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GERMAN 542 A: Twentieth-Century Prose

Reading Through Kafka’s ‘I’s': Forms of Contemporary First-Person Narrative

Meeting Time: 
MW 1:30pm - 3:20pm
DEN 313
Rick Gray
Richard Gray

Additional Details:

This seminar will begin with an examination of three short fictional pieces by Franz Kafka (“Beschreibung eines Kampfes,” “Bericht für eine Akademie,” and “Josefine, die Sängerin”) written in the first-person form. We will take these short stories as “prototypes” for different varieties of first-person narration in modernist fiction. Concentrating in particular on matters of narrative form and perspective, we will examine five recent (postwar) novels for their use of the first-person perspective, keeping the context of Kafka’s stories in mind: Peter Handke’s Die Wiederholung, W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, Marcel Beyer’s Spione, Bernhard Schlink’s Der Vorleser, and Thomas Bernhard’s Holzfällen. Note: Seminar participants should read Gerard Genette’s book on narrative theory, Narrative Discourse, prior to the first day of class. The first seminar session will deal with principles of narrative theory as addressed in Genette’s book. This will form the theoretical foundation for our analyses of Kafka’s short stories and the novels. Students are encouraged to purchase the books for the course on-line over the summer. Here is the book list:

Genette, Gerard, Narrative Discourse (Cornell)
Handke, Peter, Die Wiederholung (Suhrkamp)
Bernhard, Thomas, Holzfällen: Eine Erregung (Suhrkamp)
Schlink, Bernhard, Der Vorleser (Diogenes)
Beyer, Marcel, Spione (Fischer)
Sebald, W. G., Austerlitz (Fischer)
The Kafka texts will be provided in a Xerox reader or in PDF-format.

Course Requirements: The course project will be a common “conference,” scheduled to take place most likely during final exam week, in which students will present “conference papers” dealing with questions of narrative form in a modern or contemporary first-person novel not treated in the general seminar sessions (a list of possible titles will be provided). Participants will submit a “prospectus” for their conference paper, present a twenty-minute conference paper, and turn in an extended written version of their ideas (ca. 12-15 pp.). This format will allow us to gain knowledge about a larger cross-section of modern first-person fictional texts and their narrative possibilities, and hopefully allow us to draw some conclusions about peculiarities in the use of first-person narrative forms by contemporary German-language writers. It will also provide the opportunity for professional training in the writing of a talk-prospectus and the presentation of a conference paper.

Catalog Description: 
Selected modern German novels, short novels, and short stories by representative authors dealing with the social and political problems of Germany as well as with individual problems of existence and identity.
GE Requirements: 
Other Requirements Met: 
Last updated: 
April 28, 2016 - 3:21pm