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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Language, Literature and Humanities

Dissertation Project Antje Czudaj


The Work of Miranda July: Art as Self-help for the Individualized Subject




In my dissertation project, I take a critical look at US-American artist Miranda July's work and its cultural signification. My fascination with her work is based on an ambivalent feeling: Is the popular-psychological self-help of her work depicted as a survival strategy against the postmodern feeling of loneliness, or does she distance herself from it via irony in order to criticize this same strategy? On the one hand, identification with July's multi-media work is facilitated, on the other hand the recipient might feel mocked. July's international acclaim proves that my fascination must be a shared one. Therefore, my project provides a first academic discussion about this avantgardist artist. The analysis of July's work is to provide answers to the question where this generation's attraction to her work stems from. To this aim, I am analyzing her feature film Me and You and Everyone We Know, a selection of her short stories as well as her Internet project Learning to Love You More. The focus is on her staging sexuality and emotion in connection with her approach to self-help. Based on Zygmunt Bauman's postulation that we live in an individualized society, I regard July as a critic of this status. The opinion that her work is avantgardist was first voiced by the art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson in her contribution to the print version of July's and Harrell Fletcher's Internet project. I argue in a similar vein and discuss July's possibilities and achievements to transfer the 1960s avantgardist movement's key issues into today's society. How does she stage spirituality and make everybody feel like an artist? I argue that a main concern of hers is to invite the recipient to feel directly involved, and I am taking a close look at her strategies of doing so in her different works. Since July works with a variety of media, intermedial approaches help me discuss it with regards to a thread she follows throughout her work. I take a critical approach based on Eva Illoutz's book Saving the Modern Soul. Therapy, Emotions, and the Culture of Self-help (2008), which argues that through an emotional style, professional therapy methods have been popularized and widely applied by US-Americans. Since self-help books and spirituality are strongly embraced in California today, I regard July as a key artist who discusses the merits of this trend to a happy life in late capitalism.