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Sebastian Köthe

Dissertation Project

Aestheticized Torture and its Reconstructions in Contemporary Euro-American Arts (working title)

So-called “clean” torture does not only consist on the intentional, systematic infliction of physical or mental pain, but also in applying a style that tries to evade later reconstructions, e.g. by using temperature manipulations, constant loud music, enforce “stress positions”, isolation, sleep deprivation or “waterboarding”. Thus, a reading of juridical, journalistic, military or autobiographical documents from the “Global War on Terror” must be sensitive to the fundamental sensorial and perceptual manipulation that aestheticized torture is, when it manipulates regimes of time and space, human-animal-relationships or existential body and cultural techniques. The awareness of these subtle manipulations is an important precondition to translate the suffering of its victims’ to public discourse and thus acknowledge it.

This reconstruction is mirrored by an analysis of the specific epistemology and performance of contemporary Euro-American artworks dealing with “clean” torture. Since torture has turned aesthetical, aesthetic means are especially viable for reconstructing it. It is the aim of this project, firstly, to show how arts have (re-)constructed and scandalized torture’s ephemeral and conspiratorial violence and are thus not mere fictions, but material-based research. Secondly, how the medial dissemination of real and staged torture scenes has initiated, suppressed or framed public discourses and especially how the missrepresentation of torture has had part in its implicit legitimization or invisibilization. And thirdly, how actual torture practices have been informed and affected by medial anticipations.


Sebastian Köthe studied screenwriting at the German Film and Television Academy Berlin (DFFB) from 2009 to 2013. Afterwards, he completed his BA in Cultural History and Theory and Philosophy at the Humboldt University Berlin (2013-15), where he also did his MA in Cultural History and Theory. He has received a Deutschlandstipendium, a scholarship by Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes and a Humboldt Research Track Scholarship. His short films and his feature documentary à propos: philosophie have been invited to over 50 festivals (e.g. IFF Warsaw, Hofer Filmtage, Max-Ophüls-Preis) and have received multiple awards. He works as a freelance author for Die Erklärerei and is moderator at the figure and object-theatre Schaubude’s Gesichtsgespräche. At the DFG Research Training Group “Knowledge in the Arts”, he is working on his doctoral thesis on aestheticized torture and its reconstruction in contemporary Euro-American arts. 


Please note that these listings appear in the language they were originally published.

„Zur Chaotisierung intimer Räume: Gaston Bachelard eingewickelt in Leas Knäuel“, in: Chaos (AT), hrsg. Von Miriam Amin et al., Berlin: Berliner Wissenschaftsverlag, im Erscheinen (2018).

„‚He was reminded that he was less than human.‘ Selbstlegitimierungsstrategien von Folter“, in: Cogito 2/2017, S. 24–28.

“Silent Cinema as Ambiguous Heritage at the Giornate del Cinema Muto”, in: Ekphrasis. Images, Cinema, Theory, Media, 2/2016, S. 127–133.

(Mit Beate Absalon) „Gesichtsflucht und Maskenleben“, in: Double 1/2016, S. 48–51.

„Existenzunberechtigt. Über Whiplash“, in: Blatt 3000 # 3, S. 26–30.

 „Über die kritische Wendung merkantiler Ordnungssysteme im Supermarkt“, in: Entwickeln – Ordnen – Messen, hg. von Exzellenzcluster Bild Wissen Gestaltung. Ein interdisziplinäres Labor, Berlin: BWG, 2015.



 “Reconstructing Waterboarding in Popular Media”, Tagung “Dissecting Violence. Structures, Imaginaries, Resistances” der Amsterdam School for Cultural Analytics, 2018.

„Waterboarding als Selbstversuch“, 31. Film- und Fernsehwissenschaftliches Kolloquium an der Ruhr-Universität Bochum, 2018.

„Think Tank & Synthese im Dialog“, Eröffnungs- und Abschlussdiskussion, Tagung „Körper und Lager“ des Instituts für Geschichtswissenschaft, HU Berlin, 2017.

„Repräsentations- und Legitimierungsstrategien von Folter im post-9/11 Kino am Beispiel von Zero Dark Thirty“, Workshop „Trauma & Kunst“ des Instituts für Kulturwissenschaft, HU Berlin, 2017.

„Sprechen, Sprache und ‚Sprechlosigkeit‘ in Murnaus Herr Tartüff“, Kollegium des Stummfilmfestivals Karlsruhe, 2016.

„Wer würde denn vor einem Gesicht gleich weglaufen? Eine Einführung.“ Tagung „Das Gesicht im Angesicht seiner Auslöschung“ des Instituts für Kulturwissenschaft, HU Berlin, 2015.



„Vor dem Gesicht, Hinter dem Gesicht“, Schaubude Berlin, 2016.

„Das Gesicht im Angesicht seiner Auslöschung“, Institut für Kulturwissenschaft, HU Berlin, 2015.