1. Summary

2. Research Program

2.1 Overview

2.2 On Themes and Methods
2.2.1 From Intersubjectivity to the Triad
2.2.2 Building Blocks of an Institutional Theory: Stabilization, Objectivation, Emergence, and Interruption as Effects of the Third
2.2.3 "Big" and "Small" Thirds
2.2.4 Institution and Fiction
2.2.5 Political Epistemology

2.2.6 Publication, Transmission, Public Space
2.2.7 Social Actors
2.2.8 Knowledge-Focused Institutions

1. Summary

Arbitrators, observers, messengers, translators, parasites, rivals, traitors, scapegoats, tricksters, queers, cyborgs—a plethora of figures inhabiting interstices cavort in the cultural theories of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. As agents of mediation, transgression, and hybridization, as excluded and simultaneously included, outlawed and laughing third figures, they undermine traditional dualistic models of order. “Effects of the third” emerge to the extent that intellectual operations no longer merely run back and forth between two sides of an accepted distinction, but rather the act of distinction has itself emerged as an object and problem.
The graduate program on the “figure of the third” begins with a basic observation: that a striking affinity exists between, on the one hand, such conceptual figures and hybrid forms, polluting monumental systems, and, on the other hand, modes of literary-artistic representation. Literature not only has a rich variety of border-transgressing heroes at its disposal, but provides the means of articulation for making intermediary phenomena in the broader sense describable. This offers a genuine entrée within literary studies to questions of cultural semiosis in general—even in view of the rhetorical and narrative composition of non-literary knowledge formations.
In the projects of the program’s first phase, stress was laid above all on the potential for irritation of each individual figure of the third—its capacity to undermine binarily encoded border regimes. In contrast, the second phase will place the institution-forming power of third instances in the foreground.
The program is located in the University of Constance Department of Literary Studies, with its programmatic orientation towards general literary criticism, historical anthropology, and media-theory. In its treatment of socio-structural and cultural-semiological questions, it benefits from the participation of both cultural sociologists at Constance and partners from abroad. On the latter, international level we intend to continue and deepen our successful collaboration with the University of Zurich, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Chicago. New partners will be the University of St. Gallen, and the graduate program “Medial Historiographies” located at the Universities of Erfurt and Jena and the Bauhaus University in Weimar.

2. Research Program

2.1 Overview

The program’s second phase will be able to build on basic elements in the approved organizational proposal (found in the internet under www.uni-konstanz.de/figur3/), as these have turned out to be feasible:

1) The fact that the twentieth century’s cultural epistemology was ruled to a striking degree by categories of hybridity, the “in between,” and the crisis of difference, but also by the observation of creative triangular constellations and medially produced realities, all standing under the sign of the third. This theoretical movement appears characteristic of modernism, and to this extent a phenomenon emerging at a historical moment; but retrospectively it becomes clear that earlier epochs experienced similar disturbances and dynamic processes, developing procedures for their assimilation. This poses the questions of how, in what historical context, and under what social circumstances the third emerges as an acute problem–and of the identity of the crises and needs to which it responds.

2) The poetic productivity of such “effects of the third.” Such productivity can be analyzed to the extent genuine literary procedures (metaphors, rhetorical maneuvers, narrative techniques) emerge to the foreground on the edges of systematic knowledge and in the dissolutive zones of systematic knowledge. The term used for such productivity in the program proposal is Logic/Narratologic of the Third, in line with terms such as “tropics of discourse” (Hayden White) and “poetics of culture” (Stephen Greenblatt), stamping the past decades’ debate in cultural studies. Taking in various modes and genders, the third thus functions within this perspective as a touchstone for approaching a culture’s organizational forms in relation to both poetology and a theory of signs.

3) The plasticity of the figure-concept, covering the terrain between personifying narrative strategies, on the one hand, and abstract structural conditions, on the other hand. Under certain conditions, the third can incarnate itself in a figure that can be shaped in a literary manner; indeed, such a figure can become an icon for specific theoretical directions: for the paradigm of interculturality, the trickster as shrewd interstitial wanderer; for medial theory, the independent messenger; for theory of desire, the rival; for theory of knowledge-production and the historiography of science, the observer who intervenes in the field of his observations. But the concept of the figure is not fully absorbed by such concretizations. Rather, it contains a rhetorical and (de)constructive moment that can neither be personified nor otherwise objectified, but that is located on the borders of representability in general. This is itself an essential dimension of the third.

