Program in Comparative Literature

Sabine Hake

ProfessorPh.D., University of Hannover, Germany

Professor of Germanic Studies
Sabine Hake



I am the Texas Chair of German Literature and Culture at the University of Texas at Austin. Prior to coming to UT in 2004, I taught at the University of Pittsburgh for sixteen years. Since receiving my Dr. Phil. from the University of Hannover in 1984, I have worked primarily in two areas, Weimar culture and German cinema. As a cultural historian/film historian, I am most interested in the relationship between cultural practices and aesthetic sensibilities, on the one hand, and social movements and political ideologies, on the other. The central terms informing my research are mass culture, popular culture, urban culture, and working-class culture; modernism and modernity; the historical avant-gardes; the fascist aesthetic; classical film theory and theories of culture. My research on German film has focused primarily on the first half of the twentieth century, with a special emphasis on Weimar cinema and Third Reich cinema. In my work on Weimar culture, I have written on  the representation of Berlin in literature, photography, and film.I am currently working on two book projects, a reassessment of German cinema from the perspective of media convergence and a study on the German proletariat as an imaginary subject in literature, art, film, and political theory.


C L 381 • The Modern Metropolis

33745 • Fall 2012
Meets T 200pm-500pm BUR 337
(also listed as GER 392)

After World War One, the metropolis emerged as the center of modern mass society, the historical avant-gardes, and the new culture industries. It is the main purpose of this course to study the rich culture of the modern metropolis during the so-called golden twenties: through its new modes of perception and consumption, its redefinitions of space and place, its social types and sexual subcultures, and its cosmopolitan mentalities and radical politics. The formative role of the metropolis as the center of new artistic, social, and political movements will be examined through the interdisciplinary and comparative perspectives most suited to account for its heterogeneous, contradictory, and dynamic nature. Using Walter Benjamin as a guide, we will start with his writings on Berlin, Paris, and Moscow as components of a transnational theory of modernity and urban experience supplemented by other influential thinkers (Georg Simmel, Saskia Sassen, David Harvey). While the main focus will be on Weimar Berlin, comparative perspectives are introduced through famous city novels and city symphonies (i.e., films) and the role of autobiography and short prose in theorizing the urban experience form the perspective of the foreigner, exile, or tourist (Christopher Isherwood and Vladimir Nabukov on Berlin). The representation of the modern metropolis in painting and photography will be used to diagnose the centrality of vision and visuality to conceptions of mass culture and modernity. Likewise the importance of modern architecture and city planning to the debates on urban subjectivity will allow us to uncover the underlying dialectics of radical politics and social engineering. Artistic movements such as expressionism, cubism, constructivism, and surrealism will be analyzed as urban phenomena responding to this double crisis of subjectivity and representation. Other topics to be discussed involve urban figures such as the bohemien, the flaneur, and the New Woman; the relationship between artistic innovation and revolutionary change; the affinities between urban culture and the modernist aesthetic (montage, stream-of-consciousness); and the importance of the Paris-Berlin-Moscow train in organizing transnational cultural exchanges and international political movements throughout the 1920 and early 1930s.

The course will be conducted entirely in English. All texts will be read and discussed in translation, with German original texts provided for students in Germanic Studies.

Selected Texts and Films

Walter Benjamin: Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century/ Paris, die Hauptstadt des 19. Jahrhunderts (1935)

Walter Benjamin: Moscow Diary/ Moskauer Tagebuch (1927)

Walter Benjamin: One-Way Street/ Einbahnstraße (1928)

Walter Benjamin: Berlin Chronicle/ Berliner Chronik (1932)

Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929)

Irmgard Keun: The Artificial Silk Girl/ Das kunstseidene Mädchen (1932)

Joseph Roth: What I Saw from Berlin/ Joseph Roth in Berlin

André Breton: Nadja (1928)

Ilja Ilf and Evgeni Petrov: The Twelve Chairs (1928)

