Ertegun Staff and Scholar Profiles

Karolina Watroba

MSt in Modern Languages (German) | 2016 Graduate

During my year as an Ertegun scholar, I studied for an MSt in Modern Languages, and achieved a distinction in my course. I took classes on Cultural Studies, Comparative Criticism, German History of Ideas, and Walter Benjamin’s thought, as well as French reading classes. I also participated in numerous events organized by TORCH and OCCT (Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation research programme), including OCCT discussion groups on Intermediality and Multilingualism, which I co-convened. In Trinity Term, I wrote my master’s dissertation about Paolo Sorrentino’s recent film “Youth” and Thomas Mann’s landmark novel “Der Zauberberg” (“The Magic Mountain”) under the supervision of Prof. Ben Morgan. Throughout the year, I presented my first two academic papers, wrote my first academic review, gained some valuable teaching experience, and acted as a graduate representative at my faculty.

I took up my Ertegun scholarship after graduating in Modern Languages (German) from Oxford, Magdalen College, with a congratulatory first-class degree. I also studied Spanish, Swedish and European Studies at the Humboldt-Universität in Berlin during my Year Abroad, funded by the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes. I grew up in Krakow, Poland. As a member of Collegium Invisibile, an academic organisation for Polish students, I have been involved in several educational projects in my home country, like teaching a course on the motif of detection in literature and film at a summer school for Polish sixth-formers.

I am looking forward to continuing my research on the creative responses to “Der Zauberberg” in my DPhil thesis over the next few years at Oxford, with support of the Clarendon-Merton Modern Languages Scholarship. This comparative project spans almost a century (from a 1927 Polish novel "Choucas" by Zofia Nałkowska to a 2015 Italian/British/French/Swiss co-production "Youth" directed by Paolo Sorrentino) and at least three continents (with texts originating from various European countries, the USA and Japan, and one set in South America). The idea for my DPhil thesis has grown out of my interest in modern literature, film and critical theory, beyond national boundaries. My favourite topics include the theory of genre, especially the case of novel and Novelle, cultural images of gender and sexuality, reader-response criticism, detective fiction, metanarration and metafiction, German and Austrian demonic cinema of the 1920s, as well as self-reflexivity and the portrayal of voyeuristic pleasure in film. I have worked on writers and directors ranging from Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, W. G. Sebald, Heinrich von Kleist and E. T. A. Hoffmann to Luis Buñuel, Paolo Sorrentino, Guy Maddin and Park Chan-wook, to Zbigniew Herbert and Witold Gombrowicz. One of my biggest passions is learning languages: as well as English, German and my native Polish, I know Spanish and Swedish, read French, Italian and Latin, and plan to start learning Korean and Hindi.

I had an amazing time as an Ertegun scholar. The academic and financial support provided by the programme is fantastic, as is the exceptionally welcoming and friendly atmosphere at the Ertegun House. I enjoyed our Wednesday seminars and the rich cultural programme consisting of great trips and outings (I went to almost all of them!), and took full advantage of my fabulous study space and the opportunity to organise various academic events at the Ertegun House. I co-hosted with OCCT a talk on the philosophy of art, given by Prof. Eric Hayot from Penn State, who visited the Ertegun House on my invitation in May, and a large group of Ertegun scholars participated in his great workshop on academic writing for the Humanities. I also really valued more informal occasions to chat to other scholars in the kitchen, or organise our own film evenings, and even one attempt at a book club format.

My heartfelt thanks go to Mica Ertegun for her generosity and vision, and to everyone who has helped her set up this wonderful programme, including the Ertegun director, Bryan, and the administrators, Kelly and Sarah, for their unwavering support. I hope to be an active Ertegun alumna in the years to come!