Course Description: Fall, 2000
GRC 327E (34740) = CL 323 (29710) = E 376L (31465):

"The Nobel Prize, Politics, and Literature"

Instructor: Katherine Arens <>
Office: Germanic Studies, EPS 3.128
Office Phone: 232-6363 or 471-4123
Office Hours: T TH 8-9:25 and by appointment

In 1999, Günter Grass, author of The Tin Drum (1959) and other controversial, social-critical novels, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was the 7th German, and the 11th German-language author to do so; he had widely been expected to be a candidate for the prize in the 1970s, but was then surpassed by his considerably more conservative contemporary, Heinrich Böll. Now, the media was not slow in noting that Grass was the sixth European in a row to get the prize.

Such Nobel Prize surprises have not been rare since the first was given in 1901, and the list of winners comprises an unusual assortment of acknowledgedly great authors and utterly forgotten ones. They thus chart a fantastic map to Europe's imagined identity as the heart of Western culture -- and to how literary reputations are made, brokered, and broken on the markets of international media politics.

Starting with the most recent, and moving backwards in time, this course will introduce some Nobel-Prize-winning authors (authors who wrote in German, the Scandinavian languages, and [in one case] about Afrikaans-speakers). Each author will, however, be taken as a case study not only in literary aesthetics, but also as one in literary politics: s/he will be introduced through the words of the Nobel Committee's statements. Then harder questions will emerge: Why were these authors picked to be the voices of their generations, and why at their particular moments? The result is a dynamic image of how books REALLY work in an age of the mass media.

Readings and Assignments will draw on the following list of authors:

1902: Theodor Mommsen (Germany)

1908: R. Eucken (Germany)

1909: *Selma Lagerlöf (Sweden)

1910: Paul Heyse (Germany)

1912: *Gerhard Hauptmann (Germany)

1916: V. v. Heidenstam (Sweden)

1917: K. Gjellerup (Denmark)

H. Pontoppidan (Denmark)

1918 - 1919: C. Spitteler (Switzerland)

1920: *Knut Hamsun (Norway)

1928: *Sigrid Undset (Norway)

1929: *Thomas Mann (Germany)

1944: Johannes V. Jensen (Denmark)

1946: *Hermann Hesse (Switzerland, Germany)

1951: P. Lagerkvist (Sweden)

1966: S.J. Agnon (Israel, Austria)

Nelly Sachs (Sweden, Germany)

1972: *Heinrich Böll (Germany)

1974: E. Johnson (Sweden)

H. Martinson (Sweden)

1991: *Nadine Gordimer (South Africa - in English, sometimes about Afrikaaners)

Assignments and Grading

Fills University's Requirements for a course with a Significant Writing Component.

6 one-page precis, each a close reading of one text (first part of semester, to teach how to read a literary text for what it says and what it does not say)

6 x 5% each = 30 % of grade

1 short paper (4-5 pp.), with the option for a rewrite (due as on syllabus, with rewrite a week later): a comparison of the content of the work chosen with the Nobel Committee's assessment and presentation of the author = 30% of grade

1 longer paper (8-10 pp.) (due at end of semester): starting with an abstract; combining a content analysis of the author with research on the author's reception -- a study of literary reputation = 40% of grade (abstract = 10% of that)