Already Georg Simmel spoke, in his time, of the “double function” of third persons, namely “both to join and separate” (Simmel 1908: 93). That is, to be sure, only one of many ambiguities sometimes endowing the third with a demonic aura. Other ambiguities, even more important for its prominence in cultural studies, have to do with its locus in a border-zone of distinctions—hence with the question of its functionality in the framework of binarily encoded ordering systems in general. As a threshold entity, is the third (“he,” “she,” or “it”) an element in such systems or an alien body posing a threat to them—and in what forms does he/she/it reemerge in the system that tried to exclude it/she/he? (One may here recall Niklas Luhmann’s discussion of systemic paradoxes.) Does the role of the third consist of dividing the world into polar identities, or rather in fracturing such identities? (Here one may recall the critique leveled by gender theory against sexual dualism and the concept of identity in general.) Briefly summarized: is the third, whether “he,” she,” or “it,” a constitutive or destabilizing category?
Of course, the irony of such an either-or is that it forces the figure of the third to reveal its colors, thus letting itself be “returned” to the binary order. Within a “logic of the third,” such an alternative would have to be rejected. Nevertheless, it has heuristic value. The graduate program’s debates have been marked by frequent references to the third as undermining simplifications, defending itself against the violence attached to all dichotomies. In a general manner, the projects pursued in the program’s first phase tended to stress the irritating character of the particular third figure at issue. In contrast, plan’s are for emphasis to be placed in the second phase on the institution founding and preserving potencies of the third.
By and large, complex structures are not conceivable without the intervention of a particular quantity into the oscillation between any two positions: one generating an asymmetry that facilitates development. Social entities such as family, law, market, and state presume a passage beyond dyadic relational forms. The third here functions as an indispensable dynamizing moment. In this respect, Simmel’s insight that a society generally begins with tertiary structures, which is to say on a level beyond binary models, takes on importance. Through the third instance, mediation comes into play: triadic relationships even exist independently from the participants’ individual wills; tendentially the single player becomes replaceable; relationships gain stability; interaction expands into communication. The figures of the third that Simmel introduces paradigmatically—the mediator, arbitrator, occupator with the maxim “divide and rule”—can be understood as forms or embodiments of social institutions.
In this manner, once the third is presented with a choice, his or her two possibilities are, stated telegraphically, irritation or institution. Along the spectrum traced out in its proposal, the program’s closing phase will focus mainly on the institution-forming capacities of third instances and their stabilizing accomplishments. This involves a shift in methodical accent, one taking account of an intensified theoretical exchange at Constance between literary studies on the one hand, historical and sociological studies on the other hand. Namely, where over the past few decades literary theory had tended to stress communicative disturbances, disfunctionality, and the dissolutive movement of texts, the question of the institutionalizing of functioning orders is crucial for social theory. With this question in mind, the program will pursue close dialogue with a sociology informed by cultural theory; but it will do so without losing sight of its guiding theme—the narrative structure of such orders, the fictions and rhetorical procedures places in their service.
One of the program’s principles is to encourage interdisciplinary exchange concerning figures and figurations of the third—such exchange proceeding, to be sure, on a solid disciplinary basis. Corresponding to the new orientation of the program’s second phase, projects come to mind that are sociologically centered, concerned with institutional and organizational theory, in particular with processes of objectification and stabilization, the establishment of norms, and the emergence of conflict-regulating instances of mediation and decision.
Despite such shift of emphasis, the fields of literature, art, and media studies continue to constitute the program’s theoretical-methodological basis. Within these fields, the institutional implications of an art system itself can be articulated, as well as the medial reproduction of a society through third places and quantities, including the strategies of communication and publication set in play to this end. Among the possible thematic fields are diplomacy (as the art of communication and of intrigue), power structures, the symbols of rule and problematics of sovereignty in their—persistently virulent—aesthetic dimension, triadic constellations in the familial space, in relational systems, in cliental and other networks, and generally in the founding of collective entities. In the context of literary studies, it may be of special interest to observe figures of the third in a continuum between individualization and depersonalization. One productive focal point here might be mediators and judges who step out of their institutionalized, functional roles, or else vanish into them; or else, on the inverse side of social organization, figures typifying the tertius miserabilis—the victim or scapegoat (Girard), the person excluded from the political order (Agamben), the superfluous one—whose individuality is denied, who lose themselves in a zone beyond human identities, and who, precisely through their exteriority, constitute and stabilize the social cohesion of others.

