Patrizia C. McBride

Senior Associate Dean for Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Programs & Frank H.T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters


My research and teaching span German-language literature and culture from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, with a special emphasis on theories of modernity and modernism, the intersection of aesthetics, philosophy, and political theory, visual and media studies, and Austrian literature and culture, especially fin-de-siècle Vienna. My scholarship revolves around three main themes: the development of narrative within literary and visual media; the ways in which the reflection on art and society in the twentieth century contributed to the politicized practice of the avant-garde; and the increasing concern, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with grasping literature and the arts in terms of the ideological, rhetorical, and material effects produced by the media that carry them. My first book, The Void of Ethics: Robert Musil and the Experience of Modernity (Northwestern University Press, 2006), examines Robert Musil’s engagement with narrative as a lens for analyzing the rise of totalitarianism in the 1920s and 1930s. In my second book, The Chatter of the Visible: Montage and Narrative in Weimar Germany (The University of Michigan Press 2016; honorable mention, 2018 Scaglione Prize for Studies in Germanic Languages and Literatures, MLA), I trace the path-breaking notion of storytelling developed under the rubric of montage by Weimar-era artists associated with Dadaism, Constructivism, and the New Objectivity in high and low-brow genres and media (besides literature, film, photography, graphic design, advertising, and typography).

I am currently working on a monograph that examines the tense relation between literature and the book in German-language culture during the first decades of the twentieth century. I am interested in tracing how the expectations and norms that were naturalized in the special alliance literature developed with the book in the course of the nineteenth century became unbundled in works by Brecht, Balázs, Benjamin, Kracauer, Keun, Musil, Lasker-Schüler, Hausmann, Herzfelde, Huelsenbeck, Polgar, Tucholsky, and Heartfield. These writers and theorists set out to revitalize the verbal arts by reconfiguring literature as a ‘slow’ yet active medium that enlists print’s material features in strategies designed to pierce through the contemplative illusionism and feigned immediacy of old and new media (especially bourgeois theater and narrative film). Other questions I examine concern the status of literary form in relation to the small prose writing proper to journalism (feuilleton, reportage), the relation between truth, journalistic reporting, and literary storytelling, and the renaissance of a rhetorical understanding of literature in the bourgeoning field of advertising.

Office Hours

By appointment only

Research Focus

  • 18th to 20th-century literature and culture
  • Modernism and theories of modernity
  • The intersection of literary theory, philosophy, and political theory
  • Visual and media studies
  • Austrian literature and culture, especially fin-de-siècle Vienna.



  • The Chatter of the Visible.  Montage and Narrative in Weimar Germany. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2016.  Awarded honorable mention for the 2018 Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Studies in Germanic Languages and Literatures, Modern Language Association (MLA).
  • Legacies of Modernism: Art and Politics in Northern Europe, 1890-1950. Co-edited with Richard McCormick and Monika Zagar. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
  • The Void of Ethics. Robert Musil and the Experience of Modernity. Evaston, IL.: Northwestern University Press, 2006.



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