Krishna Winston on Günther Grass

Littera borealisKrishna Winston’s essay, “Was zu Günter Grass in der englischsprachigen Welt gesagt werden muss,” appeared in October 2014 in Volume 14 of Littera borealis, Edition zur zeitgenössischen Literatur im Norden, published by the Literaturhaus Schleswig-Holstein in Kiel. The Grass volume features an interview with the writer, conducted by the director of the Günter Grass House in Lübeck, and essays by a number of Grass’s translators. It was presented to Grass on the occasion of his 87th birthday.

Lutz Hüwel and Krishna Winston celebrating Germany’s Day of Unity

photoOn October 3, 2014, professors Lutz Hüwel and Krishna Winston were guests of Germany’s Consul General in Boston, Herr Rolf Schuette, for a celebration of Germany’s Day of Unity at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, Connecticut. The reception highlighted the state of Baden-Württemberg, with which Connecticut maintains an official exchange focused on education and business. Since 1998, 50 Wesleyan graduates and graduate students have spent a year in Germany under the auspices of the exchange, and numerous students from Germany have come to Wesleyan. At an October 2 dinner at the Avon-Old Farms Inn, both professors were also present when the head of the visiting delegation from Baden-Württemberg, Minister of Higher Education, Research, and the Arts Theresia Bauer, presented a distinguished-service medal to Renate Seitz, who administers the B-W Exchange for the Connecticut Office of Higher Education.

Leo Lensing: Karl Kraus at war

“Die letzten Tage der Menschheit” by Deborah Sengl, 2013 Photograph: © Deborah Sengl/Photo by Mischa Nawrata
“Die letzten Tage der Menschheit” by Deborah Sengl,
2013 Photograph: © Deborah Sengl/Photo by Mischa


Leo Lensing’s commentary on Austria’s exploitation of The Last Days of Mankind, Karl Kraus’s great anti-war drama, to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, is featured this week on the homepage of the The Times Literary Supplement.


Internships in Germany – Webinar

November 14, 12:00pm EST

Internship Opportunities with UAS7 & Cultural Vista
Internships are essential to gain relevant work and research experience. Gaining that work experience in an international setting allows students to add another language to their resume and it encourages growth beyond the working environment.
In this webinar, DAAD joins forces with UAS7 and Cultural Vistas to talk about internship opportunities in Germany. The presenters introduce their internships and speak about the application process. This webinar offers information on internships for all fields and for students with various levels of German, including no prior German knowledge. All presenters will be available for questions during and after the webinar.

Sarah Wiliarty will speak on The Fall of the Wall – A Political Perspective

Please join us for the  first lecture in the German Department’s fall series on commemorating the 25th Year of the Fall of the Berlin

This Wednesday, October 15 in FISK 210 at noon, Prof. Sarah Wiliarty will speak on “ The Fall of the Berlin Wall – A Political Perspective.”

Refreshments will be served.

“25 Years: Fall of the Berlin Wall” is co-sponsored by the German Studies Department and the German Embassy in Washington D.C. All events are free of charge and open to the public. For more information call 860-685-3359.

Ulrich Plass and Iris Bork-Goldfield present at the German Studies Association Conference

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 3.15.36 PMThe 38th German Studies Association Annual Conference took place from September 18-21, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Ulrich Plass gave a paper on “Das tödliche >>Ach<<: Hubert Fichtes Lohenstein.”

Iris Bork-Goldfield conducted a seminar on “The Future of Teaching the Holocaust in German Studies, History, and Comparative Literature in the US.”

”Pillar of Fire”. Leo Lensing on a New Biography of Ingeborg Bachmann



Leo Lensing’s review essay discussing a new biography of Ingeborg Bachmann, “Pillar of Fire.  How to assess the ‘stations’ of Ingeborg Bachmann’s self-destructive life from childhood constant reader to modernist ‘Fräuleinwunder’,” is the cover article for the latest issue of The Times Literary Supplement (July 11, No. 5806, pp. 3-5).

You can access the article via Olin Library.

Wir wollten was tun! – We Wanted to Do Something!

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 6.32.19 PMIris Bork-Goldfield’s documentary, We Wanted do Do Something! is now online. It is the story of her father and his friends who, in 1949-53, secretly wrote and distributed leaflets and other materials against the repressive Communist regime in the GDR. Several of his friends were imprisoned; eight of them were tried by a Soviet military tribunal in 1951, and executed a year later.