2.2. On Themes and Methods

2.2.1 From Intersubjectivity to the Triad

From Hegel’s master-slave dialectic to Mead’s concept of the “generalized other” to Parsons’ and Luhmann’s theorem of a system-founding “double contingency,” i.e. the indissoluble mutual opacity of ego and alter ego, theories of the social are constructed upon binary models of intersubjectivity that they view as elementary social forms. Nevertheless, starting with Simmel’s essay on the “Quantitative Definition of the Group” (Simmel 1908: 47ff.), a countervailing conceptual tradition can be discerned, one emphasizing the triadic structure of socialization. The dyad of ego and alter founds intersubjectivity; but society only begins with three. Having arrived, the third party not only disturbs the dyad’s closed reciprocity, but brings also into play an element of indirectness, distancing, and estranged observance: an element forming the nucleus of that “superpersonality” and objectification with which social quantities, in Simmel’s words, “confront the individual” (ibid.: 56). Two partners in a relationship can love one another and quarrel, work together and exchange things, but without the arrival of a third person there is neither family nor market nor law, nor other forms of social order.
Notably, it would be an error to treat the third as simply a belatedly present quantity that is as it were added to an original dyad. On the one hand “intersubjectivity only can be described as dyadic” from the outside (Bedorf 2004: 997), since it appears as an interplay between two finite subjects from the outside; hence the concept of the dyad always necessarily includes an observing third person. On the other hand dyads are always already founded and instituted dyads, as marriage makes manifest. To this extent intersubjectivity is no basal concept but one that is derived; it is thus doubtful that a social phenomenology of intersubjectivity, even when it tries to radically formulate recognition (Honneth) or alterity (Lévinas), can ever achieve an adequate analysis of social-institution formation.
With the help of Lacan, this state of affairs can be reformulated psychoanalytically. What is primary is not an exclusive and usurpatory reference of the ego to the other (in Lacanian terminology, the “little” other), who always bears an element of inner self-mirroring and is banished by Lacan to the register of the imaginary. Rather, the symbolic order (the “big” other) is what is structurally antecedent, since “the linguistic code as a third” is already present in the mother-child dyad—that code taking on a normative function without awareness of either participant (Bedorf 2004: 1003). The dyad then no longer appears a primal happiness destroyed by the third (psychoanalytically: the father), but as regressive self-illusion that resists insight into the social pre-structuring of even the most intimate relation.
Consequently dyad and triad cannot be aligned in a logical or temporal order of gradations, but need to be conceived within a kind of temporal loop, reflecting a structure of self-involution: the apparently elementary is already founded by the complexity into which it develops. As basic as this relation of mutual provisos is for a theory of social-philosophical foundations, it can hardly be observed more precisely than in literary texts: from the familial novel to the drama of jealousy to political plots centered on rulers and states, such texts offer micrological analyses of constitutive social structures.
The intersubjective aspect of the third experiences a turn from the thematic to the literary-theoretical when the literary text is itself approached as a third: one founding an indirect relation between author and public whose complexities and effects of reverse coupling extend far beyond the level of a simple sender-receiver model (cf. section 2.2.6). The category of performance or performativity of texts here comes into play; this category has drawn particular attention in research on pre-modern literature.

2.2.2 Building blocks of an Institutional Theory: Stabilization, Objectivation, Emergence, and Interruption as Effects of the Third

