Waterside promenade in Konstanz at the Bodensee lake.

The purpose of the summer seminar is to promote the interdisciplinary study of historical, political, social and cultural aspects of modern and contemporary German affairs and to advance their understanding among scholars in the United States and Canada. The program is open to faculty members and recent PhDs in germane social science and cultural studies fields.

Fascism: Politics and Aesthetics
DAAD Summer Seminar for Faculty and Recent PhDs
June 3rd - 28th, 2019, University of Michigan

Seminar Director:
Julia Hell, Professor of German Studies, University of Michigan

Eligibility

  • Faculty members of accredited US and Canadian institutions of higher education are invited to apply.
  • Preference will be given to candidates who have not previously attended one of the summer seminars or received a DAAD grant within the past three years.
  • Applicants must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States or Canada. Permanent residents must have been affiliated with a United States or Canadian institution in full-time employment for at least five consecutive years, German nationals for at least six years.
  • Participants are expected to have an active interest in German intellectual and cultural history.
  • A reading knowledge of German is advisable.

Terms of Award

  • DAAD awards grants to cover tuition, travel, and room and board during the seminar.
  • Participants are required to attend all seminar sessions and to participate actively in the work of the seminar. Work-in-progress of participants and guests will be discussed.
  • A written report is expected within four weeks of the end of the seminar.

Course Description

The recent reemergence of authoritarian populist movements and regimes has revived debates about the nature of twentieth century fascisms. This four-week seminar for North American faculty and recent PhDs will mobilize the vast archive of transdisciplinary German Studies to explore the politics and aesthetics of the Nazi regime. Starting from Hannah Arendt’s thesis about the Third Reich as an empire of “horrible originality,” we will investigate central discourses and practices of National Socialism such as Führertum, Volk, state, Reich/empire, and politics as anti-Semitic and racialized friend/enemy constellations. Emphasizing Nazi theatricality, we will use different theoretical approaches to analyze this aesthetic dimension across different media (architecture, film, literature, the visual arts, etc.). We will conclude by reading excerpts from Peter Weiss’s Aesthetics of Resistance.

The Third Reich was an experiment in empire, Führertum, Volk, state, and the symbolic politics of theatricality. Instead of assuming that we know what these concepts meant then and mean today, we will use this seminar to study 1) how Nazi politicians, theorists and artists worked to define and represent them; 2) how critics of fascism analyzed these discourses and practices during the nineteen thirties and forties; 3) how critical theorists understand these key concepts today. In other words, we will analyze texts by Nazis like Himmler, by conservative revolutionaries like Carl Schmitt, Martin Heidegger, and by the leading classicists of the time, among them Wilhelm Weber and Gerhart Rosenwaldt. In addition, we will study Albert Speer’s and Wilhelm Kreis’s monumental scenographic architecture, literary texts and programmatic essays by Gottfried Benn, and Leni Riefenstahl’s films. Among the critics of Nazism, we will read Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Siegfried Kracauer, and Sigmund Freud. Finally, with respect to contemporary approaches we will read the following authors: critical theorist von Moltke on the specificity of Nazi propaganda, Eric Michaud on Nazi aesthetics, Saul Friedlaender on “the Jew” as metaphysical enemy, and Giorgio Agamben’s biopolitical as well as Eric Santner’s psychoanalytically informed reflections on sovereignty. We will also draw on recent debates among German historians about the imperial nature of the Nazi state (Birte Kundrus, Geoff Eley, Dirk Moses, Wendy Lower).  This four-week seminar will thus take stock of the productive exchanges about the theory, politics and aesthetics of fascism that unfolded in recent decades among scholars from different disciplines.

The final week of the seminar will focus on the politics and aesthetics of Peter Weiss’s Aesthetics of Resistance (1975-1981). Few authors shaped German postwar culture as strongly as Weiss. Starting with his early documentary play, The Investigation (1965), Weiss explored the connections between Nazism and capitalism and narrated the story of anti-fascist resistance. In his modern epic, Weiss interrogated the antifascist movement, memorializing its members with great pathos and some critical distance. The Aesthetics of Resistance opens and concludes with an ekphrastic readings of the Pergamon Altar. While the opening establishes the epic’s European setting, the concluding passage widens the historical horizon, encompassing the anticolonial struggles taking place after 1945. In their discussions of the Pergamon Altar, both sections of the novel maintain their connections to the deep time of the classical past. Focusing on Weiss’s ekphrases, we will explore the novel’s anti-fascist aesthetics as a response to the Nazi empire’s monumental neo-Roman theatricality.

In sum, the seminar will provide a cross-disciplinary framework for examining the relation between political and aesthetic practices by drawing on influential methodological paradigms. The seminar is ideally suited to professors and post-doctoral scholars in a range of fields (including German Studies, History, Political Science, Sociology, Film Studies, Theater and Performance Studies, Architecture, and Art History). Participants will be encouraged to incorporate their own fields of interest as well as present their work in progress.

The seminar will end with a two-day conference. This conference will involve seminar participants, Michigan faculty, and graduate students, offering the former an opportunity to present their work to an interdisciplinary audience. Part of the conference will address the resonances between our present moment and fascist formations in the twentieth century.

Julia Hell is Professor of German Studies at the University of Michigan. Hell is the author of The Conquest of Ruins: The Third Reich and the Fall of Rome, forthcoming with the University of Chicago Press. Hell also co-edited Ruins of Modernity (Duke University Press, 2010), and received the MLA’s Scaglione Prize for her Post-Fascist Fantasies: Psychoanalysis, History, and the Literature of East Germany (Duke University Press, 1997). From 2005-2014, Hell co-edited The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory, and from 2013-2015, she served as a member of the PMLA Editorial Board (2012-2014). In 2005, Hell co-taught one of the NEH Summer Seminars, entitled “The Culture of Terror: Revisiting Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism.” On The Conquest of Ruins, see https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/C/bo29202736.html . For articles, see https://umich.academia.edu/juliahell.

For further information about seminar content, please contact:

Julia Hell
Professor of German Studies
Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures
University of Michigan
812 E. Washington St., 3206 MLB
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1275
E-mail: hell(at)umich.edu

For other seminar-related questions, please contact Katy Mattingly at the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures:

Katy Mattingly
Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures
University of Michigan
812 E. Washington St., 3106 MLB
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1275
E-mail: ktlm(at)umich.edu

Application and Deadline

All parts of the application must be typewritten or computer-generated and submitted in duplicate (original and one copy).

Please do not staple any of the application materials.

A complete application consists of the following parts:

  • DAAD application form entitled "Interdisciplinary Summer Seminar in German Studies” (which is available for download in the box on the right). Please answer all questions on the form, even if you refer to additional material
  • Curriculum vitae
  • Complete list of publications
  • A detailed statement explaining your interest in attending the seminar
  • One letter of recommendation

Application deadline: March 1st, 2019. Please send your application to:

Julia Hell
Professor of German Studies
Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures
University of Michigan
812 E. Washington St., 3206 MLB
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1275
E-mail: hell(at)umich.edu