Graduate Seminars

Graduate Seminars 2016-2017

Fall 2016

German 210  (cross-listed with German 190, Senior seminar)

Cultural Ecology: Sustainability in Literature and Culture

Professor Elisabeth Weber (

M, W, 9:30 to 10:45, Phelps 6320

This class examines texts from the German-speaking literary and philosophical traditions that offer explorations of a “cultural ecology.” Given the proximity, in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, between a reactionary, nationalist and often racist discourse and a professed respect for “nature”, ecological discourses had to defend themselves, in the last decades of the 20th century and beyond, against a deep-seated skepticism. A the same time, there is a powerful German tradition of criticism of the ruthless exploitation of natural resources and the corresponding dismal working conditions of the industrial age, and contemporary German culture is intensely preoccupied with sustainability.
The class will start with the study of texts from the 18th and 19th centuries (Novalis, Bettina von Arnim, Richard Wagner, Karl Marx, Heinrich Heine, Wilhem Raabe and Friedrich Nietzsche). We will move on to reflections from the Frankfurt School, in particular Walter Benjamin and Theodor W. Adorno. During the second half of the quarter we will examine contemporary literature (poetry, excerpts of novels and short stories), as well as essays by influential theorists of sustainability and post-growth economy (Niko Paech, Hans-Joachim Schellnhuber, Evi Hartmann).


GER 500. Practicum for Teaching Assistants

Dr. Kelsey White (

Subject oriented, designed to relate directly to the teaching of a particular course in progress, to improve the skills and effectiveness of the department's teaching assistants.
Meeting times TBA.


Winter 2017

Comparative Literature 200: Formalism, Semiotics, Bakhtin (taught in English, with potential Russian enhancement sessions).
Taught by Sara Pankenier Weld, Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature

This seminar examines three fundamental movements in literary theory arising in Russia and Eastern Europe in the twentieth century. These include Russian Formalism, often credited with inventing literary theory as a scholarly discipline; Bakhtin and his circle of philosopher critics; and the Moscow-Tartu School of Cultural Semiotics. We examine formalist texts by Shklovsky, Tynianov, Jakobson, and Eikhenbaum, key works by Mikhail Bakhtin, and semiotic analysis by Lotman and Uspensky. We consider theoretical works in relation to major works of Russian or world literature and also reflect on the historical significance and legacy of these theoretical movements today. Students also will have the opportunity to apply these approaches to their own areas of interest.


Spring 2017

Comparative Literature 252/Art History 296A /GER 270: Art and Literature and the Object, from 1960 to the Present

Taught by Professor Sven Spieker  (

My seminar looks at post-1960 art and literature that eschews or even destroys objects—art that minimizes objecthood in favor of linguistic elaboration and/or performance or dance—from a decentered perspective. Taking its cue from the 1999 exhibition Global Conceptualism at the Queens Museum, we will deliberately approach such practices from the global margins—from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union/Russia to Latin America, Japan, the USA and Western Europe--, assuming, with Luis Chamnitzer, that each of these regions functioned “according to their own clock.” What ties these practices together, regardless of their heterogeneous regional origins, is the idea of dematerialization or de-objectfication: the replacement of the aesthetic/consumer object with words, narrative, performance, or dance. The seminar should appeal to interested students in Comparative Literature, Art History, Art, and generally speaking, those interested in aesthetic ideas and the history of art and literature from the 1960s to the present.