GERMAN 580 A: Seminar in German Literature

Winter 2022
W 1:30pm - 4:20pm / DEN 359
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
ENGL 552 A
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

“Acted Over”: Staging Revolution

(German 580, English 552)

Graduate Seminar, Winter 2022

Unless I hear from anyone otherwise, we'll meet in person!

Ellwood Wiggins

“How many ages hence / Shall this our lofty scene be acted over / In states unborn and accents yet unknown?”

(Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar)

Performances of revolution confront us with the specter of both literary and historical structures of repetition. Marx’s 18th Brumaire casts this problem as a generic one in which history appears twice: “first as tragedy, then as farce.” By repeating tropes and gestures from previous rebellions, revolutions are “fathered” by historical parallels. What weird incestuous violence is at work when, in the words of Büchner’s Danton, “the revolution, like Saturn, devours its own children”? This famous bon mot itself is repeated in mutating variations both before and after it is uttered in Danton’s Death. Do all intertextual acts, by repeating previous speech and writing, involve a kind of revolution – a cyclical logic of both revolt and return?

In this course, we will explore these questions in theatrical (and theatrically inflected) representations of the French and Haitian revolutions: especially spectacles of these two revolutionary events of the 1790s by authors and for audiences who are neither French or Haitian. For Kant, the riveting spectatorship of the French Revolution by people all over the world serves as the main evidence of progress in human history. The relative obscurity of the nation-creating slave rebellion in Haiti is perhaps the strongest argument to the contrary.

It is important for me that students have input in both the syllabus (what we read) and the course requirements (what we write). Authors may include: Mary Wollstonecraft, Heinrich Kleist, Georg Büchner, Hannah Arendt, Anna Seghers,  C.L.R. James, Langston Hughes, Heiner Müller, and Susan Buck-Morss. Others will be determined together with students during our first meeting on Jan. 5. 

All texts will be available in translation. Discussion in English.


Catalog Description:
Open topics seminar with varying content.
Last updated:
April 18, 2024 - 3:48 am