“Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt [The limitations of my language form the limitations of my world(view)” — Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein‘s sentence illustrates to what extent language shapes our thinking and creativity. Participants and attendees at Monday evening’s first “Global Night of Poetry and Music” at Agnes Scott College experienced the extent to which a multilingual experience can broaden our intellectual and creative horizons. Guided by “emcee” Ishara Agostini, the event featured students performing poems in spoken and sung form from antiquity to the twenty first century and exposed the audience to the rhythms, sounds, and expressive linguistic elements of Latin, Greek, Urdu, German, and Catalan, among others.
In May of 2016 our ASC in Germany group met with activist and writer Sharon Otoo in Berlin, Germany, and was let in on a secret: Sharon Otoo told us that she had been nominated to participate in the competition for the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize, likely the most prestigious award for contemporary German-language fiction. We were not allowed to tell anyone yet, but we joked around that she had to visit Agnes Scott College should she win.
“What can I do with a German Studies Major?” — It’s not atypical at this time of the year to receive e-mails that either implicitly or directly ask this question. And to those of you who are asking, thank you! You initiate an important dialogue about the benefits of liberal-arts learning and the role of foreign language and culture in the liberal arts curriculum. Of course, there is always a particularly spectacular career path that I could tell you about, or that job which involves jetting back and forth between Washington and Berlin. Yet, what’s really important is to consider learning foreign languages and cultures not as an added skill that looks good on your resumé (although it does!) but as core element of your education that shapes the way you think and solve problems. Over the next couple of weeks, I will use this blog to highlight examples where this convergence of knowing a foreign language and culture as well as having both breadth and depth in other disciplines matters.
While reading today’s NYT I stumbled across the first example, an op-ed piece titled “What We Learned from German Prisons.” Nicholas Turner, president of the Vera Institute of Justice, and Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, write about their experience as co-leaders of a bipartisan US-delegation that visited German prisons in order to learn about the German prison system. Their conclusion is simple: Germany is doing a much better job of returning offenders to society, thereby keeping prison populations and costs low. Why is that, the authors wonder?
Thank you to everyone who came out to listen to Anant Kumar’s reading. Kumar presented from his wide-ranging oeuvre including short stories and poems that address life in contemporary Germany as well as the pitfalls and surprises a globally connected world creates.
Another important voice has passed away: Hans Jürgen Massaquoi died on January 19, 2013. ASC German students will remember Massaquoi as author of the memoir Neger, Neger, Schornsteinfeger [Destined to Witness] in which the author described his experiences as a black young man in Weimar and later Nazi Germany. Massaquoi, son of a Liberian diplomat and a white German woman, survived World War II in Germany, later emigrated to the United States and went on to become a journalist and eventually the managing editor of Ebony.
Here’s a short video from the German internet project Gedächtnis der Nation [Memory of the Nation] in which Massaquoi describes his disappointment of being rejected from the Hitler Youth:
Jakob Arjouni (Jakob Michelsen), German author, died on January 17, 2013. Arjouni, whose real name was Jakob Michelsen, became famous with a series of detective novels that were set in Frankfurt and featured the hard-boiled investigator Kemal Kayankaya.
The novels with titles such as Happy Birthday, Türke and Mehr Bier were an immediate success, as was German director Doris Dörrie’s filmic version of Happy Birthday, Türke. In a more recent novel, Chez Max, Arjouni described a dystopian world set decades in the future, where a fenced-in first world keeps the rest of the globe in checks via drone assassinations and constraints creative expression through excessive political correctness.
More information about Arjouni can be found in this obituary in The Guardian.
I’m in Milwaukee to give a paper at the annual meeting of the German Studies Association and to hear what 4000 of my colleagues are working on in their research and teaching endeavors.
Permitting sufficient internet coverage and time, I hope to post intermittent reports about interesting projects on this blog.
Those students currently in German 200, which focuses on Weimar Germany, and in German 340, which looks at Afro-German history and culture, as well as students interested in taking German 351 on the Holocaust (Spring 2013), might be interested in learning that by taking these courses they are exposed to the research and debate of what are arguably some of the most vibrant areas of German Studies research.
Here are just a few examples from the catalog to give you an idea:
Regarding the Afro-German topic, see the talk “Schwarze-Über-Lebens-Kunst: Expressing the Black German Collective in Afrekete.” In connection to Weimar Germany, there are several panels on Weimar film, with more than one paper concentrating on Fritz Lang’s M: “Death in Avuncular Guise: Fritz Lang’s Film M as a Social Barometer”; “Sounds of the City in Emil und die Detektive and M.” And for those interested in memory and discussions of the Holocaust, there is, for instance, “A World Without Jews: Nazi Germany, Representations of the Past, and the Holocaust.”
As I said, these are only a few examples. If you are interested in reading more about the conference, visit the German Studies Association website.