Arrested Mobilities: Stillness, Power and Modernity

deadline for submissions: 
December 15, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
UC Berkeley 30th Annual Interdisciplinary German Studies Graduate Student Conference

As early as the 1920’s, Robert Musil remarked on the enormous effort it takes to stand still in a world that demands constant motion. Reflecting on the zooming street he sees through his window,the protagonist of Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften comments:

“Könnte man die Sprünge der Aufmerksamkeit messen, die Leistungen der Augenmuskeln, die Pendelbewegungen der Seele und alle die Anstrengungen, die ein Mensch vollbringen muss, um sich im Fluß einer Straße aufrecht zu halten, es käme vermutlich… eine Größe heraus, mit der verglichen die Kraft, die Atlas braucht, um die Welt zu stemmen.”

As Musil’s observation demonstrates, the imperatives of global commerce have required constant activity. Inactivity, as a result, has become a problematic but inevitable byproduct. Indeed, over the last nineteen months, the pandemic has confirmed that staying still requires an Atlas-like exertion. Though one’s access to physical mobility is often curtailed by increasingly policed international borders, the emergence of new media that incessantly clamor for attention and/or the surge of xenophobic sentiments that demand constant vigilance from underprivileged social groups render stillness almost impossible in modern life. For some, stillness is a utopian ideal that signals leisure, political resistance, or self-care; for others, stillnesssymbolizes arrested mobility, incarceration, or quarantine. 

One hundred years after the publication of Musil’s novel, the trope of stillnessspeaks to ambiguous questions of power and identity in modernity and functions as a critical term for thinking about movement, migration and translation within German Studies. For whom is stillness a political intervention, and for whom does it constitute oppression? How does the meaning of stillness change for the modern bourgeoisie, the migrant, the refugee, the worker, and other social groups?

We solicit papers about stillness as a trope in aesthetic works that engage with the long twentieth century. Papers on earlier or later objects of study should consider the intersection of these objects with the modernist context. We invite contributions from a broad variety of angles, but particularly those that consider the intersections of movement, identity and power. We welcome submissions from any discipline that engages with German literature, film, visual art or other aesthetic objects, and encourage papers that approach German cultural objects comparatively by putting them in conversation with other languages and cultures.

Contributors should email an abstract of no more than 300 words and a 100-word bio to Sean Lambert (, Freya Zhou ( and Elizabeth Sun ( by Dec. 15. Submissions may be in English or German. Accepted applicants will be notified by late December. The conference will take place Feb. 25th-26th online via Zoom. Each presentation will be 20 minutes, followed by panel discussions. Information about past conferences is available on our website. For questions, please email