The expansion of the dyad into a triad not only increases the number of potential alliances (triads love variation and are inclined to fall apart in one of three 2 + 1 combinations, in order to then refigure themselves anew), but also elevates the relation between those communicating to a qualitatively new level. Still following the tracks of a vitalistically grounded doctrine of estrangement, Simmel here speaks of a “detached life” of abstractions (Simmel 1908: 56). Becoming independent, objectification, and “entelechy as an end in itself” (Gehlen 1994: 69) are catchwords that twentieth century sociologists have used to describe institutionalization processes—along with sublimation (Schelsky 1965: 49f) and discharge. The institution-concept is here used in the broad sense, denoting all relatively stable and enduring culturally formed patterns of human relationship that structure social behavior, regulate norms, and legitimize both interpretations and value-orientations; but it is also used in the narrow sense, denoting formations such as the family, the state, and enterprises, thus partially overlapping with other concepts such as the organization, the association, and the corporation. Gehlen has termed archaic institutional forms “transcendence in immanence” (Gehlen 1994: 18). Within approaches grounded in evolutionary theory, the concept of emergence has a similar function, rendering comprehensible the formation of social quantities whose qualities can no longer be ascribed to their individual physical elements.
This still allows institutions to be derived from certain types of personal intervention. The best starting point in this regard is the effect of the impartial third party who according to Simmel is present “in turn,” i.e. in wandering position, in every “community of three”; the achievement of this third party is “to construct a kind of central station that, whatever form the contested material has when it arrives from one side, delivers it on the other side in a form that is objective,” thus cooling off antagonism (Simmel 1908: 106f). It is noteworthy that already on the level of rudimentary organization, a still entirely situational technique of conflict limitation take on firmer form: the “institutionalization of centralized leadership“ rests on the need for an “engineering of consent,” in short, on mediation (Service 1975: 8ff). Bearers of authority must avoid conflicts between two groups expanding into a cycle of revenge. When social circumstances become too complex to arrange conciliation through personal influence and charisma, stable hierarchies come into play. At the same time, there is an introduction of political offices, those occupying them having appropriately elevated status and—above all—long-term means for imposing sanctions. In this way the office, the elementary form of political institutions, is itself born from the imperative of mediation.
When we recapitulate this dynamic in terms of a theory of the third, we here find it appearing not so much in the classic role of unifying element, but as an interrupter of conflict-laden escalations. The deadly symbiosis of violence and counter-violence can only be laid to rest through the efforts of an arbitrating and neutral third whose task is to generate discontinuity in the dense reactive sequence of conflicting actions. Hence with close scrutiny, the mediatory process reveals a double structure, corresponding in a certain way to the “double life” of the third: for the mediatory, separation and unity do not represent an opposition, since separation is here for the sake of unity (or, expressed inversely, the conflicting parties are brought together in order to separate them and stop the mutual escalation.)
To generalize, this means that institutions emerge at the locus of the interruption of the social dynamic. They are figures of the third oriented toward the long term and elevated to an abstract principle: law, which suspends revenge; the all-powerful state, which ends individual violence through its monopoly over means of compulsion; the sovereign, who only does justice to his or her name when he or she is no part of the state and cannot be threatened by any part of the state; the market, which transforms mutual obligations into anonymous, many-sided transactions.
What is the case with the mediator is true in altered form of communicative media in general: they stabilize social communication or raise the possibility for its success by interrupting a face-to-face news flow and establish themselves as a third, emerging, abiding quantity between the communicating parties. This defines the real accomplishment of first writing, then printing, then the various media. The historical synergy between communicative media and political institutions is doubtless one of the most remarkable effects of the third worth scrutinizing in this context.

2.2.3 “Big” and “Small” Thirds

It would in any case be one-sided to see for instance the task of modern states with a power-monopoly as involving a supply of undefeatable mechanisms for peacemaking and the engineering of consent. The same state steers a considerable proportion of its energy into the weakening of intermediary powers pursuing very similar goals in a parallel world of extra-stately regulations. Within domestic politics, it opens as it were a double front: on the one hand against conflicting parties, upon whom it looks down in the role of the “big third”; on the other hand against the many “small thirds,” the local authorities acting according to the old customs and duties—the families, clans, corporations, churches, bands, warlords and other intermediate powers serving as effective mediators in their own fashion. Client systems—that is, systems designed to increase opportunity through accumulation of relations, serving both to pacify in cases of conflict and to distribute power, authority, and offices—represent the traditional and still probably most widespread means of forming triads and tying them together into networks. Through the state’s emergence in the role of central mediatory authority, these networks and the intrigues tied to them (cf. Utz 1997) are pushed below ground; one then speaks, from the states perspective, of mafia-like structures and corruption (Chittolini 1995).
This factor of historical rivalry between different strategies of mediation, hence of triangulation, has to be considered in any theory of the third, whose institutionalizing capacity gains its profile from a demarcation vis-à-vis an “inferior form” discredited as corrupt. Here again, interruption is the true secret of institution-founding mediation. This interruption has two aspects, being concerned simultaneously with the reciprocity of violence and gifts of friendship. At least according to modern criteria, representatives of a public institution have neither friends nor enemies; through the offices they hold, they have withdrawn from the continuum of exchange of both gifts and violence. As soon as they enter one of these circles, they are indispensable for the immobilization of the other. Then the big, institutional triad collapses, making way for a play of interest-coalitions—a play obeying its own laws, very distant indeed from those of the state.
To a certain degree, the theoretical differentiation between “big” and “small” figures of the third will remain artificial, as in practice the two triangulations intermesh. This internal dualism is itself overtaken by the fate of a triadic logic. Nevertheless, at least for an enlightened understanding of the state it is fundamental and cannot be deconstructed without the constitutional state itself being deconstructed. The question that emerges is as follows: how might the political discourse of modernity initiate and realize such a categorical distinction? What can it choose as support, and through what semantics can it be stabilized?

