I teach in the Department of German Studies at Cornell University. My current and previous course descriptions can be found below.
This anchor course focuses on major developments in the literature, media, and culture of German-speaking countries during the German Empire and the Weimar Republic. Topics to be discussed include the relationship between modernism, the avant-garde, and diverse forms of artistic engagement in the context of mass culture; the articulation of gender, class, and race in cultural politics; and the challenge to traditional notions of authorship, representation, mimesis, and textuality mounted by the proliferation of text-, sound- and image-based mass media. Individual works will be drawn primarily from literature and film, with a special emphasis placed on key concepts that helped define artistic production at this time (Modernism, Expressionism, Dada, New Objectivity, Constructivism, montage, reportage, actuality, etc.).
From hieroglyphs to HTML, ancient poetry to audiotape, and Plato’s cave to virtual reality, “Thinking Media” offers a multidisciplinary introduction to the most influential media formats of the last three millennia. Featuring an array of guests from across Cornell, including faculty from Communication, Comparative Literature, English, German Studies, Information Science, Music, and Performing & Media Arts, the course will present diverse perspectives on how to think with, against, and about media in relation to the public sphere and private life, archaeology and science fiction, ethics and aesthetics, identity and difference, labor and play, knowledge and power, expression and surveillance, and the generation and analysis of data.
Topic (Fall 2020): German Film from Weimar to Present
As the quintessential medium of modernity, film has played a central role in shaping national identities and creating imagined communities. At the same time, it remains closely connected to notions of universal communication, multicultural representation, and movements in global cinema. Moving between the national and the transnational, this course will examine the development of German cinema from the Weimar Republic to the present. With an emphasis on historical, economic, and social contexts, we will discuss classic feature films including Caligari, Der blaue Engel, Angst essen Seele auf, Die bleierne Zeit, Lola rennt, Good Bye, Lenin!, and Gegen die Wand. Student research will delve further into German cinema’s longstanding preoccupation with history and tradition, its provisional answers to questions of race, class, and gender, and its ongoing negotiation of local, regional, national, and global cultures.
Small Forms, Big Ideas
Small forms can contain big ideas. This course will put contemporary microformats, such as tweets, snaps, lists, and text messages, in dialogue with a much broader spectrum of small, short, and simple forms, from anecdotes, jokes, and aphorisms to fables, short stories, and feuilletons. With a focus on German literature and philosophy, we will read exemplary cases of small literary forms (e.g., Brecht, Dörrie, Kafka, Lichtenberg, Walser), along with short philosophical reflections on the economy of language, the effects of miniaturization, and the desire for simplicity (e.g., Adorno, Benjamin, Nietzsche, Polgar, Schlegel). Writing activities will provide related training in small academic forms like notes, glosses, abstracts, protocols, excerpts, and commentaries, which will become the crucial building blocks of academic work on larger scales.
The premodern world played a crucial role in the formation of postmodern theory. ‘Biblical exegesis’, ‘negative theology’, ‘inner experience’, and other premodern concepts and practices were taken up by modern and postmodern authors including Ingeborg Bachmann, Georges Bataille, Italo Calvino, Michel de Certeau, Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger, Jean-François Lyotard, and Robert Musil. Each week we will read one modern or postmodern author in dialogue with one premodern author, such as Origen, Pseudo-Dionysius, Meister Eckhart, Angelus Silesius, Hildegard of Bingen, and Mechthild of Magdeburg, among many others. The aim of our comparisons will be to interrogate the legacy of what Bruce Holsinger calls the “premodern condition.”
Introduction to Medieval German Literature
This course introduces the canon of medieval German literature: lyric poetry (Minnesang), Arthurian romance (Gottfried’s Tristan, Wolfram’s Parzival, Hartmann’s Iwein), and the heroic epic (Nibelungenlied). With a focus on twelfth-century courtly culture, we will investigate medieval problems of form, genre, and representation, as well as post-medieval approaches to materiality, hermeneutics, and textuality. Our larger questions, centering on the controversial concept of medieval alterity, will address the contested legacy of the Middle Ages in German modernity. Reading knowledge of Middle High German is not required; some exposure to the language will be facilitated with the aid of bilingual editions.
Cinema of the Weimar Republic
This course introduces the cinema of the Weimar Republic (1918-33), a golden age of German cinema comparable to the classical Hollywood era. During this period, the German film industry developed a variety of influential aesthetics, from the Expressionism of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to the New Objectivity of Berlin – Symphony of a Metropolis. Situating the classic films, directors, and stars of the Weimar era within the cultural upheavals of the period, we will discuss the aftereffects of WWI; representations of class and gender; discourses of nature and technology; relationships between aesthetics, spectatorship, and politics; and processes of industrialization, urbanization, and globalization. Students without experience in film studies are welcome—the course will also double as an introduction to discussing and analyzing film.
New German Cinema
This course introduces the New German Cinema (1962-85), an influential movement of West German filmmakers including Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Alexander Kluge, Margarethe von Trotta, and Wim Wenders. Like the French New Wave, the New German Cinema is known not only for grappling with the nation’s complex history, but also for experimenting with early multimedia forms. Watching the movement’s celebrated films and reading its controversial texts, we will discuss the complex search for national identity after World War II; problems of authorship, genre, and literary traditions; and the changing conceptions of media and the public sphere. Screenings in German with English subtitles.
What was Film?
In retrospect, was film anything more than some highly flammable strips of celluloid? Taking its cue from the “digital turn,” this course rephrases a traditional question asked in film theory about the nature of the medium (What is film?) in terms of a historical question: What was film when it was still something to be cut, wound up, and carried around, a thing with a literally explosive potential? Reframing the object of study in this manner will help situate familiar narrative cinema within more unfamiliar scientific, aesthetic, and experimental contexts. Early film theorists saw great potential in the new medium, thought to be capable of conveying a new experience of movement and time, creating a new art of light and shadow, or functioning as a new kind of scientific instrument. Screenings will put readings of early film theory in dialogue with early European silent films that address similar concerns about the nature of cinema, such as A Trip to the Moon (1902), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), and Man with a Movie Camera (1929).
Media in Transit
Media make things move. Ships transport goods, cars carry passengers, devices transmit information. While origins and destinations often seem the most significant, modern media and cultural mobility also invite us to consider the experience of being in transit, of what happens as things move from point A to point B. This course examines the function of media in processes of mobilization and immobilization through readings in travel writing and cultural theory (e.g., Goethe, Kafka, Seghers, Simmel, Benjamin, Kracauer). Our guiding questions will include: What kinds of situations tend to create mobility or immobility? To what extent do technologies like the telegraph, telephone, and radio contribute to increased mobility and global connections? And what might studying the experience of mobility and transition reveal about the project of modernity itself?