In the course of the 19th century major cities in Europe were increasingly pervaded by artificial light. The nocturnal semi-darkness of the cities provided an ideal breeding ground for all kinds of amusement and excesses. Here, diverse ways of life beyond political, aesthetic or social rules and regulations of daytime were able to thrive. It was the figure of the night roamer that from then on became the paragon of modern, urban identity. Many visual artists, authors and filmmakers have created works honouring the nocturnal flâneur as a distinct societal character. In her lecture, Elisabeth Bronfen portrays the nocturnal city and its protagonists of a time that shows quite a few parallels to the non-stop frenzy of activity of our present day, likewise marked by fundamental societal and extensive technical changes.
Elisabeth Bronfen is Professor of English and American Studies at the University of Zurich and, since 2007, Global Distinguished Professor at New York University. She did her PhD at the University of Munich, on literary space in the work of Dorothy M. Richardson’s novel sequence Pilgrimage, as well as her habilitation, five years later, on representations of femininity and death. A specialist in the 19th and 20th century literature, she has also written articles and books in the area of gender studies, psychoanalysis, film, cultural theory and visual culture – amongst them Night Passages. Philosophy, Literature and Film (2013). She is a frequent contributor for local and international news publications and broadcasts, serving as an expert on culture as well as American politics.