2.2.4 Institution and Fiction

In the self-description of modern political institutions, the opposition between universalism and particularism is the most important distinguishing criterion. The struggle to realize universal principles is at the center of eighteenth century reform of the state (Lind 1996: 124). But how can a pure, incorruptible universal principle be institutionalized? And how are human beings, with their partialities and egoistic interests, to take on the “transcendent” position of office bearers duty-bound to help realize that principle?
For such a basic problem, solutions need to be found on several levels. Most immediately, we need to consider the extensive political, administrative, and apparatus-connected measures through which modern polities formalize their political procedures, in order to protect them from cooption by particular interests, i.e. corruption. Next, we need to take account of the fact that public institutions not only fulfill certain primary needs but, beyond that, generate needs of a second-degree nature: needs aimed at strengthening the endurance of just these institutions (Schelsky 1965: 36ff). That motives for investing in institutions can also be found belatedly is one of the basic reasons they grow independent from their original sponsors, reasons for existence, and goals and come to be viewed as permanent entities (Gehlen 1994: 33ff).
This is directly connected with a third problem of institutionalization, in this context the most important problem. Gehlen here once again offers an appropriate formula, that of institutional fiction, by which he means an effect of mutual validation and reinforcement between institutions and concepts (Gehlen 1994: 244). In naming “fiction that has become obligatory” “a reality in its own right,” (ibid.), he is referring to the explosive fictionality of social institutions—an insight within which perspectives from literature and the social sciences mingle. For against the image offered by their human representatives, institutions have to hypostasize themselves into authorless, impersonal, higher powers; they are only possible in the form of regulative fictions.
(With above all conservative German postwar sociologists serving as authorities for the present argumentation, the problematic side of this sociology of institutions—the blending of social theory and anthropological apology—should not be neglected. Considering “triad management” in relation to history—or to the after-history of totalitarian thinking—would be a worthwhile focus of research in its own right. Notably in this respect, the work of Rehberg serves as a foundation for Gehlen’s project of a “critical theory of institutions” [Rehberg 1990].)
Insight into the fictive nature of foundational instances of social order—law, nation state; more generally: institutions—presents literary studies, traditionally understanding itself as the study of fictional texts, with entirely new tasks; for those pursuing such studies, the insight means that the creation of social entities is always also a poetic project, in that it involves “imagined communities” (Anderson 1993) and the “invention of tradition” (Hobsbawm/Ranger 1983) connected to them. Put otherwise, it involves the narrative crediting of collective subjects who, within a guiding distinction between what is “one’s own” and what is “alien,” must be introduced, in a certain sense retroactively, as always already possessing a self-identical nature.
In this context the significance of the process of interruption needs to be emphasized once again. Bureaucratic state institutions establish external borders not only to protect their routines from the “information overflow” of everyday life (Luhmann 1964: 220ff), but also to become, precisely, agencies of the general. Whoever enters an institution’s interior as an office-holder has to change or at least split his or her identity; no modern institution survives without the principle of a separation of office from person or, more broadly, of symbolicism from empirical reality. In order that ascriptions of institutional role can become independent in Gehlen’s sense, an entire apparatus of symbolic practices is available to safeguard the demarcating line between inner and outer: rituals of the threshold, of investiture and swearing into office, of admission and exclusion, of regulated communication between parties, and not least of all of spatial, vestmental, and gestic production of representativity and rank. All of these are functions of interruption, and they are exercised by the corresponding personnel: border guards and porters, masters of ceremony, advisors, secretaries—part and parcel figures of the third.
Interruption is not a simple and logically unambivalent process. It in fact depends on a series of supportive practices and narratives that fulfill a paradoxical task: to generate passages and connections precisely at the locus of institutional caesura. The purpose of this procedure is to allow the general—the determining framework of the institution—to find its place within the continuum of everyday, particular life while nevertheless being substantially separate from it. Filling these passages, in order to “pollute” systemic functional routines or, put otherwise, to exhibit them in their incomprehensibility, is the task of literature. The generic inclination of literary texts to transform institutional determinants into personal conflict-situations and questions of character can perhaps be understood as a special endowment for operating on both sides of the institution/individual distinction. In the same manner, the epochal “media caesura” (Tholen 2002) cannot be subsumed under technological history or under a concept of the media as a political-cultural institution. This is because they always co-produce their difference from the messages they mediate—because through their intervention, they communicate the caesura that they signify. The media are their message only when what they mediate is observed as their difference.

