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Catrin Kersten

„It is a rare thing, except it be from a perfect and entire friend, to have counsel given“: Historical semantics and literary presentation of friendship and counselling

Personal Information 



University education

since 12/2006

Scholarship holder at the PhD research group Friends, Patrons, Clients. Practice and semantics of friendship and patronage in historical, anthropological and culture-comparing perspectives (University of Freiburg)

- since 04/2006

PhD candidate

topic of the thesis: Historical semantics and literary presentation of friendship and counselling


- 07/2001 – 04/2006

University of Siegen

Comparative Literature, Romance Philology, Art History

Master in april 2006 (M.A.)

- 10/2000 – 06/2001

University of Sevilla

- 04/2000 – 09/2000

University of Siegen

Comparative Literature, Romance Philology, Philosophy

- 10/1998 – 03/2000

University of Bayreuth

Comparative Literature, Romance Philology


since 12/2006

Scholarship at the PhD research group Friends, Patrons, Clients. Practice and semantics of friendship and patronage in historical, anthropological and culture-comparing perspectives (University of Freiburg)

10/1998 – 03/2003

Scholarship of the Free State of Bavaria (Stipendium für besonders Begabte nach dem Bayerischen Begabtenförderungsgesetz)


- 10/2001 – 06/2005

Student Assistant (University of Siegen, Department of Spanish Literature, Prof. Dr. Volker Roloff)

- 10/1999 – 03/2000

Student Assistant (University of Bayreuth, Department of French Literature, Prof. Dr. Günter Berger)

- 06/1999 – 07/1999

Student Assistant (University of Bayreuth, Department of French Literature, Prof. Dr. János Riesz)

Academic publications

 - Contribution to the German translation of Antoine Hamilton, Memoiren des Comte de Gramont, ed. by Günter Berger, Bamberg: Erich Weiß Verlag 2004.

- Catrin Kersten, „Hundert Jahre Karneval. Groteske Komik und karnevaleske Schreibweise in Gabriel García Márquez’ Cien años de soledad“, in: Uta Felten/Volker Roloff (eds.), Spielformen der Intermedialität im spanischen und lateinamerikanischen Surrealismus, Bielefeld: transcript 2004, pp. 273-294.

- Catrin Kersten, „Versteinerte Träume und essbare Luftschlösser. Dalí und Gaudí“, in: Isabel Maurer Queipo/Nanette Rißler-Pipka/Volker Roloff (eds.), Die grausamen Spiele des „Minotaure“. Intermediale Analyse einer surrealistischen Zeitschrift, Bielefeld: transcript 2005, pp. 107-118.

- Catrin Kersten, „Theater – Film – Theaterfilm: Carlos Sauras Bodas de sangre“, in: Uta Felten/Michael Lommel/Isabel Maurer Queipo/Nanette Rißler-Pipka/Gerhard Wild (eds.), „Esta locura por los sueños“. Traumdiskurs und Intermedialität in der romanischen Literatur- und Mediengeschichte. Festschrift für Volker Roloff, Heidelberg: Winter 2006, pp. 261-276.

- Catrin Kersten, „Mafia oder Lösungsmodell? Freundschaft und ihre Netzwerke bei Niklas Luhmann und Alejandro Amenábar“, paper presented at the graduate symposium Netzwerke der Moderne of the Zentrum für Moderneforschung (University of Cologne, 23.-24.11.2006)

- Catrin Kersten, Orte der Freundschaft: Niklas Luhmann und Das Meer in mir, Berlin: Kadmos [2007].

PhD Thesis Project: „It is a rare thing, except it be from a perfect and entire friend, to have counsel given“: Historical semantics and literary presentation of friendship and counselling

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Georg Stanitzek (Siegen)

Tutor: Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Essbach

From a perspective of General and Comparative Literature, my project focuses on the figure of the counsellor and the presentation of counselling in literature. Following traditional discourses of friendship it asks for the possibilities and risks of taking and giving counsel between friends; and, as traditional semantics of friendship turn out to be a fruitful source for the conception and description of counselling in general, it asks for the professionalized and institutionalized communication between the person who asks for counsel and the adviser. The project thus wants to contribute to current debates on friendship and social networks; furthermore, it intends a critical discussion of concepts such as knowledge society and the omnipresence of counselling in today’s society.

