Sophia Buck




My doctoral project, funded by the Clayton-Graduate Scholarship of Merton College, investigates Walter Benjamin evolving theoretical writing style of the 1920s as intercultural criticism. In the second half of the 1920s, Walter Benjamin lived in and travelled to various cultural and political centers in Europe: Berlin, Moscow, and Paris. After his return from the Soviet Union in 1927, he named his output “Neue Optik,” a kind of inverted or double perspective on Western Europe. Here, Benjamin tested the method, strategies, and style of an intercultural criticism. On the one hand, this approach takes shape in thematic reference to phenomena of transfer of knowledge and cultural practices. On the other hand, it forms through a methodical situation between cultural practices out of their ongoing alternating illumination. It is thus a critique of (nationally localized) cultures of critique. Benjamin observed, examined, and criticized forms of writing, media, and institutions as well as individual actors of intercultural mediation processes between the Soviet, German, and French spaces: propaganda cards, French travel reports on the Soviet Union, publishing and translation programs, friendship associations, academic knowledge transfer, and national literary histories, film reviews, feuilleton style landscapes, and (national) field definitions of intellectuals.

This dissertation project is based on Benjamin’s articles on cultural politics, reviews, city images, notes, and diaries. Benjamin will be examined less as an intercultural mediator, but rather as a critic of intercultural mediation processes. The methodological-political positioning of his intercultural critique or transnational optics turn into a case study on how the politicization of intellectuals intertwined with the renegotiation of cultural, political, social, and institutional practices and imaginaries of a European space. What needs to be clarified are the ways in which interculturality, political dimensions, or cultures of critique as well as imaginaries of the European interact for Benjamin and how, starting from the traces of his Moscow experiences in his critique of Surrealism, become the basis for his cultural-theoretical and historical-philosophical theorization in the 1930s.


The project was recently also affiliated to the German-Russian Research Network, Internationales Graduiertenkolleg Freiburg-Moskau ‘Kulturtransfer und “kulturelle Identität” – Deutsch-russische Kontakte im europäischen Kontext’. For the academic year 2021/22, I am a visiting researcher at the Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung in Berlin (website: Sophia Buck).


In more general terms, I am interested in Philosophy and Literature in the German, Russian and French tradition of modern thought, media and art theory, studies of transnationalism and cultural transfer, and how they intersect.


Research Interests

  • Walter Benjamin

  • Literary theory and criticism

  • Transfer of culture and ideas

  • History of the discipline: intercultural German Studies




Modern German Studies Graduate Seminar 2020/21: German Studies at Oxford – Archives and Utopias of a Community of Practice, in: Oxford German Studies, 50.4, 2021, 1–3 (with Aoife Ní Chroidhéain)

‘Dialogical Thinkers without (intercultural) dialogue. Russian and German-Jewish dialogism of the 1920s and the question of (trans)nationalism’ in: Jusaica Petropolina (under review)

‘“K-Punk”. Bloggen in Großbritannien als “Netz-Werk-Statt” in Small Critics. Transmediale Konzepte feuilletonistischer Schreibweisen der Gegenwart, ed. by Oliver Ruf and Christoph Winter (forthcoming this year)

‘Die differentielle Identität des Anti-Ödipus – ödipale Königs-Figur vs./und schizoide Spaltungs-Figur’ in: Le paradygme royal. Der König als Fiktionsauslöser, ed. by Raluca Dimian and Olga Gancevici (forthcoming this year in Parthenon Verlag)



1st-year Grammatikübung German, Oxford (2020-21)

Modern German Graduate Seminar, Oxford (2020-21)


Organisational Roles

From 2019-20, I served as Arts & Culture Officer of Merton MCR and as Academic Events Officer for the MML Graduate Network. For the latter, I organised the Literature & Philosophy Reading Group for the whole faculty and beyond and the 4th annual MML Graduate Network Conference on the topic ‘Voice and Vulnerability’.

From 2020-, I will co-convene the German Graduate Seminar at Oxford, introducing an overarching research interest on the intersection of ‘Disziplingeschichte’ and ‘Institutionengeschichte’. We arranged a lecture series on ‘German Studies outside Germany. Archives and Utopias of a Community of Practice in Oxford’ for HT and ‘German Studies in the UK’ for TT. The symposium was on ‘Archives and Utopias’.

Since 2021, I am a Board member of the International Walter Benjamin Society.



  • ‘Moskau – Berlin – Paris: Walter Benjamin als Kritiker interkultureller Vermittlungsprozesse’, Internationale conference ‘Kulturen der Kritik und das Projekt der Moderne in Ostmitteleuropa’, Universität Düsseldorf, 12 Nov 2021

  • ‘The Hope for New (De)Colonial Politics of the Visible. Walter Benjamin between the French and the (Soviet)Russian Practices of Imperialism’, International Walter Benjamin conference ‘Hope’, Max-Planck Institute Berlin (online), 6 Nov 2021

  • ‘Kritik an (journalistischen) Netzwerken. Walter Benjamins Modellierungen russisch-französischer Verflechtungen’, Interdisciplinary Online conference ‘Netzwerke im Kulturtransfer’, 1 Oct 2021

  • ‘The Critique of the Communist Order. Walter Benjamin and the Soviet, the Post-Soviet’, and the Putinist Moscow, workshop ‘Working with Benjamin on Law’, ZfL Berlin (online) 16 June 2021

  • ‘Ssofja Fedortschenko: Der Russe redet – Intermedial Contexts of Walter Benjamin’s Review’, workshop ‚Walter Benjamin’s Journalistic Networks‘, ZfL Berlin and University of Oxford (online), 6 Oct 2020

  • ‘Walter Benjamin’s ‘Avantgarde Realism’ – German and French Travel perspectives on the USSR’, 19th annual Modern German Graduate Symposium’, University of Oxford (online), 17 Oct 2020

  • ‘‘Walter Benjamin Digital’ – Archäologie und Topologie einer (hyper)diplomatischen Transkription’, conference ‘Die (hyper-)diplomatische Transkription und ihre Erkenntnispotentiale’, Bergische Universität Wuppertal, 7 Feb 2020

  • ‘Walter Benjamins revolutionäre Räume der ‘Aktualität’ – Proletarisches Kindertheater und ‘Leib und Bildraum’’, Konferenz ‘Internationale Walter Benjamin Konferenz’, Universität Bern, 28 June 2019

  • ‘Franz Kafka: Das Schloss – Eine medientechnologische Perspektive’, conference ‘PRAGESTT 19’, Charles University Prague, 30 Mar 2019

  • ‘Umständliche Artikulation eines Interesses am Tragischen – Dostojewskis Idiot’, conference ‘Figuren des Tragischen’, ‘universitas artes liberales’ Heidelberg, 17 Feb 2017


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