Iris Bork-Goldfield edited the film with Peter Cramer ’14. She had the support of the Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft, and Wesleyan University.

The film is also linked to the website of the Free University of Berlin.

Leo Lensing on Michael Hofmann’s Ignorance of Karl Kraus and His Indifference to Jonathan Franzen’s The Kraus Project

The following letter, criticizing Michael Hofmann’s review for The New York Review of Books of Jonathan Franzen’s The Kraus Project, appeared in abridged form in the December 19, 2013 issue of the Review. What follows is the original version, which at the request of the editor was reduced by more than two-thirds.

To the Editors:02BOOK-popup

Michael Hofmann has a handful of perceptive things to say about Jonathan Franzen’s The Kraus Project [NYR October 24]. Most notably, he recognizes that it represents a unique experiment, “a strange, space-bending, Cubist, not unsimpatico book.” Unfortunately, this and other insights are buried in a misinformed, crudely formulated screed hurled at Karl Kraus, a writer whom Hofmann gives ample evidence of not having read carefully.

Hofmann “supposes” that The Last Days of Humankind is Kraus’s “chef d’oeuvre” even though this firmly established judgment of literary history need not be the object of hunches and maybes. The great anti-war drama, documentary and visionary in equal measure, not only directly influenced Brecht’s theory and practice of Epic Theater, but also set a powerful example of modernist textual collage that helped shape the famous political photomontages of John Heartfield as well as Alfred Döblin’s great city novel Berlin Alexanderplatz. Hofmann seems not to realize that the play consists of more than things “heard or overheard by its author”; it also appropriates posters sighted, advertisements copied, films viewed, and countless newspaper clippings pasted onto the manuscript page before being satirically transformed into self-revealing dialogue. The play is consciously constructed in excess of “the conventional five acts” to which Hofmann reduces its form; it also contains a prologue and an epilogue, which, incidentally, brings the scene count to 220, not “209.”  Hofmann thinks that the play is “from 1917,” whereas it was actually published in four special issues of Kraus’s satirical journal Die Fackel (The Torch) in 1918-1919 with the expressionistic epilogue coming first. The red covers and the documentary photograph of Wilhelm II used as the frontispiece of “The Last Night” (the title of the epilogue) gave it the initial impact of a revolutionary pamphlet. Kraus continued to revise and add new scenes based on information suppressed under war-time censorship until the first book edition appeared in 1922.

Hofmann’s notion that the play is “rarely read, much less performed and only translated (thus far) in abridgment” is wrong on all counts. Beginning in the 1960s, a dtv two-volume paperback and, since 1986, the 848-page Suhrkamp edition have, together, sold thousands of copies in Germany.

Even though The Last Days of Humankind—at fifteen hours or ten evenings—has understandably not been a staple of the German-language repertory, productions have not exactly been rare. It might be more accurate to say, intermittent with increasing frequency in times of war. There have been countless staged readings and radio broadcasts since the 1960s. Full-scale productions have occurred less often, but have regularly inspired theatrical experiments of great intensity. In 1983, the Scottish playwright and director Robert David MacDonald staged his own translation of the play with the Citizens Theatre of Glasgow, which became the sensation of the Edinburgh Festival in that year. In 1991, Luca Ronconi, amplifying Kraus’s comments about the mechanization of everyday life accelerated by the war, created a furor by staging the play along the assembly lines of the former Fiat factory in Turin. Johann Kresnik’s 2003 version used an even more spectacular and daunting setting, a massive World-War-II-era submarine bunker in Bremen; this production had to be repeatedly extended and eventually reached a hundred performances.

Although there is thus far only a pair of abridged English versions of The Last Days of Mankind, complete translations exist in French, Italian, Hungarian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese among other languages. Losing wars apparently quickens the appetite for the entire text of the drama.

Hofmann’s jumble of misperceptions about The Last Days of Humankind constitutes more than a refusal to observe philological and literary-historical niceties. It is symptomatic of his failure to understand the drama’s importance for the “Kraus Project.” While the literary essays on Heine and Nestroy may be the focus of the book, Franzen explains that they were originally an auxiliary assignment in a seminar about Kraus’s masterpiece offered at the Free University in Berlin in 1982. His description of the often comic dynamics of this course—a  patient, overly indulgent professor jousting and haggling with authoritarian leftist students, many of them all talk and no text; Franzen and his fellow students struggling to prepare a report on the monstrous drama—really does form part of a “bildungsroman about a clever and ambitious young man on a Fulbright in Germany,” just not the “entertainment” version that Hofmann thinks Franzen should have written.

