Literary Animals in German Cultural History or What is and to What Effect Do We Study German Human-Animal Relations?
The subdiscipline of animal studies or study of human-animal relations has emerged as an exciting new interdisciplinary line of inquiry within the greater context of the environmental humanities in the Anglo academic context but also in Germany. Most practitioners, however, come from disciplines like ethics, science studies, history of consciousness, critical theory, etc.—not from literature. We will familiarize ourselves with the main strands of arguments, the philosophical tradition leading up to arguments made in these contemporary manifestos, and critical reaction to these positions, mainly through expert reports. Students chose two books/topics ranging from philosophical works to critical writings and artistic traditions which they present to the group in a 15-minute oral report accompanied with a handout summarizing the main theses backed by quotes and followed by a few reflective comments on how we might integrate the material in our discussions.
The main emphasis of the seminar will be on the aesthetic strategies (literary and visual) employed in framing human-animal relations in German literature from Goethe to contemporary authors. Which genres and poetic devices are selected to represent the animal voice or the animal gaze and how are the genre conventions affirmed or critiqued? How are nonhuman actors rendered in literature? How is the agency of nature troped? A few secondary readings from German animal studies will accompany our analysis of the primary works in order to build a common vocabulary for the discussion of the literature, but reading and discussing the primary texts is our main goal. The main question in front of us is: in what ways does literature (and, to a minor extent, art and visual culture) work through strategies of concealment of what has been called the condition of human animality? How does literature (and art) configure a cultural sphere in which human-animal relations are part of a larger environmental crisis?