Dr. des. Michelle Dreiding


Biographical Note

Michelle Dreiding is a research and teaching assistant at the English Department of the University of Zurich. She holds a Lizenziats degree in French and English Literature from the University of Zurich. She organized the PhD Workshop Precarious Bodies (2012) and an interdisciplinary workshop series on the figure of Topology (2015), funded by the Graduate Campus. Michelle Dreiding is currently working on her PhD thesis on Toni Morrison’s poetics of liminality.

PhD Project: Borderline Case. Toni Morrison’s Poetics of Liminality

The project investigates the figure of the liminal in Toni Morrison’s fiction. It argues that established and cherished fantasies of the integrity of the American subject are founded upon an imaginary that envisions national coherence in terms of a spatialized idea of the here-and-beyond of the frontier. Morrison’s fiction challenges such dialectics by enacting ambivalence—both in its affective and rhetorical understanding—that constitutes an imperative to tolerate the simultaneous co-existence of paradoxes that cannot be reconciled (Klein, Winnicott). It is precisely in the enactment of ambivalence that her texts defy prevalent binary oppositions such as subject and object, self and other, inside and outside that are traditionally articulated in favor of the identity constitution of the former notion of the pair.

    In the specific context of the 1990’s, the end of the Cold War era, Morrison’s writing gains a particular topicality and it is no coincidence that it is in 1993 that she is awarded the Nobel Prize; it is that cultural moment in which the “transgenerational trauma” (Pease) that America has been overwriting with a lot of psychic energy resurfaces with a violent vehemence and confronts the American subject with a particular predicament: “Desert Storm and the beating of Rodney King evolved into two irreconcilable national narratives” (Feldman)—narratives that, even though they are seemingly irreconcilable, both have in common that they hinge on the repressed reality of the construction of the Other as a necessary constituent of American integrity—an Other which needs to be constructed in order for it to be rejected. Such paradox is what Morrison’s texts must engage with and they do so, arguably, through the dramatization of a liminality that does not allow for a stable positioning either here or beyond nor inside or outside. In this sense, she also challenges an African American intellectual environment that “yearns” (hooks) for participation inside of a discourse instead of looking in from the outside. Morrison proposes a paradigmatic shift that introduces new coordinates to think an American discursive space traditionally exclusive of indigenous and African American presence in order to ultimately “draw a map […] without the mandate for conquest.” (Morrison)

    This project looks at both structural and thematic instances of liminality in Morrison’s fictional texts (1987-2015), including incipits of novels, the constitution of textual spaces, negotiations of subjectivity and bodily integrity.

Research Interests

Psychoanalysis, American literature, postmodern literature, film


BA Seminars

  • HS 2017 From Margin to Mainstream: Jewish American Literature
  • FS 2016  Literature and Psychoanalysis
  • HS 2015  Beginnings in Literature
  • HS 2012  Embodied Minds
  • HS 2011–FS 2016 Textual Analysis