2.2.5 Political Epistemology

In present-day research on the history of the European state, there is a tendency to steer away from traditional concepts of sovereignty, instead accentuating the ruler’s connection with power elites. Both the competition between existing client-structures and the institutionalizing of the state—following “God”—as the “big third” have been discussed above. What is at play here is a contest between differing strategies of triangulation. The elementary building blocks of client systems are, to be sure, dyads (formed by patron and client), which, however, always need to be embedded into triadic structures if the system is to be enticing: the patron creates an entrée to another, even more powerful person; the client competes with other clients for patronage; inversely patrons face expectations of justice, and one of their most noble responsibilities is to resolve quarrels between their clients.
That at present increased attention is being paid such decentering of political rule is surely connected with a sense of crisis regarding the state and the ongoing syndrome of “failed states.” When centralized state institutions carry out their “historical mission” of transforming a society’s “hot” conflictual material into cooled down operational energy, this always means that they undermine the legitimacy and value of regulative capacities that are either pre-institutionalized or have been institutionalized in another manner. But as soon as the state order is weakened, the client systems return to the surface; these can never be totally disarmed, being adept at serving state institutions in parasitic fashion (Lind 1996: 125), Failing states do not crumble into social atoms, but into the fabric of “friends of friends” existing before or beneath the state (Boissevain 1974): loosely connected triads, old and new, traditional and terroristic arrangements, clear border-demarcations here not being possible.
The current upswing of the “network” concept, conveying its own “triadology,’ is probably best explained in terms of a loss of value on the part of the traditional political categories of inclusion. The political grammar reveals traits characterizing classical instances and normative hierarchies to a steadily diminishing degree. Instead, it shapes models of labile, decentralized, hybrid structures. (This may well explain the increased importance of ethnological models, derived from the observation of segmentary modes of organization, for the self-description of developed industrial societies.) The classical nation-states are losing a portion of their regulatory power and their identity-forming validity, which has an impact on identity concepts in general. Since the end of the cold war, political strategies aimed at shifting the disintegrating confrontation of blocs into new dichotomous orders compete with other strategies that hold schemata of friend/enemy, right/left, and capitalism/socialism to be obsolete. Anthony Giddens is not the only author proclaiming a “third way” and seeking “third forces” (Giddens 1999; 2000; 2001).
In turn, however, new, frequently fundamentalist dichotomous types have emerged as a counter-reaction to the ethos of hybridity and transcultural negotiation bound up with the above development. One characteristic of above all religious fundamentalism is that it expands its guiding distinctions into a scenario of “cosmic warfare“ (Juergensmeyer 2003: 148ff.) while revealing intolerance of all thirds wishing to moderate its fantasized decisionary crises. Within this perspective all phenomena linked to political pacification—compromise, co-existence, tolerance, multiculturalism, the separation of religion from politics—are merely a weakening of one’s own position, in other words: treason.
With changes in modes of political integration, forms of sanction and exclusion change as well. Here Simmel’s typology of the third needs to be expanded with various types of the tertius miserabilis, such as the bone of contention, the man who serves two masters, the whipping boy, and the scapegoat (Scharmann 1959). Girard’s reflections on the sacrifice as a ritual founding or renewing social bonds remains fundamental (Girard 1987). Some research on antisemitism has pointed to “the Jews” as imagined (and persecuted) as a figure of the third: for antisemites, the Jews embody, on the one hand, the hated principle of universal mediation (money), and, on the other hand, the no less hated existence of a particular “non-national nation” undermining the standard national semantics, marked by a clear-cut distinction between one’s own nation and nations that are foreign (Claussen 1987; Holz 2000).
With the figure of homo sacer, banned from the legal realm and thus thrown back on “bare life,” Giorgio Agamben (2002) introduced an additional figure of the excluded third into political philosophy, elevating that figure into a paradigm of Western history. For its part, contemporary sociological theory sees itself confronted with the reality of “superfluous” individuals—those falling out of the functional social system as irrelevant and no longer even considered objects of exploitation and oppression (Schroer 2001). Finally, a figure of the third who is as topical as he or she is threatening is the terrorist, as an irregular fighter not ascribable to either one’s own or a foreign state and challenging their power-monopoly through asymmetric actions.
All of this touches on the terrain of sociological analysis of structures as well as that of political mythology. The field is here especially open to consideration from the perspective of media studies, focusing either on stereotypically couched political reportage or on fundamentalist schemata of violence and exclusion in both the mass media and science fiction. Neither focal point does away with the task of exploring the topic’s deeper historical dimension—and the historical origins of modern states and societies in the framework of the collapse of identity-concepts defined by the national state.