Not content to dismiss Kraus’s dramatic masterpiece, Hofmann also belittles another entire genre in which he produced highly original work. Does Hofmann really believe that the aphorism is “not a robust and jolly English commodity,” but rather “a sort of Franco-Balkan form, La Rochefoucauld meets E. M. Cioran or Lichtenberg”? Leaving aside this mispotted history of the genre, what about Nietzsche, whose influence Kraus denied with suspicious vehemence, and Oscar Wilde, whose work he embraced and published in Die Fackel? Kraus’s aphoristic work has had a more vigorous afterlife in the English-speaking world than Hofmann realizes although he unwittingly explains why when he summarizes: “Just as Shakespeare seems to be full of quotations, so Kraus is full of aphorisms” – one has only to add “and quotations from and allusions to Shakespeare.” Hofmann the poet has also missed W. H. Auden’s energetic championing of Kraus and his inclusion of a disproportionate number of his aphorisms in A Certain World, his “commonplace book.”

For Hofmann the translator, Franzen’s rendering of Kraus’s texts is “overliteral and a little wooden throughout,” a judgment that ignores the sustained scrupulous attention to linguistic nuance, allusion and wordplay for which Franzen enlisted the expert assistance of the Austrian novelist Daniel Kehlmann and the American Kraus scholar Paul Reitter. Rather than dumbing down Kraus’s complex prose, Franzen throws himself into reproducing and explicating its complexities. Surely, this is preferable to flagrant re-writing, for which Hofmann himself has been taken to task in the Times Literary Supplement [March 2, 2001] and in these pages. As J. M. Coetzee remarked of his translations of Joseph Roth, “is it part of the translator’s job to give his author lessons in economy?” [NYR February 28, 2002]

Ultimately, Hofmann thinks it doesn’t matter because Kraus’s writing is “too artificial, too conniving, and above all too squalid” to be considered “brilliant.” He aims to demonstrate this point with four substantial quotations from the essay on Nestroy. Whether these passages actually lack brilliance is at least open to question. But why not choose a quotation from the essay on Heine—Hofmann’s “darling,” whom he is otherwise anxious to defend—for example, this one:

A person who makes fun of his adversary’s sex life is incapable of rising to polemical power. And a person who ridicules his adversary’s poverty can make no better joke than this: Platen’s Oedipus would “not have been so biting if its author had had more to bite on.” Bad opinions can only make bad jokes. The play of wit and word, which compresses whole worlds of contrast onto the tiniest of surfaces and can therefore be the most valuable kind of play, must, in Heine’s hands, as in the hands of the dismal Saphir, become a slack pun, because there are no moral funds to underwrite it.


This is neither artificial nor conniving, and the squalor comes with the homophobia and the misplaced ridicule directed at the poet August von Platen. As it happens, Hofmann does cite a single phrase from the same page where Kraus cites Heine’s text; “two words,” all, he implies, that he has “taken away from Kraus”: “schöne Köchin,” “a crooked female cook” in Franzen’s rendering.

In a long concluding paragraph, Hofmann indulges in a giddy riff about this “skewed cook,” in which he explains that Heine is “protesting his love of women.” He would rather “have” a misshapen lower-class female than “the most aesthetic aesthete,” as Hofmann willfully renders the original “der schönste Schönheitsfreund” (“the most beautiful friend of beauty”). In a footnote, Daniel Kehlmann explains that in this context Heine’s persona is clearly saying that he prefers a coarse woman to the most beautiful “gay aesthete.” Does Hofmann really not know that when he exclaims “Goodness, how I love my ‘schiefe Köchin’!” he is mimicking the homophobic voice of Heine’s narrator, or does he just not care? Perhaps this is simply more evidence of careless reading. As for many other things, Kraus had a solution for this problem, too. “One has to read my pieces twice, in order to acquire a taste for them. I don’t mind, however, if one reads them three times. But I prefer that they not be read at all rather than only once. I would just as soon not take responsibility for the mental congestion of a bonehead who doesn’t have time.”