Program in Comparative Literature

David Kornhaber

Assistant ProfessorPh.D., 2009, Columbia University

Assistant Professor of English
David Kornhaber



David Kornhaber is Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin.  He is the author of The Birth of Theatre from the Spirit of Philosophy: Friedrich Nietzsche and the Development of the Modern Drama (Northwestern University Press, 2016).  His work has appeared in PMLA, Modern Drama, Theatre Journal, Theatre Research International, and Philosophy and Literature, among other journals.  He has served as guest editor of Modern Drama for a special issue on drama and philosophy, as assistant editor for Theatre Survey, as an Affiliated Writer with American Theatre, and as a contributor to the theatre sections of The New York Times, The Village Voice, and The New York Sun


C L 180K • Intro To Comparative Lit

33585 • Fall 2016
Meets F 200pm-300pm CAL 22

One-credit-hour proseminar in methods of study and research in comparative literature.

Required of first-semester graduate students in comparative literature.

Prerequisite: Graduate standing in comparative literature and consent of the graduate adviser in comparative literature.

Offered on the credit/no credit basis only.

C L 381 • Mod Drama: Ibsen To O'Neill

32935 • Spring 2016
Meets F 900am-1200pm CAL 323
(also listed as E 397M)

This course presents a survey of European and American modern drama from its initial development in the late nineteenth century through the middle of the twentieth century.  Major playwrights to be considered include Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Wilde, Shaw, Pirandello, Artaud, Brecht, Beckett, Glaspell, and O’Neill.  (European playwrights will be read in English translation, although students will be encouraged to consider writers in their original languages wherever possible.)  Key topics include theories of the origins and development of modern drama, formal features of modern drama, modern drama and the avant-garde, and the transition from modern drama to postmodern drama.  Students will be exposed to significant works of contemporary scholarship in the field as well as to classic modern drama interpretations.  The class will also make use of the extensive modern drama holdings at the Harry Ransom Center.  Evaluation will consist of a combination of a class participation, a conference-length paper, a book review, and an article-length paper.

C L 381 • Avant-Garde Theatre

33905 • Spring 2013
Meets MW 100pm-230pm MEZ 1.104
(also listed as E 390M)

Avant-Garde Theatre

In this course, we will investigate the histories, philosophies, and theatre pieces of the theatrical avant-garde from the nineteenth century to the present day.  Key questions include the relationship between the avant-garde and the modern, the interplay between the avant-garde and concepts of high and low culture, and the degree of continuity and discord between movements and works that group themselves under the avant-garde banner.  We will begin with the avant-garde theatre's nineteenth century origins, from Richard Wagner to Alfred Jarry, and will continue through the avant-garde movements of the early twentieth century (Symbolism, Surrealism, Dadaism), the work of early-to-mid century theatre artists who draw from the avant-garde (Antonin Artaud, Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett), the rise of performance happenings in the 1960s, and the pillars of the contemporary avant-garde (Robert Wilson, The Wooster Group, Ariane Mnouchkine). The course will make use of relevant holdings in the Harry Ransom Center, and students will be assessed through a combination of discussion participation, a formal presentation, a short paper, and a final paper.

C L 382 • Intersectns Of Theatre/Philos

32963 • Fall 2010
Meets M 600pm-900pm BEN 1.106
(also listed as E 397M)

It has become a commonplace in many critical studies to speak of a growing convergence between philosophy and theatre.  Over the course of the last century and a half, philosophy has become increasingly invested in interrogating issues of the stage, with contemporary thinkers like Alain Badiou, Jacques Derrida, Peter Sloterdijk, and Gilles Deleuze turning to the playhouse for questions or importing into their own work a consciously “theatrical” style.  Likewise, drama has become increasingly interested in exploring issues taken up by contemporary philosophers and deploying philosophical language to its own devices, from George Bernard Shaw’s Nietzschean postulations to Tony Kushner’s indebtedness to Walter Benjamin to Tom Stoppard’s ongoing engagement with philosophers past and present.  In this course, we will examine several key points of intersection between the institutions of philosophy and the theatre to better understand what each intellectual approach takes from the other, where they talk past one another, and where we might locate true synergies of thought or expression.  Rather than attempting a broad sample of all the theatrical-philosophical interactions of the last century, the course will be organized thematically, with four distinct segments devoted to a specific way of looking at the interplay of philosophers and theater-makers.

For the first half of the course, we will look specifically at philosophers or playwrights writing on or in the other’s discipline, with themed segments on “Philosophers Writing on the Theatre” and “Playwrights Writing on Philosophy.”  Key questions to interrogate here include how practitioners of one subject view the practices of the other, what philosophy thinks it has to say to the theatre, and what the theatre thinks it can tell philosophy.  The second half of the course will look at how philosophers and theatre-makers import each others’ techniques or subjects into their own works, with themed segments on “Theatrically-Informed Philosophy” and “Philosophically-Informed Theatre.”  Here we will investigate how an interest in each others’ discipline transforms the stylistics, the intellectual assumptions, and the core matters of concern in works of philosophy or the theatre, examining what is gained in the exchange and what, if anything, is lost.

The course will assume no prior training in philosophy.  Though the subjects of our inquiry will be targeted, taken together they will offer students a broad introduction to some of the major trends and themes in twentieth-century philosophy and literary theory and a chance to engage with some of the century’s most pivotal playwrights.  In total, students will gain an appreciation for the manifold ways in which this ongoing exchange between two very different means of inquiry and communication has manifested itself over the last century and a half and how each subject has been changed by the encounter.


Course requirements include participation in class discussions, an oral presentation, and a final paper.  Participation in class discussions will consist of active engagement in classroom exchanges and will count for 15% of the final grade.  Each student will be required to prepare a 10-minute oral presentation for the class on a course reading of their choosing, which will count for 15% of the final grade.  Each student will also be required to complete an 18-20 page final paper on a topic of their choosing, which will count for 70% of the final grade.


Course readings are organized thematically into four units.  For “Philosophers Writing on the Theatre”: Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy; Alain Badiou, A Theatre Without Theatre; Jacques Derrida, “The Theatre of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation.”  For “Playwrights Writing on Philosophy”: George Bernard Shaw, The Quintessence of Ibsenism; Richard Schechner, The End of Humanism; Tony Kushner, Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness.  For “Theatrically-Informed Philosophy”: Peter Sloterdijk, Thinker on Stage; Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition; Judith Butler, Antigone’s Claim.  For “Philosophically-Informed Theatre”: George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman; Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit; Tom Stoppard, Jumpers; Caryl Churchill, Softcops; Tony Kushner, Angels in America; Yasmina Reza, Art.

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