I first met Rick Gray in 1991 when I began my M.A. studies in the Germanics Department. I attended his Spring quarter “Nineteenth-Century Survey” course in 1992. I remember vividly certain discussions about works by authors I had never read – Storm, Stifter and others. I was new to German Studies, and all of these works came alive for me. The next year, I had the privilege of taking Rick’s course on aesthetics and autonomous art. Readings and discussions from that course have stayed with me since that time and frequently inform my research and teaching. I remember in particular being given the task of writing a 2-page reflection paper on Kant’s Kritik der Urteilskraft. I was frightened, and I talked to Rick about it. He encouraged me but also didn’t lighten the assignment. In the end, I came to certain insights about the work that were formative for my intellectual development. I’m grateful to Rick for helping me gain insight into scholarly discipline, and this lesson has helped me develop a sense that I can access any work through sustained engagement with the text.
One of the most important experiences I had with Rick during my graduate studies was being given the opportunity to serve as a T.A. for him in two General Education courses (on, for example, Classics of German Literature and Thought). These experiences were absolutely fundamental to my development as a teacher. Rick’s guidance was sure yet responsive to the talents and interests of individual TAs. He gave us the opportunity to teach one course session each time, and provided thoughtful feedback. He was able to encourage a dialogic mode of lecture/discussion both through his own example and through his feedback to our own attempts at teaching the course. Through these experiences with Rick I found a sense of how to combine my own strengths with the mission of the classroom. I am still very grateful for these experiences and for Rick’s generosity in his work with the TAs. In this context, Rick also taught me how to grade essays, something I had never done before (with the exception of short German language essays). His guidance in this regard was likewise fundamental to the way that I approach my grading tasks in my current position. He taught us to begin our comments with a summary of what worked well in the essay before highlighting the areas where the student might develop the thesis more clearly or work on mechanical issues. Rick provided us with examples, and he likewise looked over our comments and feedback for the students. Indeed, I learned in these contexts not only how to grade student essays but also how to effectively train teaching assistants. I use similar methods in my own work with our graduate student TAs today.
My work with Rick on my dissertation was a similar process of finding my own voice and responding to his feedback. As in the classroom work I shared with Rick, Rick gave me a great deal of freedom to work out my own ideas during the dissertation writing process. In the process, I learned to develop my own voice and my own approach to literary and cultural works, something that continues to guide me in my research and teaching.
I have a deep respect for Rick’s scholarship; I just recently used his brilliant work on Hofmannsthal’s Reitergeschichte in my graduate seminar on Freud. Unsurprisingly, the students were immediately taken by his elegant and important argument about the link between psychological repression and political suppression. This is, of course, just one of the many important contributions Rick has made to our field. As he takes his new path in retirement from his teaching duties at the University of Washington, I wish him much joy and continued engagement with those works that fascinate him. I have no doubt that his mind will continue to work in ways that will shine new light on some of the most fundamental texts of the German tradition.