I am currently Assistant Professor in German Studies at University of Virginia. I teach classes in German language, literature and culture, particularly on Serial Media, and Fairy Tales, which I established as popular courses in the German curriculum. I studied history, German literature, and art history at the University of Zurich, Yale, and New York University, and I defended my dissertation on the concept of autopoiesis in literature in 2014. Since then I have been a visiting scholar at Yale and Brown University, and a postdoctoral fellow of the Swiss National Science Foundation.
I am interested in self-reference in literature and the interface between literary analysis and technology. In the past few years, I have written and edited books on self-reference in literature (Autopoiesis und Literatur , Self-reflection in Literature) and the life reform movement (Die Literatur der Lebensreform). I have also published in the Feuilleton of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and in Feedback on car aesthetics, and I am a founding member of the ongoing Passionate Humanities project. Currently, I am working on a book project on car aesthetics. I just finished co-editing a volume on the Swiss author Christian Kracht.
The founding of a Passionate Humanities counteracts a growing anti-intellectualism and the current dehumanization of the university. The humanities are being engulfed by the industrial logic of efficiency that seems to be insatiable in today’s universities. Outreach thinking has been replaced with self-serving calculus. Instead of exploring and explaining, today’s humanities are trapped in a small, coldhearted world, where only measurable output is validated. Where no heart is involved, that which is human is at stake.
The founders of the Passionate Humanities project encourage scholars to break free from such logic of efficiency and embrace the passion that has been suppressed in recent years. In their understanding the humanities are not a self-sufficient cog in the educational machine. Insead, the humanities should engage with the world, with people, real people, flesh, heart, spirit and head, not just the last. They should teach what they ever should have been teaching: How to become human. They should teach not only at universities, but also in public, in the media. With family. With friends.
In June 2019 a group of literary scholars, philosophers, and art historians met in Munich to discuss the current state of the humanities within the German and the North American university system, as well as the role of passion and emotion in the academy. Our gathering in Munich represents an important first step in a long journey that we plan to continue. We have started developing projects that involve the specific skills and approaches of literary scholars, philosophers, art historians, etc., with the goal of improving lives. “The Academy of Passions”, an idea brought forth by Stefan Bronner, introduces a curriculum, which combines academic and artistic work. We are working on a holistic curriculum that reflects the fullness of the human experience, comparable to the concept of the German “Volkshochschulen”.
The videos enclosed are part of an archive we want to build. They are excerpts of the presentations in Munich and they present different approaches to our project. Nevertheless, we want more. More views, suggestions, ideas, plans. We will invite academics, artists, and humanists to send in their short videos with their stand on the problems in the humanities. In those videos they are invited to determine the problems. But they also should feel free to hint towards the future of the humanities. What do we have to change to break free from the logic of efficiency and embrace the passion that has been suppressed in recent years? How can we engage with the world, with people, spirit and head?
Ways into the Future
Call for Proposals
Critical Essay Collection
Deadline for submissions: January 31, 2021
Stefan-Alexander Bronner, University of Connecticut
Matthew C. Jones, Northeastern University
Marcel Schmid, University of Virginia
In her book The Value of the Humanities, Helen Small defines the purpose of the humanities:
The humanities study the meaning-making practices of human culture, past and present, focusing on interpretation and critical evaluation, primarily in terms of the individual response and with an ineliminable element of subjectivity. (57)
In today’s world, meaning making is relegated to the private sphere. Most people do not have the luxury to have any deep affection for what they do for a living, beyond the fact that their job pays the bills. We can search for meaning on the weekend or at home with our families after work. Or, our meaning making is limited to bringing back food for our family. In 2013, when Helen Small’s book came out, the situation for the humanities was not good. However, today, especially in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, the situation is worse. The job market for humanities positions in programs, such as German Studies, Italian Studies, English Literature, and others has hit rock bottom. The professors who are inside the academic institutions pursue their corporate careers outside of the public’s eye, working on their publications to maintain relevance in academia, as their professions become increasingly precarious and exploitative. In light of dropping student enrollment and the growing influence of anti-intellectualism and nationalism, and compelled to do more than perform solitary research, create isolated art, and teach students “marketable skills” for their future in the corporate world, we and fellow scholars founded the Passionate Humanities movement. From today’s perspective Helen Small’s skepticism in the year 2013 toward the validity of the widespread arguments that the humanities are needed to preserve democracy on the one hand and to make people more resistant against fascism on the other could possibly be challenged if we look at the political stage in the U.S. and other countries in the world today. If we do not go back to Humboldt’s vision of university as a place where young people have time and space to mature as human beings, in other words a holistic model of education, we cannot expect a world, in which solidarity and empathy are core values for human interaction.
In the U.S., the crisis is already showing severe consequences. Programs within the humanities face major cuts in funding, e.g., German departments lose their graduate programs, positions are frozen, and the student numbers drop due to increasing financial strain. Disciplines like Religious Studies, Classics and other foreign languages do not fare better either since universities started operating with terms such as “research” instead of “scholarship.” Programs and departments consolidate, becoming large entities that only make sense in a corporate way, but not academically. Instead of desperately attempting to play along with the quantitative logic the corporate university forces upon the humanities, don’t we need to start justifying our existence from within and find new ways to advertise our strengths to the public?
Humanities departments should be thinking hard, […] about making graduate training ‘less exclusionary and more holistic’— enabling the disciplines to engage more openly and purposively with the public culture while preserving their critical function […]. Usefulness is not the corruptor of the humanities’ intellectual purity […]. More simply: ‘Knowledge just is instrumental: it puts us in a different relationship with the world’ […]. (65)
Isn’t it time to go out in the world and share our knowledge and our specific skills as literary scholars with everyone who is seeking meaning, community, and beauty? How can we add a practical dimension to our programs that address questions of emotional stability, interhuman relationships, family, the body and creativity? Don’t we need to be as present as we can be today?
After founding the Passionate Humanities Movement the next step is this book. It will consist of two parts. First, we would like to discuss the future of the humanities and possible strategies. For the second part, we invite academics, artists, and humanists to send in proposals with concrete project ideas. Contributions with more than one author are encouraged. What do we have to change to break free from the logic of efficiency and embrace the passion that has been suppressed in recent years? How can we engage with the world, with people?
Possible contribution topics and questions:
In the neoliberal era, do we still need the humanities? Do they have a chance to survive?
Which practical project do you suggest that underlines the meaning of the humanities for our society? How could humanities outreach look like today? How can we announce that what scholars and teachers and artists in the humanities do is crucial for all, both inside and outside of the university? How can we reach more people and change society’s perception of our significance?
Which concrete communicative strategies do we need to work with to challenge the current attitude towards the humanities?
What can we offer our students for their future?
Do the humanities have to make an effort to be marketable or should they withdraw from the neoliberal logic?
Can the humanities promise students to negotiate the grand questions of life?
How can we serve marginalized voices? How can we be more inclusive?