Friedrich Hölderlin, Der Tod des Empedokles
Friedrich Hölderlin, Der Tod des Empedokles (Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart)

200-Level courses are for undergrads
300 and 400-Level courses are for grads

YDDH 21023 Translating Yiddish Literature

(JWSC 21023)

This course will primarily be a workshop for sharing, revising and refining our own translations‐in‐progress from Yiddish literature.  Drawing from a corpus of Yiddish texts written in or about Chicago, we will explore and translate within a variety of genres. Each week, in addition to our continuing work on translation projects, we will study the work of translation.  This will include comparing different English translations of Yiddish literary texts, as well as examining Yiddish translations of English texts, to discuss how translators make decisions and the impact these decisions have on the resulting text; reading (in English) and discussing (in Yiddish) major theoretical texts about translation studies; and examining Yiddish language texts about translation.  All of this study will inform our own translations. At the end of the term, the class will create profile of polished translations of Chicago Yiddish writing, together with translators' introductions, which (with the permission of the students) may be distributed to future courses on Chicago Jewish history and culture. The prerequisite for this course is at least one full year of Yiddish language study or its equivalent, with instructor permission.


2022-2023 Spring

YDDH 21723 Chicago Jewish History and Culture

(JWSC 12007)

In this course, students will explore key moments in Chicago Jewish History and culture.  We will read and examine primary source documents from the founding of the city's first Jewish communities, hospitals, and philanthropic institutions to the public performance of Jewish identity at Chicago's World's Fairs to the 2020 Metropolitan Chicago Jewish Population Survey.  Drawing upon literary, journalistic, and archival accounts, we will uncover the vibrancy of Chicago's historic Jewish immigrant neighborhoods, Jewish urban politics, and Jewish suburbanization, mapping out a multivocal understanding of Jewish life in the city.  The course will have a research project component.

2022-2023 Spring

GRMN 22519 Schlechte Zeit für Lyrik: Poetry and Crisis

What is the place of poetry in the modern world? Is our current era a "schlechte Zeit für Lyrik," as one of Bertolt Brecht's poems puts it? 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. How do writers use poetry to respond to disaster and trauma, both personal and political? How do they understand the relationship between poetry and politics? Readings from: Hölderlin, Heine, Trakl, Brecht, Celan, Eich, Braun, H. Müller, and others. Readings and discussions in German.

2022-2023 Spring

GRMN 23123 What Is Capitalism?

The German sociologist Max Weber once described capitalism as “the most fateful force in our modern life.” And roughly a century later, historians such as Jürgen Kocka concur. But what is this veritable specter haunting modernity? The purpose of this course is to enable students to formulate a well-rounded answer to that complicated question. The class will study different theoretical and aesthetic perspectives taken from the period spanning roughly from the late 19th century to the end of so-called state-socialism. We will examine historical objects such as the speeches of Bismarck and Adenauer as well as contemporary news media; literary works by Franz Kafka and Heike Geissler; films by Fritz Lang and Rainer Werner Fassbinder; and theoretical writings by political economists such as Karl Marx, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig Erhard, Joseph Schumpeter, and John Maynard Keynes. This course will be held in German. No background in economics is necessary to participate. 

2022-2023 Winter

GRMN 23607 Nietzsche, European Culture, and the Death of God

(RLST 23607)

This course introduces students to the period of cultural turmoil culminating in what Nietzsche called the “death of God.” On Nietzsche’s view, European culture in the 19th century was characterized by a profound rupture with its own history that could be seen in the domains of art, religion, and philosophy. Our task is to understand why Nietzsche believed that such a radical break had occurred, whether he was right, and what this tells us about our relation to our own traditions and values. The course will be divided into two parts. The first will explore theories of cultural collapse. Can a society lose touch with its past? What would it mean to live in such a society? How could we go on if we ceased to recognize ourselves in our cultural way of life? In addition to Nietzsche, readings will include such pivotal thinkers for the modern era as Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jonathan Lear, and Cora Diamond. In the second part of the course, we will test these theories by looking for examples of rupture in literary texts of the period. Our questions: does a comparison of these works suggest a rupture in culture as Nietzsche claimed? And is it plausible to understand the social, political, and religious developments of this period in terms of the death of God? How does the “death of God” still shape our modern world? No prior study of the literature or philosophy discussed is expected.