2.2.6 Publication, Transmission, Public Space

Especially in French historiography, more recent approaches are aimed at widening the reception-aesthetic duality of sender and receiver into a series of publicistic actions that are thus developed, in their own manner, into a theory of the third, namely, transmission: “l’interêt est déplacé vers les relais, les intermédiaires, les médiateurs, les ‘passeurs.’” There is less inquiry into the text as an “objet porteur du sens,” more into its “déplacements,” unfolding in the transmitting process (Jouhaud 2002: 9f).
This allows an intensive intermingling of textual analysis and the analysis of power. In absolutist France, for example, publishing activities center around the Parisian power-pole and the royal court; they emerge within an “espace mixte”: hybrid interlayerings of personal and public interests in the intermediary zone of the “publicateur-relais qui forment le premier public de leurs publications” (ibid.: 18). The transmitted messages here take in all possible medial aggregates: oral communication, rumor, anonymously distributed pamphlets, official memoranda, and so forth. Such half-public activity expands along half-public networks of clients, their center being the personal sovereign himself and the princes by blood, embodying the hybrid conjunction of publique and particulier because their “private” concerns have public rank. In the gravitational zone of monarchic power, all publicistic acts take place as interventions in view of one or another patron, for his part addressed as an agent de change, i.e. as a third.
And this, precisely, is the juncture from which emerges something like a “public” in the modern sense, by way of a series of client contacts. On the one hand this occurs through the patron not only being invoked as a door-opener in the hierarchy of the court, but also as the broker of an emphatically general principle—whether good taste, reason, or another humanity-oriented ideal. On the other hand, the address to the patron is made with a view to a public, itself addressed so to speak silently (as in dedications) and in this way playing the role of the absent-present third within the client-patron relation. To this extent the public emerges as a side effect and at the same time a modeling backdrop to the clients’ language act. In its communicative structure this is comparable to the situation of absolutist theater, where the court is presented as an art-judging public, in order to be present at a tragedy of the sovereign conceived by an author.
Finally, beyond the person(s) it is directly addressing, published material makes contact with an indeterminate number of additional, nameless receivers. They become diffuse, thus creating an excess to the client-bound context—albeit a non-quantifiable excess. For the total of these 2 + x amounts is a transcendent sum that can no longer be addressed, beyond the “interactive core” of publicistic action: the pre-form of a generalized public realm.
It seems potentially rewarding to follow this “structural transformation of the public sphere” beyond the epoch of absolutism using the theoretical apparatus briefly outlined above. The theme is intimately tied to an institutional doctrine itself stamped by the third, since to a certain degree the regulative fictions determining a public realm and those determining modern institutions have a co-evolutive relation (cf. Rehberg 1995). Consideration of possible parallel developments in the shift from monarchic to democratic procedures within, for instance, jurisprudence, here comes to mind. In this context, the question again emerges of how a public good can be hypostasized and rendered semantically plausible once dissolved from the person of the sovereign. In the axial period around 1800, literary writers in particular explore the semantic potential of universalism in all conceivable fields, including the conditions making their own communication possible.

