. (Studien zur Kulturpoetik; No. 14). Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann.


Personal page

In his NIAS Pop-Up Lecture, Stephan Besser sheds light on the wonderful world and poetics of patterns.