Undergraduate Courses

Autumn Quarter, 2019:

“Maniacs, Specters, Automata:” The Tales of E.T.A. Hoffmann
GRMN 34819/24819 (Grad/Undergrad)
Ingrid Christian

In this course we will read stories by one of the most prominent representatives of Romanticism, the German writer, composer, and painter E.T.A. Hoffmann who wrote “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” on which Tchaikovsky would later base his ballet. His stories of bizarre yet psychologically compelling characters will introduce us to the “dark side” of Romanticism as well as to its fantastical aspects. Students will read Hoffmann’s extraordinary stories, develop skills of literary analysis, and engage in historical inquiry by tracing the way in which Hoffmann’s texts engage with the context of their time, in particular with the history of medicine (mesmerism, early psychiatry) and law (Hoffmann worked as a legal official). Those with reading knowledge of German can read the texts in the original, otherwise readings and discussions will be in English.

Schlechte Zeit für Lyrik: Poetry and Crisis   
GRMN 22519 (Undergrad)
Sophie Salvo

What is the place of poetry in our modern world? Is it an outdated form? Or can poetry uncover truths that other literary genres cannot? In this course, we will examine German poetry from the eighteenth through the twenty-first century, with special attention to works written in times of crisis and destabilization (such as the French Revolution, the Revolutions of 1848, World War I, World War II and the Holocaust, the division of Germany, and the fall of the Berlin Wall). How do authors use poetry to respond to disaster and trauma, both personal and political? How do they understand the relationship between poetry and politics? Is our current era a “schlechte Zeit für Lyrik,” as one of Bertolt Brecht’s poems puts it?
Readings from: Hölderlin, Heine, Trakl, Brecht, Celan, Eich, Bachmann, Braun, H. Müller, and others. Readings and discussions in German.

Kafka: Acrobatics of Reading
GRMN 24419 (Undergrad, Signature Course)
Florian Klinger

In a universe determined by power such as Kafka's – patriarchal, legal, governmental, colonial power, but also physical constraints such as gravity and entropy – everything depends on one's ability or inability to perform. Against such determination, Kafka's texts work as exercises in self-empowerment, acts that constitute their power to perform through their very performance. Taking Kafka’s short prose as a test case, the course investigates the relationship between two things: First, the acrobatics performed in and by the texts that not only feature a cast of tightrope walkers, hunger artists, bucket riders, and other performers, but can more generally be read as a series of kinetic experiments involving plot, description, imagery, sound, or grammar. Second, the acrobatics it takes us, the audience, to engage these texts—demanding a similar artistry of performance that includes casting highly flexible, improbable, and often risky readerly strategies in response. From the short prose, the course broadens its focus to include the longer texts and the diary, as well as excerpts from the fragments Amerika, The Trial, and The Castle. Readings and discussion in English.

Winter Quarter, 2020 

Metaphysics, Morbidity, and Modernity: Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain
GRMN 27517, CMLT 27517, FNDL 27517 (Undergrad)
David Wellbery

Our main task in this course is to explore in detail one of the most significant novels of the twentieth century, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. But this novel is also a window onto the entirety of modern European thought and it provides, at the same time, a telling perspective of the crisis of European culture prior to and following on World War I. It is, in Thomas Mann’s formulation, a time-novel: a novel about its time, but also a novel about human being in time. For anyone interested in the configuration of European intellectual life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Mann’s great (and challenging) novel is indispensible reading. Lectures will relate Mann’s novel to its great European counterparts (e.g., Proust, Joyce, Musil), to the traditions of European thought from Voltaire to Georg Lukacs, from Schopenhauer to Heidegger, from Marx to Max Weber. 
This is a LECTURE course with discussion sections. All readings in English. 

