Rochelle Tobias’s research areas include aesthetic theory, critical thought, modern poetry, ontology, phenomenology, theories of the novel, the religious turn in modern art, the concept of “world “in 20th-century European literature and philosophy, and German-Jewish culture from the Enlightenment to the present. She received her PhD from the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1996, where she studied German, French, and English literature from the 18th to 20th centuries with special emphasis on modern poetry.
Rochelle Tobias’s research has focused primarily on the intersection of German literature, philosophy, and religion in the 20th century. Her work explores the aesthetic assumptions that underlie a work and which make its images possible as well as sustain its representations. This interest has led to her to ontology and to the study of what Adorno called the non-identical and Heidegger difference. While she frequently examines these matters in connection with modern lyric poetry (Celan, Rilke, Hofmannsthal, George, Trakl), she also has an interest in modern fiction (Walser, Kafka, Musil, Mann, Bernhard), Enlightenment poetics, Romantic theories of literature, political philosophy and mystical thought (especially Meister Eckhart).
Her first book The Discourse of Nature in the Poetry of Paul Celan: The Unnatural World (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006) examined the enigmatic images in Celan’s poetry and argued that they have a common source. They are taken from the disciplines of geology, astrology, and physiology, or what could be called the sciences of the earth, the heavens, and the human being. She claims that Celan’s poetry borrows from each of these disciplines to create a poetic universe, which attests to what is no longer and projects what is not yet.
She has completed a second study Pseudo-Memoirs: Life and Its Imitation in Modern Fiction that revisits some of the foundational questions of literary criticism, aesthetics, and theories of prose fiction. In theoretical reflections that stretch from Aristotle to Friedrich Schlegel and Lukács to Blanchot, and close readings that extend from Robert Walser to W.G. Sebald, she examines what it means to tell a story and whether life takes the form of a story. These questions have gone largely unaddressed in narrative theory.
She is currently working on a project on Rilke that explores the subjective constitution of the world and the concomitant representation of the self as an ever-changing and ever-expanding landscape. The projection of the self as world undoes the distinction between inner and outer experience as well as subjective and objective phenomena. The project builds on Käte Hamburger’s seminal work on the intersection of Rilke’s poetry and Husserl’s philosophy.
Professor Tobias’s honors include a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies at the Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich in 2009 as well as research grants from the American Association of University Women and the DAAD. In 2011, she and her colleague Elisabeth Strowick received a generous grant from the Max Kade Foundation to found the Max Kade Center for Modern German Thought at Johns Hopkins.