Birgit M. Kaiser is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Transcultural Aesthetics at Utrecht University. She holds a BA and MA in Sociology from Bielefeld University and a PhD in Comparative Literature from New York University.
During the fall term 2009/2010, Birgit was Chair of Western European Literatures (Vertretungsprofessur) at the European University Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder). Birgit has also been visiting researcher at the Department of Philosophy at Paris Nanterre University (spring term 2017) and at the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at The Ohio State University (fall term 2017/2018). In the fall term 2023/24, she is DFG-Mercatorfellow at Leuphana University Lüneburg. Between 2019 and 2021, she served as Head of Section of Comparative Literature at Utrecht University.
Birgit's research spans literatures in English, French and German from the 19th to the 21st centuries, always with a focus on literature as a mode of poetic knowledge production. Specific research interests are the relation of literature and philosophy, theories of subjectivity (post-structuralist, feminist new materialist, psychoanalytic, and ecosophical), the history of aesthetics and affect, multilingualism and un/translatability in literature, as well as post- and decolonial literary critique. Intersecting post/decolonial with feminist new materialist approaches, Birgit also works on changing forms of critique and criticality in the 21st century, as well as contemporary methods of reading.
Research collaborations and leadership
With Kathrin Thiele, Birgit founded the interdisciplinary research network Terra Critica and together they coordinate the network since its beginning in 2012. Terra Critica holds annual international academic meetings as well as regular ReadingRoom sessions for a wider public in Utrecht (in collaboration with Casco Art Institute). The network has established collaborations with a range of leading international academic institutions in Europe, Australia, the USA and Asia.
She is currently coordinator of the research community "Critical Pathways", a transdisciplinary research community within the UU strategic theme Pathways to Sustainability, focusing on a just sustainability. "Critical Pathways" brings together colleagues from the faculties of Humanities, Geosciences, Social and Behavioural Sciences, and Law, Economics and Governance. "Critical Pathways" researches how to move beyond an understanding of sustainability narrowly focused on technological solutions and how to address social and cultural norms, political power relations, and global inequalities in order to make more sustainable futures possible.
Since 2022, Birgit is researcher and supervisor in the EU-HORIZON MSCA Doctoral Network "European Literatures and Gender from a Transnational Perspective" (EUTERPE; 2022-2026), which brings together gender and transnational perspectives within an interdisciplinary approach to literary and cultural studies. EUTERPE is a collaboration of Central European University Vienna, University of Oviedo, University of Granada, University of York, University of Coventry, University of Lodz, University of Bolgona and Utrecht University, supervising and training a group of eleven PhD candidates. In this context, Birgit is also on the editorial board of the open source publication Dictionary of Transnational Women’s Literature in Europe (CEU Press) with key concepts and bio-bibliographic entries on leading representatives of the field.
Between 2016-2020, Birgit was a core member and researcher of “Creativity in World Literatures: Languages in Dialogue”, a research network funded by the UK Arts & Humanities Research Council within the Open World Research Initiative (OWRI).
Her monograph Figures of Simplicity. Sensation and Thinking in Kleist and Melville (SUNY 2011) explores—with recourse to Heinrich von Kleist, Herman Melville, G. W. Leibniz, and Alexander Baumgarten—alternative conceptions of aesthetics and dimensions of thinking lost in the disciplinary narration of aesthetics after Kant. Rather than being ignorant or stupid, the “simpletons” that populate the writings of Kleist and Melville display a way of affective thinking, whereby Kleist and Melville continue a key line within eighteenth-century aesthetics: the relation of rationality and sensibility. The book reflects on what thinking looks like if we take affectivity into account and how literature is a practice that continues to raise this question.
Birgit is currently finalizing a second monograph entitled Ec(h)ology in the Anthropocene: Hélène Cixous, Subjectivity and Transcultural Belonging (forthcoming with Bloomsbury Publishers, 2024, open access). The book is part of the series Bloomsbury Studies in Global Women’s Writing (editors Marie Mulvey-Roberts and Jennifer Gustarargues). It argues that Cixous's poetic fictions, from 1967 to today and in critical conversation with psychoanalysis, present Echo as a figure of relational subjectivity. The book demonstrates how Cixous's writings offer an anti-narcisistic figuration of selfhood that can be called ec(h)ological: critical of colonial appropriation and patriarchal oppression of difference, Cixous pursues how we are always embedded in ecologies with many others, and at the same time how we always carefully negotiate myriads of echoes that make up an "I". Cixous's poetic fictions thereby offer an important critique of modern Man and an alternative fabulation of being human in the Anthropocene.
In the context of her research on subjectivity and post/decolonial critique, Birgit has published two edited volumes: Postcolonial Literatures and Deleuze. Colonial Pasts, Differential Futures (with Lorna Burns, Palgrave Macmillan 2012) and Singularity and Transnational Poetics (Routledge 2015). With Kathrin Thiele, she edited a special issue of PhiloSOPHIA: A Journal of Continental Feminism, entitled ‘The Ends of Being Human? Re-turning (to) the Question’ (8/1, 2018). Another edited volume entitled The World in Theory. Rethinking Globalization Through Derrida and Nancy (with Laurens ten Kate and Philip Leonard; Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming 2024) is currently in preparation. Birgit's work has appeared in international journals including Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry, International Journal for Francophone Studies, Interventions, Parallax and Textual Practice. She is currently also member of the editorial board of the Dictionary of Transnational Women's Literature in Europe (with Jasmina Lukic (editor-in-chief) and the editorial board of the HORIZON DC-network EUTERPE, Vienna: CEU Press, forthcoming 2027).
In the context of the interdisciplinary research network Terra Critica, Birgit's research focuses on the future of the humanities and their critical heritage, as well as on changing forms of critique and criticality in the 21st century. She has edited with Kathrin Thiele a special issue of Parallax on ‘Diffracted Worlds – Diffractive Readings: Onto-Epistemologies and the Critical Humanities’ (2014; also republished as book in the Routledge Series SPIB, 2018) and two edited volumes: Symptoms of the Planetary Condition: A Critical Vocabulary (with Kathrin Thiele and Mercedes Bunz; meson press 2017, open access) and The Ends of Critique (with Timothy O’Leary and Kathrin Thiele; Rowman & Littlefield 2022, open access). Another Terra Critica collaboration is in preparation (Thinking About Doing: Practice and Theory Across Continents (edited with Anirban Das and Kathrin Thiele; forthcoming with Oxford University Press India, 2024).
With Timothy O’Leary and Kathrin Thiele, Birgit is also editor of the book-series New Critical Humanities (Rowman & Littlefield).