Ertegun Staff and Scholar Profiles

Portrait photo of Manuel Mühlbacher

Manuel Mühlbacher

MSt in Modern Languages | 2013 Graduate

I studied comparative literature and literary theory with a focus on French literature at the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich and at the Sorbonne in Paris. In 2013, I received my master’s degree from the University of Oxford with a dissertation on implied readership in the libertine novels of the Marquis de Sade. I’m about to finish my Ph.D. at Munich University, where I’m a member of a new doctoral program for literature and the arts.

During my time at Ertegun House I was given the exceptional opportunity to organize an international high-profile conference on Sade and to present my own research in front of a specialist audience. The conference proceedings will be published as a special issue of Romance Studies in 2014, which will also be the bicentenary of Sade’s death.

My current research as a Ph.D. candidate focuses on theories of the imagination in the European Enlightenment. Faculty psychology century has always credited imagination with an ambivalent role. Imagination is of paramount importance to the process of cognition, but also tends to subvert it. A number of philosophers such as Bacon and Descartes attempt to counter the incalculable power of imagination by marking out a space of untainted rationality within the human mind: It is only from the standpoint of reason that one attains reliable knowledge and exerts control over the imagination. In eighteenth-century philosophy, though, this kind of “rational outside” seems increasingly questionable. Shaftesbury, Condillac and Diderot are a case in point since they all endorse – in their own ways – a concept of absolute imagination and identify the human mind with the power to imagine. My Ph.D. project investigates what it means to write within an epistemological framework that no longer allows for a categorical divide between reason and imagination, between philosophy and poetry.