Barbara Nagel is an assistant professor of German at Princeton University. In her Academy project, “Ambiguous Aggressions,” Nagel takes up the study of affect in order to develop a historically...
John P. Birkelund Lecture
The Terror of Flirtation from Critical Theory to #MeToo
Has flirtation become a thing of the past? With mobile dating-apps like Tinder and Grindr designed to minimize unexpected encounters, and the #MeToo movement unveiling the rash of sexual abuses of power, does anyone still dare to flirt? With a hint of nostalgia, Princeton literary scholar Barbara Nagel looks back to early theories of flirtation in Critical Theory and German realism to trace the literary–historical emergence of what she terms a “terror of flirtation”—flirtation as the place of contingency and aimlessness, of equalizing encounters in which woman is the sovereign. This warlike situation, she notes, is perhaps best illustrated by sociologist Georg Simmel’s observation, “In saying no and saying yes, in surrendering and refusing to surrender themselves, women are the masters.”