2022-2023 Autumn

GRMN 24223 Parrhesia: Fearless Speech from Socrates to Greta von Thunberg

The course will examine the long history of parrhesia, the Greek term for free and fearless speech, from ancient Athens to its current renaissance through the rediscovery by Michel Foucault. Focusing on the relation of truth and discourse, the course will consider not only the extraction of truth as a form of subjection to disciplinary power but also acts of telling truth to power as a practice of self- formation and exercise of freedom. Parrhesia implies a relation between the human self and the act of truth-telling that is suffused with interesting political, philosophical, and ethical possibilities, which students will be encouraged to explore. The course will begin by reviewing Foucault’s final lectures on parrhesia and “the courage of truth.” It will then examine some of the ancient Greek and Christian texts that Foucault analyzed. It will go on to consider early modern instances of parrhesia (e.g. Galileo and Descartes) and will conclude by surveying relatively recent versions (e.g. Greta von Thunberg and James Comey, JD’85), including contemporary feminist and queer practices of parrhesia. Lectures and discussions in English. No prerequisites.

2022-2023 Spring

GRMN 24419 Kafka: Acrobatics of Reading

(FNDL 24419)

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 and -disempowerment, 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, and 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.

2022-2023 Autumn

NORW 24919 Nordic Noir

(GRMN 24919)

Sometimes described as a dark subset of the popular crime fiction genre, has come to command particular attention, not least because of its strong focus on the Nordic landscape. Scandinavian crime fiction also provides a window into the welfare state, offering an unsparing critique of the social and political model.  Finally, there is the strange dissonance between the violence of this genre and the mild-mannered countries from which it derives. Our reading begins with the Swedish married couple, Sjöwall and Wahlöö and The Locked Room from their police procedural “Novel of a Crime” series (1965-1975). From there we proceed to another Swede, Henning Mankell, and his first Kurt Wallander novel, Faceless Killers. Next, we take up Norwegian Jo Nesbø’s The Redbreast, the third of the Harry Hole series. Former Norwegian Justice Minister turned crime novelist, Anne Holt, authored our fourth novel, 1222, a snow-bound homage to Christie’s Mousetrap. We will close with Ekman’s short and compelling Under the Snow, first published in 1962, but not translated into English until 1997.

2022-2023 Winter

GRMN 27517 Metaphysics, Morbidity, and Modernity: Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain


Why did a University of Chicago undergraduate student set out in 1949 for Pacific Palisades, California, to visit the Nobel-prize-winning author Thomas Mann?

Susan Sontag, who would become one of the most celebrated writers in the United States, wanted to speak with the author of the novel that had shaped her thinking more than any other: The Magic Mountain. This course will afford you the opportunity to study that work, one of the most provocative novels of modern literature. Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain is a window onto the entirety of modern European thought. It provides, at the same time, a telling perspective on the crisis of European culture prior to and following on World War I. In Thomas Mann’s phrase, The Magic Mountain is a time-novel: a novel about its time, but also a novel about human being in time. About life, death, reason, love, despair, and hope, against the background of European intellectual history. For anyone interested in the configuration of European intellectual life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Mann’s great (and challenging) novel is indispensable reading. Lectures will relate Mann’s novel to its great European counterparts, to the traditions of European thought from Voltaire to Georg Lukacs, from Schopenhauer and Nietzsche to Heidegger, from Marx to Max Weber. This is a lecture course, with discussion sections. All readings and lectures in English. (German-language discussion session available.)


2022-2023 Winter

GRMN 23523/33523 Aesthetic Ecologies

What would an intellectual history of the environment look like when told from the perspective of art history writing? The geographer Friedrich Ratzel, who first began using the term “Umwelt” (“environment”) in a systematic way, claimed that, up to the end of the 19th century, the idea of environment had been primarily discussed not in scientific contexts but rather in aesthetic ones, by “artistically predisposed thinkers.” In this course, we will take Ratzel’s claim seriously and aim to recuperate the aesthetic side of theories of environment across diverse areas such as: notions of landscape (“the picturesque”); aesthetic and biological theories of milieu (Haeckel’s “ecology,” Taine’s “milieu,” Uexküll’s “Umweltlehre”); Warburg’s cultural history; the “sculpture of environment” (Rodin and Rilke); the “space-body” in modern dance (Laban). This course is about artworks that continue beyond their material confines into the space environing them. It focuses on evocations of air as the material space surrounding an artwork in texts that thematize the continuity between artwork as image and material object. Materials include: Aby Warburg, Rudolf Laban, Siegfried Ebeling, Camillo Sitte, Otto Wagner, Alois Riegl, R.M. Rilke, Wassily Kandinsky, Martin Heidegger, and others. 

