Professor Moritz Baßler was the Spring 2017 Distinguished Max Kade Visiting Professor in the Department of Germanics. While in the department, he offered a seminar on Contemporary German literature: Popular Realism.
Interview with Professor Moritz Baßler, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster
Distinguished Max Kade Visiting Professor
By Kristina Pilz and Vanessa Schmolke
VS: In the field of Germanics, you are one of the experts on German Popular Literature and Pop Culture in general. How did you integrate this research interest into our graduate seminar you were offering this Spring at UW?
MB: Originally, I started with two larger projects. One on Realism and the other one on Consumerist Aesthetic. Pop Literature, like Herrndorf’s Tschick and Kracht’s Imperium, has always been a beloved side gig of mine. Then I started asking myself: How is it possible that Realism has survived the emphatic period of Modernism? This led me to think about Popular Realism more and I thought it would be a great idea to bring these questions to the seminar room.
VS: We discussed very successful products of Popular Realism such as Game of Thrones and Schlink’s The Reader. Did you gain any new insights for your own research in the discussions with our UW graduate students?
MB: (laughter) That was quite an interesting learning experience. We often ended up getting lost in debates about the quality of these works. Our discussions challenged me and taught me to defend my larger arguments better. These were teachable moments par excellence.
VS: (laughter) Interesting. How did you get interested in the topic in the first place? Looking back, your first publications dealt with entirely different issues, such as New Historicism.
MB: I blame the late 90s and long train rides. During my work with Helmut Lethen at the Universität Rostock, I had to commute to Rostock. The only literature that was enjoyable on longer train rides was Popliteratur, works like Soloalbum by Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre for example. Ultimately, I wrote a book about Der deutsche Pop-Roman (2002) and my time in Münster made me think more about Realism as a writing device.
VS: You worked at an American University before, during your time in Berkeley, CA. How does the work here differ from your work at home at the WWU Münster?
MB: I have to say, I was always impressed how well students prepare for the seminars here. Not that our German students don’t prepare, but the general expectation in regards to workload is a lot higher here in the U.S. I can easily assign one entire novel per week and no one will be surprised. I also really enjoy the culture of in class discussions. I notice that the German ‘Sie’ establishes a hierarchy, that can be hindering. But when I use the more informal address ‘du’, students get upset when I assign them a lower grade, because they thought we were friends. I struggle with Duzen and Siezen. (slight chuckle)
VS: Besides the UW campus and the spring cherry blossoms, what other places did you enjoy in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest in general?
MB: I was impressed with the Olympic Peninsula and Second Beach over there. I also liked all the different beaches and parks Seattle has to offer. I will always remember Magnusson Park and its beavers! You guys live in a wonderful area.
KP: Tell us a little bit about your most memorable moments and places. What will you remember and miss most, when you are back in Germany?
MB: I really enjoyed the pick-up soccer culture here in the PNW. It is so nice to just go and enjoy a game. Everyone is there to play, a very uniting experience. One of my favorite places will always be KEXP’s New Home at Seattle Center. I can be surrounded by things I like most: music, vinyl and coffee. Their La Marzocco café is pretty amazing, you should really go and check it out.
VS, KP: Thank you, Moritz, for sharing your favorite places with us! We wish you all the best and hope to see you again in the PNW or in Münster.