Topics in Literature and Contemporary Theory

The working group in literature and theory fosters the interdisciplinary study of literary texts with reference to developing configurations in contemporary theory.  The group focuses on German texts but maintains a strong comparative component, enlisting texts from numerous literary and philosophical traditions. In biweekly meetings, faculty and student participants discuss emergent paradigms in literature, critical theory, and social forms. At the beginning of the Fall semester, the working group will finalize the readings for the coming academic year.  The program will include a reading list, schedule, and research agenda. This forum is open to all interested participants throughout the Yale community; knowledge of German (or other foreign languages) is not necessary: all texts are made available in English and discussions are in English. The reading list and program will be made available through regular announcements on Canvas; this site will also be used to distribute information about related external events, conferences, and appearances by guest speakers at Yale.

2017–2018 Topic: Imagining and Constructing Space
This reading group will explore how spatial features in literature and theory reflect and constitute various understandings of subjectivity. Every literary, philosophical, or political attempt to describe and construe human existence is buttressed by a spatial paradigm in which aesthetics, ethics, and politics are able to take shape. We will look at how spatial terms such as nature, wilderness, environment, landscape, and city organize subjective experience. Materials could include Büchner’s “Lenz,” Thoreau, Nietzsche, Kafka, Planet Earth, Norwegian “Slow Television,” Orson Welles’s The Trial, nineteenth-century landscape painting, Le Corbusier, and architectural theories and practices. Questions to keep alive while exploring various cases of these spatial imaginations could include: How do differing conceptions of the natural world figure in the constellation of human space? How do different media and genres enable and narrow imaginative and creative spatial possibilities? Does it make sense to speak of democratic space, and if so, in what way? What would it look like? Can and should we differentiate between aesthetic, ethical, and political subjective space? If “the environment” is a regnant spatial paradigm for the natural world, what baggage does it carry and what problems does it face and produce in the era of climate change? How must we revise our account of subjectivity if it is always spatial in some fashion?