PhD students 3rd cohort

Sigmund Jakob-Michael Stephan, M.A.

Sigmund Jakob-Michael Stephan, M.A.
Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena
DFG-Graduiertenkolleg „Modell Romantik“
Bachstraße 18k | R. 109
07743 Jena
+49 3641 945-578

Curriculum Vitae

Oct. 2012-July 2017 BA in German Studies with a Minor in Philosophy | University of Freiburg (Thesis: The Motifs of the Botanic, Female, and the Child in Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde)

Sept. 2015-July 2016 Erasmus year at the University of Latvia         

Aug. 2017-Aug. 2019 MA in Intercultural German Studies | University of Mannheim and University of Waterloo (Master Thesis: Towards a Posthumanist Ecozoo-poetics: Tawada’s and Kafka’s Creature Building)

Sept. 2019-August 2021 PhD in German Studies | University of Waterloo (Research interests: the role of animals in German 19th century aesthetics)

since Oct. 2021 PhD in German Studies | University of Jena/ Graduiertenkolleg Modell Romantik (Research interests: Comical Romanticism)

PhD project

Toward A Model of Comical Romanticism

The notion romanticism is often associated with melancholy, infinite yearning, endless reflections, and world weariness; thus, foregrounding the Comical in Romanticism
might come as a surprise. However, the deep interest of German-speaking Romantics, especially of the Jena Romantics in the comedy and the comical indicates that the innovative thoughts and writing techniques of German Romanticism is also “born from a Comical spirit.”
Friedrich Schlegel, for instance, considers the lack of the comical failure of “modern” literature. In one of his first essays “Vom ästhetischen Wert der griechischen Komödie” [1794], Schlegel argues: “Nichts ist seltener, als eine komische Komödie. Das komische Genie ist nicht mehr frei, es schämt sich seiner Fröhlichkeit.”
Here, Schlegel explains the lack of the Comical results from a society that prevents poets from expressing their joviality. Conversely, Schlegel also suggests that the existence of joviality indicates the liberty of society. Thereby, Schlegel regards the Comical as a part of a broader utopian project. Schlegel’s argument illustrates how German-speakings Romantics employ the Comical as an avenue to negotiate emancipation and agency in a restrictive society.
Following this observation, my dissertation project exposes in what ways German-speaking Romantics endeavour to unleash the “comical genius.” I hypothesize that comical romanticism aims at evoking an ironic and distanced attitude towards the world. In this way, comical romanticism sharply deviates from pre-modern poetics that consider comical writings primarily as means to improve the readership morally. Challenging pre-modern moralistic aesthetics, comical romanticism paved the way for the development of modern, post-modern, and contemporary autonomy aesthetics.
For my dissertation project, I turn to general model theory to systematize and explore the various manifestations of the comical in various types of romantic writing (e.g., literary texts, biographic materials, and poetical statements) to make the complexity and variety of comical romanticism feasible, thereby considering the comical as a literary mode that is not only bound to the comedy but appears in various literary genres. Drawing on a model of comical romanticism, I analyze how this model has been influencing modern and contemporary forms of the comical. One central question is whether the unleashed jovial “comical genius” is still an appealing utopia to us.


  • “Rezension von Heinrich Detering: Menschen im Weltgarten.” Focus on German Studies, vol. 28, 2021,
  •  “The Early Romantic Comedy of Aesthetic Disobedience.” Oxford German Studies,  vol. 50, no. 3, 2021, p. 350-364,
  • “Das Fundament der Einfühlungsästhetik: Smiths und Herders Rhetorik.” Narthex: Heft für radikales Denken, vol. 5, 2019, p. 30-35.
  • “Helene (Heese) Toews (1893-1983). A Mennonite Woman’s Story About Doubt and Leadership.” Mennonite Ontario History, vol. 3, no.1, 2019, p. 4-7, 2019.


  • “The Ecopoetics of Uexküll’s Umweltlehre.”45th GSA Conference, 2 October 2021, Indianapolis, IN. virtual presentation.
  • “The Decolonizing Dialogue between Garlieb Helwig Merkel and Early Latvian Nationalists.” CAUGT Conference, 30 May 2021, Edmonton, Albera, virtual presentation.