Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


What is German? Precision design and a profound work ethic. Romantic reverie and authoritarian tendencies. All these spring to mind when we consider Germany and its heritage. But today, more than ever, "the German question" must be located within a broader social field. For just as Germany enjoys great influence over the rest of Europe — both culturally and politically — neighboring societies exert their own forces over German literature and art with ever-greater intensity.

This course focuses on main currents in contemporary German literary and visual culture. Taking Nietzsche's thought as a point of departure, students will survey the dialectics of tradition and modernity in both Germany and other European countries, particularly the UK, France, Denmark, and Poland. Primary works are drawn from literature, cinema, art, and performance, including works by Peter Sloterdijk, Thomas Vinterberg, and Michel Houellebecq. Topics to be discussed are:

  • Leitkultur and the will to power
  • The "death" of the author
  • Literary responses to the green movement and bioengineering
  • The Gesamtkunstwerk
  • Doctrine, dogma, and the breakdown of tradition
  • The cultural wagers of unification within Germany and beyond

"Germany and Its European Context" places a premium on excellence in reading and writing. Over the course of the term students are expected to demonstrate progress in critical analysis and expression.


The course will introduce main currents of social thought and will expose you to a range of issues of cultural significance. You will be expected to construct arguments of your own, both in speech and writing, about the issues raised.


  1. Class participation is essential to this course. In order to make a valuable contribution students should come prepared to each class. Assigned readings must be completed before each class meeting. A guiding question shall accompany each assignment. Students who are unable to attend a class must inform the instructor in advance, either in person or by telephone. Students with more than four unexcused absences shall be dropped from the class.

    On most days students shall submit brief written responses (200-250 words each) to the question on the reading assignment. Although these responses will not be graded, such individual preparation will enhance class discussions. Further, regular writing practice will prepare students for longer papers, both in this course and beyond. Of the 13 questions distributed over the course of the semester students may select 10 to which they would like to respond. Students shall account for their progress with this series by consecutively marking each text (i.e. 1/10, 2/10… ). No extensions shall be granted for these writing assignments. 

    Courtesy toward others in discussions is expected.

    Grading: Participation in class discussion and submission of ten brief written responses — 25%.

  2. One of the primary goals of this course is the development and refinement of critical analysis and argument. To this end students will write three essays of increasing length. About two weeks before a given due date students must submit a brief outline of the essay they plan to write. In finished essays any and all references must be cited. Essays must conform to MLA standards.

    Essays are due at noon on the dates indicated. Essays submitted late without prior permission from the instructor will be penalized by one full letter grade. Essays submitted more than one week will be penalized by two full letter grades. Always keep a printed copy of your essay. 

    Grading: First essay — 20%, second essay — 20%, third essay — 25%.

  3. In addition to the writing assignments, students will also be expected to deliver an oral presentation. Students shall prepare and present a one-page handout on the day's reading. In these twenty-minute presentations students should provide a summary of the author's main points, describe the historical context in which the text was produced, and open up a few questions for discussion.

    Presentations will be evaluated according to the following criteria: insight, clarity, and, importantly, the degree to which presenters are able to stimulate the thoughtful participation of their classmates.

    Grading: One oral presentation — 10%.

To receive a passing grade for this course, students must meet all course requirements.