MAPH and undergraduate students welcome.

2022-2023 Autumn

GRMN 33723 Musical Selfhood

What sort of subject is the musical self? Within the already brief historical moment of subjectivity in its Western modern shape that is no more than a few hundred years old, an even briefer moment is associated with the idea of a musical subject, a subject or self entirely made up of music. This idea seems of one piece with the idea that music can be pure – or, as it was called at the time, absolute  that it can fully be an end in itself. What does this even mean – that music could be its own end, and that a self could entirely consist of it?          

Amongst the accounts explored by this seminar is Hegel's conception of musical self-consciousness, Schopenhauer's thought of a negation of the will through music, Nietzsche's notion of ecstatic musical selfhood, next to programmatic and literary texts by Tieck/Wackenroder, Kleist, Hoffmann, and Hanslick. To what extent musical scores by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and others will play a role in the seminar is to be determined by the participants. We'll also read present-day criticism of this tradition, and we'll ask whether the idea of musical selfhood can still serve us today, when considered beyond its historical context of emergence. For example, we'll discuss the self at work in Dub, Techno, Free Improvisation, or other places.

2022-2023 Spring

GRMN 23823/33823 Fictions of Patriarchy in German Literature and Thought

In his 1861 study Mother Right, J. J. Bachofen argues that patriarchy is, at is most basic level, fictive. While the mother’s connection to the child is materially perceptible—she gestates, births, and nurses her offspring—the father is a “remoter potency” whose relationship to his progeny, because it is always mediated through the mother, can never be known for sure. Paternity, Bachofen suggests, is a juridical invention rather than a naturally evident fact.

 Taking its cue from Bachofen, this course will investigate the relationship between notions of patriarchy and fictionality in German literature and thought. We will consider how philosophical texts use the figure of the father to ground their speculative claims, how literary narratives adapt changing ideas about the family and the state, and how concepts of patriarchy have structured thinking about fiction’s function and effects. Readings from: Herder, Schiller, Fichte, Kleist, Bachofen, Hauptmann, Freud, Werfel, Heiner Müller, and Jelinek, among others.

Course will be taught in English.

2022-2023 Spring

GRMN 24623/34623 The Psalms: Communication, Conversion, and Meditation

The Psalms are the most cited book of the Old Testament in the New Testament. No book of the Bible received more commentary by early Christian and medieval theologians, representing the foundation of all religious knowledge. Lay people through the ages used it in personal prayer and meditation, drawing strength and consolation from this unique Biblical genre. Teachers employed the Psalms to teach children how to write, ensuring that they became part of the linguistic vocabulary and mental imagery of literate people. Not surprisingly, the poetic sensibility and practice of major Western writers from Augustine, Judah Halevi, and George Herbert to Emily Dickinson and Paul Celan was informed by their reading of the Psalms. Given their importance for the religious and literary culture of the Judeo-Christian world, we will begin our course by closely reading a good number of the 150 Psalms, focusing on how they model a paradoxical communication, namely the conversation between a fallible self and an almighty and distant God. We will then hone in on the role of the Psalms for the conversion and formation of the self in number of seminal Christian thinkers such as Augustine, John Cassian, Saint Benedict, Martin Luther, among others. Since the Psalms were disseminated so widely, we will pay particular attention the material and medial forms in which they were read and performed. Readings and discussions in English.


2022-2023 Spring

GRMN 24723/34723 Philosophical Anthropology: Origins of the Human

(CMLT 24723/34723)

What makes us human? What is our place in the cosmos? What common condition unites us as a species across race, gender, and ethnicity? In this course, we will explore these questions through the lens of twentieth-century German thinkers who placed the human being at the center of philosophical inquiry. Seeking an alternative to both religious and scientific accounts, the philosophers Max Scheler, Arnold Gehlen, and Helmut Plessner developed new conceptions of the human that sought to do justice to both our spiritual and our biological being. We will take an historical approach to this intellectual movement, considering how philosophers such as Herder, Kant, and Nietzsche laid the groundwork for a reevaluation of who we are. In the conviction that literature also plays a vital role in formulating a philosophical anthropology, we will also consider several poets, in particular Friedrich Hölderlin and Rainer Maria Rilke. All texts will be read in English translation.  

