Progress, Power, and Popular Culture
Constructing Traditions in Modernity

Washington University
Fall 1995 & Spring 1996
Lutz Koepnick & David Pan
Mondays & Wednesdays 2:30 - 4:00

Course Description

"That which thy fathers have bequeathed to thee, earn it anew if thou wouldst possess it." These words, which preface Irma Rombauer's Joy of Cooking but were originally uttered by Goethe's Faust, sum up the problem of tradition. Both in American cooking and in German literature, the achievements of another time and another culture are never an inert culinary legacy, pre-processed and pre-cooked, waiting only to be swallowed. Instead, they are a challenge to our resourcefulness and creativity, our ability to construct anew in our own time and place that which others have achieved in their own particular circumstances. And just as no one can ever say whether today's roast chicken is the same or different or better or worse than the roast chicken of another century and another continent, the issue in our constructions of traditions is not the repetition of an originally authentic artifact, but the struggle with current needs and desires.

Perhaps as in any secular age, the issue of tradition haunts our culture as the seemingly obsolete yet constantly posed question implicit in the activities of our daily life. If we might consider the act of cooking as the constant creation of new tastes and flavors, then listening and watching, reading and studying become more than forms of passive consumption, but an active sifting and searching through the junkpile of history in order to both criticize and construct the traditions which fuel our daily life.

In this FOCUS Plan we will investigate the way we construct our world out of the remnants of the past. Concentrating primarily on German culture, we will look at a series of cross-cultural appropriations in the realms of high art, popular culture and theoretical inquiry. In considering the issue of science, for example, we will look not only at Goethe's Faust, but also at Shelley's Frankenstein. Studying tragedy, we will not only read Shakespeare's Hamlet, but also Nietzsche's and Freud's readings of Hamlet. Approaching the question of Nazism, we will look not only at Leni Riefenstahl's document of Nazi propaganda, Triumph of the Will, but also at Charlie Chaplin's critique of Nazism in The Great Dictator. Finally, in order to understand how these issues resonate in our own contemporary circumstances, we will, in our discussion of violence, refer to works by Franz Kafka as well as the film Alien and, in our discussion of the modern and the mythic, view an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation from the perspective of Ernst Cassirer's theories on language and myth.

The recommended companion course will be either a German language course fulfilling the D distribution requirement or, for those with an advanced knowledge of German, a literature or culture course taught in German in the German department. This FOCUS plan will also satisfy the German 340 requirement for those wishing to major or minor in German.

Course schedule

Semester One

Cross-Cultural Visions
8/23 Introduction
8/28 Percy Adlon, Bagdad Cafe / Out of Rosenheim

Science and its Discontents
8/30 Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Faust
9/6 Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
9/11 Georg Büchner, Woyzeck
9/13 Bert Brecht, Galilei
9/18 St. Kubrick, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
9/20 Christa Wolf, Accident

Tragedy and Knowledge
9/25 Sophocles, Oedipus Rex
9/27 Sigmund Freud, Interpretation of Dreams (Sections on Oedipus and Hamlet)
10/2 William Shakespeare, Hamlet
10/4 Walter Benjamin, Origin of The German Tragic Drama (Section on Hamlet)
10/9 Ernst Lubitsch, To Be or Not to Be
10/11 Friedrich Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy
10/16 Franz Kafka, The Judgment
10/18 Carol Reed, The Third Man

Vision and Technology
10/23 Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times
          Rudolf Arnheim, Motion & A New Laocoon
10/25 Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
10/30 Fritz Lang, Metropolis
11/1 Madonna, Express Yourself
11/6 Ridley Scott, Blade Runner (Director's Cut)

11/8 Selected National Anthems
11/13 Richard Wagner, What is German?
11/15 Richard Wagner, The Meistersingers of Nuremberg
11/20 Richard Wagner, The Meistersingers of Nuremberg
11/27 Leni Riefenstahl, Triumph of the Will (In-class Screening)
11/29 Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator
12/4 Peter Schneider, The German Comedy

Semester Two

Narration and Myth
Homer, The Odyssey (Book I, II, V-XII)
Theodor W. Adorno / Max Horkheimer, Odysseus or Myth and Enlightenment
Homer, The Odyssey (Book XIII-XXIV)
Erich Auerbach, Odysseus's Scar
E.T.A.Hoffmann, The Nutcracker
Walter Benjamin, The Storyteller
Arnold Schoenberg, A Survivor from Warsaw
Wim Wenders, Wings of Desire

Alienation and Rebellion
Martin Luther, A Treatise on Christian Liberty
Thomas Müntzer, Prague Manifesto
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro
Georg Büchner, Lenz
Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts & Theses on Feuerbach
Joseph Goebbels, Michael
Heinrich Böll, Ansichten eines Clowns

Violence, Terror, Counterterror
Hannah Arendt, On Violence
Carl Schmitt, Political Theology (Chapter 1: Definition of Sovereignty)
Heinrich von Kleist, The Earthquake in Chile
Franz Kafka, In the Penal Colony
Thomas Mann, Mario and the Magician
Ridley Scott, Alien

Going Primitive
Mircea Eliade, Myth in the Modern World
StarTrek: The Next Generation, Darmok
Ernst Cassirer, Language and Myth
Almanac of Der Blaue Reiter (Selections)
Ernst Bloch, Expressionism
Selected Paintings Die Brücke (Saint Louis Art Museum)
Josef von Sternberg, Blonde Venus (Hot Voodoo)
Merian Cooper & Ernest Schoedsack, King Kong
Contemporary German Rap Music
Fritz Baumann, The Journey of the Lion

Additional Information

Seminar Sessions
Mondays & Wednesdays 2:30 - 4:00
Olin 198

Books & Reader
All required books are available for purchase at the Washington University Bookstore. An additional course reader is available for purchase in the German Department, Ridgley 319.

All screenings take place in Ridgley 219 at 7pm:

Thursday 8/24 Bagdad Cafe
Thursday 9/14 Dr. Strangelove
Thursday 10/5 To Be or Not to Be
Tuesday 10/17 The Third Man
Thursday10/19 Modern Times
Thursay 10/26 Metropolis
Tuesday 11/2 Blade Runner
Tuesday 11/14 Meistersingers
Tuesday 11/28 The Great Dictator

Writing Assignments
Six Short papers (2 pages), due every second week. One Final Paper (5 pages). Topics to be announced.

Grade Breakdown
Oral participation: 40 %
In-Class Presentation: 10 %
Writing Assignments #1-6: 40%
Writing Assignment #7: 10%

Office Hours
Lutz Koepnick: Ridgley 422
M 1:15 - 2:15
W 4:15 - 5.30
David Pan: Ridgley 420
T 2:45 - 3:45
TH 2:45 - 3:45

Lutz Koepnick: 935-4007
David Pan: 935-4469