Germanic Languages | Tradition and Innovation in German Literature
E311 | 11668 | Breithaupt


Topic: The Promise of the German Self

This course will offer an introduction and overview of the development
of German and European attitudes about selfhood and identity by
considering works of literature from the Middle Ages to the present.
We have highlights from Goethe, Nietzsche, and contemporary bestseller
Kehlmann on our syllabus. It turns out that German works of literature
have shaped the Western attitude of individuality in general, hence
this course will allow us to ask about the need of a self today.

Two sets of question will guide our examination:

1) Why do we need a self? Do we? Or is the self a mere cultural
invention that may be dispensable? If so, where does it come from? Why
do all people have to have a self and be different from each other?

2) What are the costs to sustaining such a thing as the self? To the
degree that the self is not a given, it must be found, established,
proven. How does one ‘proof’ a self? Is this an individual task or a
collective challenge? If individual self-control is part of this self,
what are the techniques to acquire a sense of self-same-ness,
identity, and control of affects? And: To which degree is the rise of
psychology since the eighteenth century a by-product of Western selfhood?

We will read some wonderful pieces of the German canon of literature
(all in English). Your task will be threefold: 1) do all the readings
(typically 30-50 pages per week); 2) write a series of short 2-3 page
papers in response to these readings; and 3) aim to construct a theory
of WHY the self became such a central concept for the modern world.

In addition to the three ordered books, there will be a course reader
with all readings.