GERMAN 590 A: Philosophical Issues in German Culture

Winter 2023
T 1:30pm - 4:20pm / SAV 167
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

Tragedy and Philosophy

Prof. Ellwood Wiggins

Winter, 2023

According to Peter Szondi (1961), although there have been poetics of tragedy since Aristotle, there was no philosophy of the Tragic prior to German Idealism. In this course, we’ll probe and test this claim, reading the tragedies that have been most influential for philosophical innovations alongside the philosophers they inspired. The banishment of poets from Plato’s Republic and their rehabilitation in Aristotle’s Poetics sets up a contrasting template for the role tragedies play in society. Recent feminist interpretations and adaptations of Antigone take the classic definition of the Tragic proposed by Hegel to task and repurpose it for emancipatory projects in the contexts of both gender and race. Post-colonial claims for tragedy both uphold and subvert the primacy of Greek models for working through massive trauma.

The questions we’ll pursue have both political and epistemological stakes: Can the spectacle of suffering have therapeutic effects, or does the representation of trauma necessarily re-inscribe its violent power? Why does tragedy seem to lend itself to philosophical speculation? Is knowledge itself a tragic enterprise?

Poets include: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Heiner Müller, Anne Carson, Ellen McLaughlin, Wole Soyinka.

Philosophers include: Plato, Aristotle, Friedrich Hölderlin, G.W.F. Hegel, Friedrich Nietzsche, Hélène Cixous, Judith Butler, Martha Nussbaum, Ato Quayson.

Discussion in English. Reading of texts in original languages (Greek, German, English, French) is encouraged, but not required. All texts available in English translation.


Jan 3: Intro: Plato

Jan 10: Aristotle / Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannos

Jan 17: Goethe / Euripides, Iphigenia Among the Taurians

Jan 24: Schiller / W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

Jan 31: Hölderlin / Sophocles, Oedipus Antigone

Feb 7: Hegel / Sophocles, Antigone

Feb 14: Nietzsche / Euripides, Bacchae

Feb 21: Nussbaum / Sophocles, Philoctetes

Feb 28: Butler / Carson, Antigonick

Mar 7: Quayson / Soyinka, Bacchae

* See detailed information about readings for upcoming sessions under Assignments.

**See the linked pages for suggestions about course books and a bibliography of important scholarship on tragedy and philosophy. 

***We should take advantage of the UW School of Drama's production of The Oresteia (Feb 18-Mar 5) as a way to engage concretely with the relation of performance to philosophy and philology. Let's attend the show together followed by a catered dinner in Denny 359. Time and date tbd.

****Full Syllabus

Catalog Description:
Seminar on rotating special topics dealing with the impact of particular thinkers, movements, or philosophical problems in German culture.
Last updated:
June 22, 2024 - 11:21 am