Seth Berk on Rick Gray

Submitted by Michael Neininger on
Seth Berk
Seth Berk, Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow, Teach@Tübingen Program at the Eberhard Karls Universität
Rick Gray
Rick Gray

“Das Reich der Freiheit beginnt da, wo die Arbeit aufhört.“


—Karl Marx


As Prof. Richard T. Gray enters his well-deserved retirement, I am wont to think that he is rather unlikely to join that noble club of professional idlers. Rick always seems to be working on three projects at once, and I sincerely doubt that retirement will slow him down one bit! Nevertheless, hopefully he will find it in him to give the writing desk a break every once and a while, to take the newfound time to put some more miles on the old bicycle, to spend a few more hours working in the garden, or just to meander through town with a friend or loved one…

Rick’s dedication to teaching and producing the highest quality of scholarship have left their marks on countless students and peers in the field of Germanics over the years, and his towering presence will be sorely missed at the University of Washington and in the Department of Germanics. I can proudly say that I was Rick’s last Doktorkind, and hopefully not the reason that he decided to retire! Rick was a truly exceptional Doktorvater, and the German word really encompasses the fact that he took me under his wing, intellectually and personally, both as a mentor and as a friend. Rick certainly never made writing the dissertation easy, and for that I am most thankful! One rarely encounters such a perceptive, critically acute mind, and, even if he was busy tearing my arguments to shreds, I could always appreciate the time that he took to engage with my work, in that he always made it a point to challenge any culturally engrained assumptions, to approach texts from other perspectives, to think in more nuanced terms, and to write with more precision and clarity. And I’ve come to think that those lessons apply to much more than just literary analysis…

Rick’s classes were also always a pleasure to attend, and they consistently opened up new avenues to traditions in German thought in ways that kept students engaged and excited to learn more. From Franz Kafka to W.G. Sebald, or from Freud to critical theory, those discussions were always a highlight of the day for many students, myself included. His immense contributions to scholarship span from the Enlightenment to contemporary German literature; whether he was considering the implications of physiognomic thought, representations of economic matters in the age of Goethe, or chasing Sebald’s ghosts, Rick’s focused arguments and persuasive prose make engaging with his work a pleasure, and I would hope that he still has a few ideas for manuscripts up his sleeves, even as he settles into a life after academia!

On behalf of all your students, colleagues, and friends, I would like to wish you all the best for your retirement, Rick! It’s certainly only the beginning of another chapter—in all likelihood, both literally and metaphorically—and I can say that we all look forward to continuing to learn from you, even as you work on learning to forget (in that beautiful Nietzschean sense), and hopefully there will be many more occasions for us all to exchange ideas, be it on the written page, or over a cold beer in the evening. Thousand Dank, Rick! Und alles Gute für die Zukunft!


Seth Berk

Tübingen, 09. June 2017