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Research Group: Serendipity and Forensic Reading ("Serendipitäres Spurenlesen")

Starting Point

In a well-known essay, Ginzburg claimed that the humanities differentiating in the 19th century shared an epistemological paradigm with contemporary detective stories, which he called the "circumstantial paradigm". For the art of forensic reading, which Ginzburg related to paradigmatic personalities of early modernity such as Freud, Morelli and Sherlock Holmes, the special form of coincidental creativity, which Horace Walpole first described as "serendipity" in 1754 and which still plays a role in cultural-theoretical discourses today, is decisive: The discovery of traces can rarely be planned, they come into view more or less unexpectedly, and when they occur, they have to be evaluated in the mode of creative abduction.

Since then, one can ask what literary studies can learn about themselves from detective stories, since detectives are regularly portrayed as both professional and creative readers. This question is particularly directed at those detective stories that adopt a postcolonial perspective and thus discover alternatives to the occidental ratio of the detective. And it can also be related back to the history of the detective story: Often this is portrayed from a Eurocentric point of view, so that the detective story appears as a Western European product. But just as the detective's conclusions often transcend pure logic (abduction), Ginzburg already referred to a non-European origin of the circumstantial paradigm when he pointed to the oriental story of the three sons of the king of Serendippo as an archetype.


Research Group

Against this background, the working group "Serendipity and Forensic Reading" ("Serendipitäres Spurenlesen") wants to examine Ginzburg's circumstantial paradigm through a comparative perspective on European-North American and non-European investigative histories in order to determine its present relevance, and to reflect on the role, origin and tradition of serendipity. This also results in productive comparative references to literary studies and, in particular, comparative practices.

A first series of events took place in the summer semester of 2022 in the form of regular meetings consisting of lectures and joint reading. The results will be published in an anthology in the Metzler series "Diskurse der Kriminalität in Literatur und Medien" (Discourses of Crime in Literature and Media), edited by Susanne Düwell and Christof Hamann, with the title "Serendiptäres Spurenlesen. Zur kulturellen Relativität des Indizienparadigmas in Detektiverzählungen und Wissenschaft", edited by Joachim Harst and Reinhard M. Möller.


Events in Summer 2023

  • Talk with Dr. Hedda Holzhauer: Serendipity in Criminology and Literature/Literary Studies (Frankfurt/Hybrid, 23 June, 2 p.m.)
  • Conference (Joachim Harst/Nursan Celik): Virtual Investigations. On the Revision of the Circumstantial Evidence Paradigm in Law, Literature and the Arts (Münster, 4/5 May) – Program
  • Lecture and Talk with Prof. Franziska Nori: Activism or Art? (Münster, 4 May, 6:30 p.m.)

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