Fall 2015

Tendenzen der deutschen Gegenwartssprache (Trends in modern German) (Ger 497)

Prof. Michael Putnam

What's sorts of dialectal differences exist in German-speaking Europe today? How pervasive are they? Is there any stark contrast in the German spoken by young speakers? What are we to make of the L2 German spoken by immigrants in larger cities; i.e., can we classify this as a form of "German", or is it more apt to label this as a pidgin or creole? According to Heraclitus, "the only constant is change", and perhaps in no domain is this axiom more applicable than in the study of human language, i.e., linguistics. In this course we will closely examine the grammatical structure of modern German from different angles, paying particular attention to sociolinguistic, contact-induced, and internal language change. In addition to in-class discussions and readings on these related topics, students will have the opportunity to access digital corpora of spoken German (mostly from the Berlin-area) and to engage in Skype and video chats with students at die Gemeinschaftsschule auf dem Campus Rütli (in Neukölln). No background in linguistics is required. This course will be taught in German.

Walter Benjamin (GER 591)

Prof. Samuel Frederick

This seminar investigates the intellectual development of Walter Benjamin, one of the twentieth century’s most important critics. It focuses on the writings Benjamin produced up to the mid-1930s, with special attention to his thought prior to his serious engagement with Western Marxism. In these early years Benjamin was deeply influenced by Jewish mysticism and the utopianism of the German Youth Movement, pushing back against positivist and Neo-Kantian epistemology with the help of esoteric theology and Romantic aesthetics. In the first part the semester we will attempt to get a grip on Benjamin’s conceptions of language, history, allegory vs. symbol, criticism, messianism and time, among other key concepts. We will also take a detour through some of his writings on children’s literature and collecting. Using his essay on Brecht, his experimental aphoristic collection One-Way Street, and his essay on surrealism as transitions we will then ask how Benjamin carried over his project of “redemptive criticism” as developed in these early works to his new interest (after about 1928) in historical materialism, technology, and commodity culture, looking to some of the representative writings from the later years, including his famous writings on art and reproducibility, Baudelaire and urban experience, and storytelling.

All readings and discussion in English. (Those who can read German are encouraged to read the original texts.)