Vaterfiktionen: Patriarchy and Nature in German Literature
GRMN 24719 (Undergrad)
Colin Benert

Around 1800, the antithesis of patriarchy was not matriarchy but the modern, bureaucratic state. The “patriarchalische Idee” celebrated by Goethe’s Werther was a nostalgic idea of an “original” form of authority rooted in familiar relations, hence in Nature. In this course we explore the peculiar growth, development, crisis and critique of this idea in German literature of the 19th and 20th centuries, alternating between works of literature (drama, poetry, narrative prose) and recent films (e.g. Das dunkle Tal, Revanche) that respond to this literary tradition. Authors include G. E. Lessing, Friedrich Schiller, Max Weber, Adalbert Stifter, Gerhardt Hauptmann, Franz Kafka, Ingeborg Bachmann, Elfriede Jelinek. Course conducted in German.

Nordic noir
NORW 24919/GRMN 24919 (Undergrad)
Kim Kenny

Described as a dark subset of the popular crime fiction genre, Scandinavian Crime or Nordic noir has come to command particular attention, not least because of its strong focus on setting, the Nordic landscape and nature.  Beyond the exotic setting, Scandinavian crime fiction provides a window into the welfare state, offering an unsparing critique of the current social and political model. In addition, this genre often features female protagonists, who occupy positions of power.  Still, while these elements explain the attraction to this fiction, there is something else. How do we explain the strange dissonance between the brutality of this crime fiction and the mild-mannered countries from which it derives?  In this course, we will examine a selection of Scandinavian crime fiction including novels from Larsson, Nesbø, Holt, Horst, Mankell and Sjöwall/Wahlöö, as well as secondary readings.

Problems in the Study of Gender and Sexuality: On “Women’s Writing”
GRMN 33119/23119 
Sophie Salvo

This course interrogates “women’s writing” as a historical, theoretical, and literary category. Since the 1970s, feminist scholarship has used the category “women’s writing” to recuperate texts by historically marginalized female authors. This practice has led to a reconsideration of the role of gender in literary production, authorship, and canon formation. Focusing on the context of modern Europe, and the genre of narrative prose, this course aims to reevaluate the classification “women’s writing.” Is “women’s writing,” to borrow a phrase from Joan Scott, a “useful category of analysis” in the 21st century? Can it help us account for how gendered subjects have been constructed through narrative? To what extent do traditional generic and disciplinary divisions limit our understanding of women’s texts? Does the concept “women’s writing” allow for intersectional approaches to the study of gender and sexuality?
Course readings will include literary texts from the 18th-21st centuries (works by Jane Austen, Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, Elfriede Jelinek, and Marjane Satrapi, among others), as well as theoretical approaches from feminist, queer, and transgender studies. Readings and discussions in English.

Theorizing Theater Antitheatrically
GRMN 36219/26219; CMLT 36219/26219; TAPS 36219/26219 (Grad/Undergrad)
Christopher Wild

From its very beginnings, theater as medium and institution has been contested. The periods of its greatest blossoming coincided with its most intense criticism – and even condemnation. Enemies of the theater did not battle theater because they deemed it ineffective and inconsequential. To the contrary, they were deeply convinced of its corrupt and corruptive character. Therefore, theater’s detractors were much more perspicacious about its medial nature and efficacy than its defenders. In short, antitheatrical writers articulated the better theory of theater. Moreover, much of the theorizing by its advocates took the form of apology; apologies which often accepted many of the premises of their opponents, resulting in a notion of theater that was influenced by antitheatrical sentiment. Thus, the course will not only examine antitheatrical texts as a source of theater theory but try to understand their complex influence on the history of this medium in the Western tradition. We will start by investigating Plato’s critique of theatrical mimesis and Aristotle’s riposte in his Poetics, continue with an examination of the reign of maybe the most notorious and theatrical of Roman emperors, namely Nero, then turn to the antitheatrical polemics of the Fathers of the Church. Our next stops will be in the early modern period, with Renaissance England and the France of Louis XIV., before we arrive in the 18th century and have a closer look at the antitheatrical origins of bourgeois drama and theater (Rousseau, Diderot, and Lessing). We will conclude by learning that the avantgarde theater reforms Richard Wagner, Bertolt Brecht, and Samuel Beckett were profoundly shaped by antitheatrical sentiment. Readings and discussions in English.