2.2.7 Social Actors

In more recent analyses of power systems, one can observe something like an “infrastructural turn”—a swerve away from hierarchal political formations, supplied with clear borders and apparently stable, and towards the diffusive paths and techniques of power. Power is here understood as a pluri-causal interplay of networks that act in a decentered, asynchronous, and to great extent mutually independent fashion. For this reason the decisive social forces are no longer located in the center but rather in the tense zone between it and the periphery, in the “interstices.“ meaning the spaces, edges, tears within any given structure of power (Mann 1990). Generally speaking, the analysis of networks pays little heed to questions of unity and the maintenance of borders; rather, it has settled into a cheerful heterogeneity in which the separation of inside and outside, one’s own and the alien makes little sense, because the chief activity involves a production of world-wide connections, not regional closures.
While the number of other points in common may be very limited, the analysis of social networks has, in its own way, arrived at conclusions similar to those of a cultural studies stamped by postmodern decentering and deconstruction. This is also manifest in the subjective status of social actors appearing increasingly problematic within both theoretical milieus. As the concept of a social totality loses credibility, so does the integrity of the individual subject. This is now conceived as a juncture of various discourses and forces, hybrid forms that can only be forced into a personal-identity “passport” through a decisionistic act.
Precisely on this socio-structural terrain, the study of literature is eminently well-situated to supply insight into problems related to the ego, psychic departmentalizing, and role play. In addition its apparatus can be used for an inquiry, undertaken from a perspective of cultural semiology, into narratives underpinning a social grammar of decentering. In this respect, recent theoretical speculation on the hybrid character of social actors may prove especially challenging, the work of Bruno Latour and of the Constance sociologist Karin Knorr-Cetina here coming to mind: both authors reject the modern subject-object dichotomy, instead reconceptualizing social agents as composite human and technical forms (Latour 2002: 211ff). Sociality is constituted not only through communication, but also through activity involving things; as unifying and separating, desired and threatened, incorporated and excluded, natural and artificial, these form their own arsenal of figures of the third. Now as before, Latour’s study “We have never been modern“ (1993) contains a major challenge for narratology of scientific modernism under the sign of the third.

2.2.8 Knowledge-Focused Institutions

Among the institutions which are relevant for a graduate program on the figure of the third the university itself is not the least important one. Problems of cultural contact do not emerge initially from the field of an empiricism meant to be described as “scientific,” but already in the movement between the various domains of knowledge and disciplines. This development is of concern above all to literary studies themselves—no longer burdened with the role of national-philological identity formation, so that questions of translation and both intercultural and intermedial communication take on great importance. But in a very general way as well, the discourse of knowledge-production has been increasingly marked by the use of prefixes such as “inter” and “trans,” the development of hybrid fields of knowledge even becoming an imperative of state-supported research. Whether in the cultural or natural sciences, the zones of greatest innovation are presumed to lie on the edges and loci of interference between the established disciplines, with their previously mutually exclusive methodological canon.
The history of science and scholarship has reacted to this development by genealogically analyzing the academic division into disciplines and the concept of disciplines as such. An important initiative in this direction, taking in the USA, Europe, and Asia, is based at the University of Chicago’s Francke Institute (director: Prof. James Chandler); the graduate program at Constance has research relations with the institute.
From the perspective of cultural studies, this complex has various facets. One first needs to ask whether the division between disciplinarily assured knowledge on the one hand and hybrid agglomerations between the disciplines on the other hand is simply a result of certain framings that are historically contingent, hence capable of being set up in entirely other ways. This would mean that no qualitative but only a classificatory opposition exists between realms of knowledge production defined as “strong” and “weak”—with the double consequence that through reframing, a disciplinary canonization of previous marginal realms could be realized on the one hand, a hybridization of previously “pure” disciplines on the other hand. But importantly, since every disciplinary division produces new epiphenomena, the problem of how differing epistemic regimes negotiate with each other and form “trading zones” (Galison 1997) cannot be laid aside through alterations of the classificatory grid, but only mapped out anew.
The reconfiguration of the sciences in certain threshold epochs can be examined historically in this context. This is above all of interest in view of the history of the separation of the natural sciences from the humanistic disciplines: as is well known, this not only led to a methodological closure on both sides of the “great divide,” but also eviscerated a “transversal” empiricism that until then had been accorded scientific conviction. It might thus be promising to examine the question of what preliminary understandings and mediatory semantics made possible a re-migration of concepts between the two knowledge-cultures, often behind the backs of the participants. This leads to a historiography of, first, rhetoric—as the Old European universal system of all the sciences—then hermeneutics and its applicability beyond the realm of the so called verstehende Wissenschaften (Dilthey).
For a “historical ethnography” of the various philologies themselves, it would be instructive to mirror their nineteenth century program of national definition against their late twentieth-century program of internationalization. As the example of German national rhetoric during the Napoleonic war shows—authors such as Fichte, Kleist, Arnim, Arndt, and Jahn can here be cited—nationalization is a purificatory, not to say purgatory undertaking, sparking extreme sensitivity in relation to border-violations. Formulated pointedly: whoever invents a nation and initiates a struggle against alien entities (in this case: Welsche), has to expel the third. Inversely, a “licensing of the ‘third’” corresponds to periods in which literary studies recognize the different national canons to be artificial constructions; there is then a search for concepts doing justice to a permanent transfer of ideas between languages and literatures.

Translated by Joel Golb