Germanic Languages | Colloquium
G625 | 2706 | Schuller

Topic: Kleine Literaturen in der Moderne: Franz Kafka und Walter Benjamin

Three credit hour course; meets 4:00-6:30 p.m., TR in BH 316 (PLEASE NOTE:
This course meets during the first eight weeks of the fall semester ONLY).

Instruction will be given in German.

When one considers cultural processes in modern times and is confronted with
the 'smallness' (dem Kleinen), one sees that it is an important phenomenon.
Technical development and perception in the natural sciences of the modern
times as well depend on the value of 'smallness', of detail and of the
particle: the cell, the atom, the gene and so on as well as the nano-technique
could be mentioned.

Also in modern literature, fine arts, music, and philosophy one can observe a
significant 'inclination to smallness' (Zug ins Kleine). For example: the
minor drama of Else Lasker-Schüler, the shrinking of the narrative form
of Robert Walser, the lyrical contraction of world description (Ezra Pound),
or the inclination to the aphorism and the essayism in philosophy (Nietzsche,
Adorno). Modern music is determined by a shrinking of the form until the
paradox of representation the vanishing of tones. (Anton Webern,  John Cage).
Under the question of 'smallness' in the course two important authors of
modernity shall be brought into a constellation: Franz Kafka and Walter
Benjamin. Walter Benjamin was not only one of the most famous readers of Franz
Kafka, he is not only the author of a famous essay on Kafka, but his
receptiveness for 'smallness' motivates a configuration between his literary
project and that of Kafka. As Franz Kafka reflected in his diaries--and a
diary is also a minor genre--conditions "for a small literature", as his
narratives and novels are full of tiny figures like Odradek, his literature on
the whole is determined by 'smallness' as a dimension of literary speech. On
the other hand, Walter Benjamin preferred 'smallness' in his manner of writing
("Schreibweise"/"ecriture"). Not only his fragmented style, not only his love
for children's books could be mentioned but also his collection of narrative-
miniatures (Miniaturen-Sammlung) called "Berliner Kindheit um

As "small literature" is not only an issue but also a literary method and
technique it becomes a challenge for theory of literature and of reading: it
will be shown that the 'small literature' of Kafka and Benjamin requires a
kind of 'small reading' which takes note of that which could be named the
'singularity' (das Singuläre) as that which cannot be contextualized,
located and fixed in the system of representation.

Reading list (a list of selected basic readings) is available in BH 644.

(+) a course reader
(+) reserve materials