2022-2023 Spring

GRMN 35223 Modernism, Fascism, Avant Garde: Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus

This seminar convenes seventy-five years after publication of Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus in its final version (1948). The overriding intention is to foster a conversation bearing on the novel’s relevance to the contemporary historical moment in thought, art, and politics. In a collective reading/discussion of the novel, we shall concentrate on the following issues: a) the significance of modernism in the arts; b) the relation between literature and music; c) myth and modernity; d) the question of national guilt; e) the relevance of humanistic learning; f) the responsibility of the artist; g) the possibility of grace. The core assignment is simple: Read the novel caringly and carefully! There will also be some brief adjacent readings: one or two political essays by Mann and T.W. Adorno’s essay on Beethoven’s late style (a source for some of Mann’s thinking). It is recommended (but not requisite) that participants familiarize themselves with Mann’s other probing meditation on the artist, Death in Venice. We will take occasional side glances at the situation of German exiles in Southern California at the time the novel was written. (Chicago enters into this background story as well.) Our text will be the translation by John E. Woods published by Vintage Books. For those who will also be consulting the German original, the edition of the Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag (In der Fassung der Großen kommentierten Frankfurter Ausgabe, 2012) is indispensable. Undergrads by consent only.

2022-2023 Spring

GRMN 35623 Sexual Disorientation in Freud’s Vienna

(RLVC 35623)

In his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), Sigmund Freud argued that human sexuality is born out of a series of deviations from what would seem to be a naturally given norm. The seminar will take Freud’s Essays as a point of departure for an exploration of the larger literary and cultural world in which his ideas came to fruition. The main authors to be considered: Otto Weininger, Arthur Schnitzler, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Lou Andreas-Salomé, and Robert Musil. Reading knowledge of German required.

2022-2023 Autumn

GRMN 26523/36523 "Motherless Tongue:" Introduction to Transnational Writing in German

This course introduces students to contemporary authors writing in German whose texts explore cross-pollinations between languages and cultures. Discussions will center around topics such as: identity; cosmopolitanism; memory; cultural hybridity and alterity; hospitality; guests and hosts; storytelling; migration; what are transnational German Studies? Authors include: the Japanese writer Yoko Tawada who lives in Berlin and writes in Japanese and German; the Romanian-born author Herta Müller (Nobel Prize in 2009); the Black British author Sharon Dodua Otoo who resides in Berlin and writes in German and English; the Ukrainian-German writer Katja Petrowskaja; the Turkish-born writer Feridun Zaimoglu; and others.

Course conducted in English with an LxC option for interested students. 

2022-2023 Autumn

GRMN 38123 Friedrich Hölderlin: Poetic Media and Prophecy

The landscapes of southwest Germany and ancient Greece figure prominently in Friedrich Hölderlin’s poetic thinking and writing. What allows his poems to bridge and interlace both worlds – often in the span of a single sentence – is his understanding of nature, which is deeply informed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s retour à la nature (“return to nature”). It is through nature that the modern self can not only access the unspoiled culture of the Greeks but also commune with the divine – whether in the form of the ancient pantheon or a more Christian version of transcendence. Paradoxically, nature is mediated in a variety of ways; whether through the elemental media of water, air, earth, fire, and light, travel accounts, maps, and more generally written and printed texts. Our seminar will examine – through close readings of some of Hölderlin’s most famous and challenging poems – how the deployed poetic media structure aesthetic experience and afford travel to distant times and places. All texts will be read in English translation, but a reading knowledge of German is going to be helpful.

2022-2023 Winter

GRMN 38523 Goethe and Kafka. Criticism and Literary History.

This seminar will focus on two novels of unquestionable importance separated by just over a century: Goethe’s Die Wahlverwandtschaften (Elective Affinities) of 1809 and Kafka’s Der Prozess (The Trial), written in 1914-15, but not published until 1925. These works are notable not only for their mysterious depth and narrative complexity, but also for having attracted some of the intellectually most adventurous interpretations in the history of literary criticism. The seminar will consider examples of that criticism from Walter Benjamin’s famous essay on Goethe’s novel and his various pieces on Kafka to recent contributions by Friedrich Kittler, Tony Tanner, Roberto Calasso, and Pascale Casanova. Each work will be submitted to an intensive, detailed interpretation, with particular emphasis on the novelistic rendering of space and time, the relationship between knowledge and unknowingness, the treatment of sexuality, the forms of symbolization employed, and the processing of social energies. In this sense, the seminar is a case study in the poetics of the novel and major positions in the discussion of the novel (Lukács, Bakhtin, Pavel, Moretti, Mazzoni) will therefore provide important points of reference. Command of German is not required, although welcomed.

2022-2023 Autumn