West European Studies | Select Topics in West European Studies: German Cultural Studies
W605 | 26342 | Robinson, B

4:00P-5:15P   TR   3 cr.
Obtain on-line authorization from department
Section meets with GER-G564

Everything flows and nothing stands still. –Heraclitus
What exists is now, all at once, one and continuous... all is full
of what is. —Parmenides

If we are comfortable with a notion of historical progress at all,
we tend to enjoy it more in our philosophical and political
reflections than in our lyrical and narrative art. Why should that
be the case? Why can we read about progress in Kant, Hegel or Marx
without embarrassment, while we couldn’t bear its piety in Rilke,
Musil, or even Brecht? On the other hand, when we take up a book of
poetry, we are ready to enjoy a certain quiet intimacy with things
that is hard to make sense of in our moral and historical
philosophy. The course will try to understand this relationship
between the satisfactions of progress and those of stasis by
analyzing examples of representational art through the lens of
philosophy. Through a close readings of texts and films, the course
introduces us to one of the main dilemmas of twentieth century
intellectual culture: should human experience be characterized
primarily by its relationship to things or to changes? Moreover, are
things substantial presences or disruptive impositions and is change
marked by steady intentions or accidental catastrophes?

Many influential philosophical gestures of the 20th century—
vitalism, existentialism, surrealism, post-structuralism—were
involved with repudiating the all-devouring dialectics of Hegel,
where the movement of absolute knowledge incorporated all eruptions
of difference. Stillness, fragmentation, and ecstasy were opposed to
structure and system. The things themselves were opposed to
propositions about them. Instead of the law, the modernist focus
switched to the event, instead of the whole, the focus was on the
part. Here we are concerned with finding the vivid aesthetic
experiences that these philosophical conflicts are trying to grapple
with. Beginning with some philosophical touchstones in Kant and
Hegel, we read excerpts about progress, perception and things.  We
then turn to poetry by Ovid, Lasker-Schüler, Rilke and Benn and
reportage by Kisch to see how they make the philosophical issues
palpable. We learn to use such tools of literary analysis as the
metaphor/metonymy and mimesis/poiesis distinctions and semiotic
concepts like index, icon and symbol. Simmel, Lukács, Benjamin and
Heidegger then lead us to consider very distinct notions of progress
and things. All the while we take our sweet time reading works by
Einstein, Musil, Brecht, Jünger, Rolf Dieter Brinkmann and Thomas
Bernhard. Reinforcing the questions posed by this reading, we
consider a series of films from Walter Ruttmann to Harun Farocki and
Jürgen Bötcher.

Taken together, these aesthetic works do not share a theme, they are
not about any one thing in particular, but they do concern things
and parts. Is that ok? Is their concern justified or is it somehow
fetishism, escape or resignation in the face of a greater reality?
Is it delectating in miniatures while one totalitarianism or another
is on the march?  If we find enjoyment in the aesthetic
signification of presence and absence, change and identity, are we
merely contenting ourselves with artistic representations or are we
establishing a true relationship with the way our world really is?


(+ indicates that a work is on the graduate reading list)
Please order your books from IBIS or Amazon.de!!!

Ovid, from Metamorphoses (Reader)
Kisch, from Marktplatz der Sensationen (Reader)
Hoffmansthal, “Ein Brief…” (Lord Chandos) (Reader) (+)
Jünger, from Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis (Reader)
Musil, “Tonka,” from Drei Frauen (ISBN: 3499100649) Rowohlt (+)
Rilke, Malte Laurids Brigge (ISBN: 3518188178) Suhrkamp—any edition
is fine (+)
Einstein, Bebuquin (ISBN: 3150080576) Reclam (+)
Else Lasker-Schüler, Gedichte 1902-1943 (ISBN: 3518392905) Suhrkamp
Gottfried Benn, Gedichte (ISBN: 3150084806) Reclam (+)
Bertolt Brecht, Die Maßnahme (ISBN: 3518120581) Suhrkamp—any edition
is fine (+)
Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, Künstliches Licht. Lyrik und Prosa  (ISBN:
3150093112) Reclam
Thomas Bernhard, Ja (ISBN: 3518380079) Suhrkamp

The following texts are all in the reader or on-line:

Kant, “Erneuerte Frage: Ob das menschliche Geschlecht im beständigen
Fortschreiten zum Besseren sei,” from Der Streit der Fakultäten
Kant, “Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltbürgerlicher
Hegel, “Die Wahrnehmung; oder das Ding, und die Täuschung,” from
Phänomenologie des Geistes
Leopold von Ranke, “Wie der Begriff ‘Fortschritt’ in der Geschichte
aufzufassen sei”
Georg Lukács, excerpts from “Die Verdinglichung und das Bewusstsein
des Proletariats”
Benjamin, “Über den Begriff der
Geschichte;” “Erkenntnistheoretisches, Theorie des Fortschritts,”
from Passagen-Werk (+)
Simmel, “Die Großstädte und das Geistesleben” (+)
Rosalind Krauss, “Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America”
Peirce, “What is a Sign”
Heidegger, “Das Ding,” from Vorträge und Aufsätze (+)

Walter Ruttmann, Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (1927) (+)
Chris Marker, La Jetée (1962)
Andrei Tarkovski, The Mirror (1975)
Charles and Ray Eames, Powers of 10 (1977)
Harun Farocki, Bilder der Welt und Inschrift des Krieges (1988) (+)
Jürgen Bötcher, Die Mauer  (1990) (+)