Departing from C.P. Snow’s famous thesis that the sciences and the arts comprise two distinct cultures, this course investigates the border crossings between these domains, with an emphasis on literature and the natural sciences practiced in German-speaking Europe from the Enlightenment to the present. We consider how and why scientists such as Georg Christoph Lichtenberg and Alexander von Humboldt cultivate a literary style in their evocations of nature. We also study how and why authors such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe appropriate in their literary work principles derived from the natural sciences, and how and why authors such as Daniel Kehlmann (author of the best-selling novel Measuring the World) depict the lives of scientists and mathematicians. Our overarching questions are: What have the modern arts and sciences learned from one another, and what can we in turn learn by studying literature and science in relation to one another?
What is justice? Is it attainable? What is its relation to law? How effective is the intervention of “poetic justice”? German literature and culture offer some of the most original reflections on these questions. This course focuses on the rich literary exploration of justice that reaches a high point in Franz Kafka’s fragmentary novel, The Trial. It also addresses how German writers and artists have responded to actual, highly contested trials, such as the trial in Jerusalem of the SS officer Adolf Eichmann, one of the prime architects of the Nazi genocide. Authors and filmmakers may include Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Heinrich von Kleist, Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, Bertolt Brecht, Hannah Arendt, Fritz Lang, and Bernhard Schlink.