René Clair: The Crazy Ray (1923)

Walter Ruttmann: Berlin, Symphony of a Big City (1927)

Dziga Vertov: Man with a Movie Camera (1929)


20%      Participation (including two oral presentations)

80%      Short Weekly Response Papers to the Readings

C L 382 • The Fascist Aesthetic

33660 • Fall 2011
Meets TTH 200pm-330pm BUR 337
(also listed as GER 392)

The fascist aesthetic remains a critical provocation and continued source of fascination that challenges our understanding of aesthetics and politics in the context of the historical avant-gardes, official fascist and Nazi art, as well as antifascist literature and film. But how can we define the fascist aesthetic? What accounts for the central role of culture in Nazism/fascism? How does fascism organize the relationship between politics and aesthetics? And what is the function of the fascist aesthetic in popular culture today?

Based on Benjamin’s famous statement that the aestheticization of fascism can only be countered with a politicization of art, we will address these questions through an interdisciplinary, comparative approach that covers half a century of European culture and includes literature, art, architecture, film, critical theory, and cultural history from Germany, Italy, and France. The connection between fascism and modernism will be explored through the lens of Italian futurism (F. T. Marinetti, Gruppo 7, aeropittura) and canonical modernist authors such as Ezra Pound, Céline, and Ernst Jünger. Official Nazi art will be studied through the work of filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, architect Albert Speer, and sculptor Arno Breker, whereas the politics of antifascism will be examined through the expressionism debate (Georg Lukács, Ernst Bloch) and the work of Bertolt Brecht and Friedrich and Konrad Wolf. In addition, shorter texts by German, French, and Italian writers allow us to address core issues of the fascist aesthetic: the fascist mass spectacle, the cult of masculinity, the sexualization of power, and the celebration of war. Finally, through select readings by theorists and historians of fascism/Nazism (George Mosse, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Mark Antliff, Dagmar Herzog, Peter Fritzsche), we will situate the fascist aesthetic in the larger context of twentieth-century mass society and consumer culture and consider its haunting presence in the postfascist imagination.

Class format/ method of instruction: Class will be conducted in a seminar format with short introductory lectures. The course will be of greatest interest to students in Comparative Literature, Germanic Studies, French and Italian Studies, History, English, and Art History. The final selection of texts will be made in discussion with the actual students enrolled.

Course Objectives

The main objectives of the course are to

--give a historical overview of the fascist aesthetic in the context of twentieth century European history;

--discuss key works and movements in a comparative, interdisciplinary context;

--analyze the fascist aesthetic in relation to modernism and postmodernism.

Course Outcomes

By the end of the course, students will be able to

--use critical categories and theoretical models in analyzing fascism as an aesthetic, social, and political phenomenon;

--analyze aesthetic phenomena and cultural practices in a historical and comparative context.



Primary and secondary texts to be discussed (usually in parts) include:

Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Georg Lukacs: Aesthetics and Politics

Bertolt Brecht: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

Roger Griffin: Fascism (Oxford Readers)

Ernst Jünger: On Pain

Victor Klemperer: The Language of the Third Reich—LTI

Filippo Marinetti et al: Futurist Manifestos

Ezra Pound: The Cantos

Leni Riefenstahl: Triumph of the Will

Saul Friedländer: Reflections of Nazism: An Essay on Kitsch and Death

Jeffrey Schnapp: A Primer of Italian Fascism

Susan Sontag: “Fascinating Fascism,” in Under the Sign of Saturn

Friedrich and Konrad Wolf: Professor Mamlock (play and film)

The seminar will be conducted in English, with all materials available in English translation. However, whenever applicable, students are encouraged to work with the materials in their original language. Shorter readings will be made available as PDF files on Blackboard; film screenings will be scheduled separately.



20% Attendance, preparation, and active participation

20% two class presentations

60% three position/reaction papers (5-8 pages/each)

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