The Concept of Recognition
GRMN 25119/35119 (Grad/Undergrad)
Florian Klinger

Reciprocal recognition as proposed in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit has become a notorious idea. What is the idea meant to do? And just as importantly – can we work it out conceptually? This seminar will look at Marxist, Genealogical, Pragmatist, and neo-Aristotelian approaches to put the viability of the idea to the test: Is recognition the source or merely the form of normative authority? Is it the emancipation from oppressive power relations (i.e. freedom) or their manifestation (i.e. unfreedom)? Is recognition between an I and a You, or between an I and a We? Is the concept – if it is a concept – translatable into contemporary philosophical language or does it resist such appropriation? Next to Hegel's source texts, our readings include Kojéve, Sartre, Fanon, Taylor, Pippin, Brandom, Honneth, Butler, Rödl.   

Spring Quarter, 2020

GRMN 25619
Catriona MacLeod

The concept of Heimat (homeland, home, roots) has been a focal point of German culture for at least the past two hundred years and continues to be debated during the current time of mass migrations; but it has no precise translation into English. Heimat is deeply connected with German notions of modernity, nature, community, and gender; but the question of where one belongs has also been associated with escapism, exclusion, and marginality. Beginning with a reading of Freud's essay "Das Unheimliche," we will explore literary representations of Heimat (including works by authors such as Eichendorff, Heine, Storm, Stifter, and Sebald); nineteenth-century paintings by artists such as Leibl; and the Heimatfilm genre, via Edgar Reitz's epic film Heimat (1984). Course conducted in German.

Vienna around 1900 and the Making of the 20th Century
GRMN 24519/SIGN 26063 
Ingrid Christian

In 1910, Vienna, with a population of 2 million was the 6thlargest city in the world; it was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a multiethnic and multilingual state. As the “cradle of modernism and fascism, liberalism and totalitarianism” (to use a phrase from The Economist), Vienna around 1900 has fundamentally altered the way we understand ourselves in the West. In this course, we will examine the cultural currents that came together in the city and have since determined our self-image as psychological, sexual, gendered, and political beings. We will explore these revolutions in our sense of identity through the lens of literature and art in conjunction with historical and scientific materials.

Narratology Laboratory: Basic Concepts and Research Potential
GRMN 38120 (Grad) /GRMN 28120 
David Wellbery

This seminar is an introduction to the formal study of narrative. Its purpose is to provide students with a set of conceptual instruments that will be useful to them in a broad range of research contexts. Narratology, although it originated within in literary studies, is today an indispensable dimension of inquiry in the Human Sciences generally. Topics to be considered include: 1) the structure of the narrative text; 2) the logic of story construction; 3) questions of perspective and voice; 4) character and identification; 5) narrative genres; 6) narrative in non-linguistic media. After a brief consideration of Aristotle’s Poetics, we will move on to fundamental contributions by (inter alia) Propp, Lévi-Strauss, Barthes, Greimas, Genette, Eco, Lotman, Marin, Ricoeur, finishing with recent work in analytic philosophy and cognitive science. There will be NO papers or examinations. Rather, the course material will be introduced in lectures and subgroups of course participants will carry out circumscribed projects of narratological research.  D. Wellbery.

Richard Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung in Performance
GRMN 23419/GRMN33419
David Levin

This seminar, open to undergraduates and beginning graduate students, serves as a critical introduction to and intensive exploration of Richard Wagner’s 19th century tetralogy.  In addition to critical readings (e.g., by Wagner, Adorno, Nietzsche, Badiou, Dahlhaus, et al.) and screenings of a host of productions, we will travel downtown to Lyric Opera to attend performances of the Ring cycle in David Pountney’s new production. Our discussions of the Chicago production will be supplemented by conversations with members of the Lyric Opera production team, including Anthony Freud, Lyric Opera’s General Director.  No previous knowledge is required although a curiosity about opera, German culture, media history, and/or theater & performance studies will be essential

Past undergraduate courses