The option of taking counsel with the friend has always been seen as an important and very pragmatic use of friendship, and the friend has always been supposed to be the ideal counsellor: In the ambivalence of the formula of the alter ego he is, at the same time, the same and the other; as alter ego he knows his friend as well as he knows himself – and as alter ego with a different point of view he is able to overcome the blind spot of the friend and free himself of the emotions of his friend when judging a situation. Nevertheless, asking the friend for advice also bears risks for the relationship, since it automatically creates an asymmetrical situation whose tendency to conflict both participants have to handle. Counselling in its institutionalized form turns out to be just as tense; on the one hand it is supposed not to involve aspects of friendship, but on the other it falls back on a large number of the idealising aspects of traditional discourses of friendship, including the scepticism of outsiders towards friendship as well as towards the relation with the counsellor.

According to these considerations the project analyzes how counselling and different conceptions of the figure of the counsellor are presented in literary texts and how they can be related to the semantics of friendship. The guiding question is, which semantics and in what specific ways they are activated for the description of the relationship and the communication between the persons taking counsel. The corpus will consist of different genres of texts; first, there are selected fictional texts, like for example Miguel de Cervantes’ very basic “Novela del curioso impertinente”, as well as presentations of complementary pairs i.g. in master-slave-relationships (like Denis Diderot’s Jacques le fataliste et son maître). Contemporary texts reflect the conditions and risks of management consulting (like Rolf Hochhhut’s McKinsey kommt and Kathrin Rögglas wir schlafen nicht). Further, examples of counselling literature and moralistic texts will play an important role: Niccolò Machiavellis works (Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio, Il Principe) are highlights among many others; in the context of this tradition books of manners (like Adolf Freiherr Knigge’s Über den Umgang mit Menschen) will have to be considered. Besides, texts from the field of management consulting will have to be taken into account, since they obviously reactivate traditional semantics of friendship. Further sources may be exemplary friendships from the literary and artistic life, i.g. friendships between artists. In spite of the extreme differences between all these genres one has to insist on the fact that for the description of counselling they all fall back on traditional semantics, which in all these genres serve for the idealising and normative description as well as for the fictional presentation of the communication between the participants. According to Niklas Luhmann and others, these semantics form a pre-existing repertoire and prolific source of rules for describing and thus giving sense to specific situations. Moreover, one can assume that all these texts can be interrelated and that, in spite of their generic heterogeneity, they constitute a common discourse that reflects counselling, in which relations to antique traditions as well as explicit or implicit, affirmative or negative relations between the texts are obvious.

Relating friendship and counselling and considering counselling in the context of traditional discourses of friendship will turn out to be fruitful especially with this focus on modern texts: Interrelating these discourses will help to precise the difficulties as well as the potential of both forms of interpersonal and social relationships which in the modern, functionally differentiated society seem ‘improbable‘ (see R. Helmstetter and his thesis of the impossibility of satisfying counsel in modern society); additionally, this allows to ask for the further work with and on these semantics in the discussion on social networks and the ‘network society’. The project does not aim at a theory of successful counselling; by help of the analysis of the texts, it rather seeks for describing its problems and grasping how counselling – as well as friendship – does happen in modern society, in spite of all obstacles.

  • Postadresse:

    Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
    DFG-Graduiertenkolleg 1288
    c/o Historisches Seminar
    Rempartstr. 15 - KG IV
    79085 Freiburg 
  • Besuchsadresse:

    Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
    DFG-Graduiertenkolleg 1288
    Erbprinzenstraße 13
    79098 Freiburg
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