Weidenfeld Visiting Professorship in Comparative European Literature

The Weidenfeld Chair in Comparative European Literature is a Visiting Professorship at the University of Oxford, and is an established part of the academic year at St Anne's.

The 2018-19 Weidenfeld Visiting Professorship will be held by Durs Grünbein. Durs was born in Dresden in 1962, and now lives in Berlin and Rome. After the decline of the Soviet Empire he started travelling throughout Europe, South Asia and the United States. Since 2005 he has been Professor for Poetics and Aesthetics at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Durs is a member of several German Academies and since 2009 member of the Order Pour le mérite for Science and Arts in Germany. He has published fifteen collections of poetry, one diary, a book of memories and four books of essays. Also translations of Aischylos, Seneca, Juvenal. His work has been awarded many major German and International literary prizes, including the Büchner-Price 1995, Nietzsche-Prize 2004, Hölderlin-Prize 2005, Pier-Paolo-Pasolini-Prize in Italy 2006 and Transtömer-Prize in Sweden 2012. His poetry has widely been acclaimed and translated into several languages. 

The Weidenfeld Visiting Professorship in Comparative European Literature Lecture Series - Trinity Term 2019

Lectures will be given by Durs Grünbein on Beyond Literature: Or, on the intrusion of history into the narrative of one’s own life

Tuesday 7th May 2019: The Violet Postage Stamp
Thursday 9th May 2019: Landscape in Chains 
Tuesday 21st May 2019: The Aerial Warfare of Images
Thursday 23rd May 2019: For the Dying Calves

All lectures take place at 5.30pm at St Anne’s College (Tsuzuki Lecture Theatre). All welcome, no need to book.

These lectures have a far-reaching title. In general terms they explore the way history impinges on ordinary lives and finds its way into the literary imagination.  At least since Hegel and Marx history writ large has been one of the fetishes of modern human sciences and arts. It seems, pace Marx, as if our historical being does not merely determine our lives as social entities, but also reaches into the most private corners of our consciousness and determines also the imaginative power and ludic drive of literature. Anyone born in the twentieth century – this century of wars and divisions – will have found themselves already historicised even as a child. For the emerging writer, the poet, there will inevitably come a certain moment when he becomes conscious of his position in the overall context of the history of his nation, his family and his language community. From that moment on his writing will seem above all to obey an overarching imperative: that of bearing witness to his times. But poetry insists on going its own ways, seeing the world with its own eyes. Out of this comes a constant tension, or, one might say, irresolvable dialectic. That is the core contention of these four lectures. They are designed according to the principle of collage.

The first lecture focuses on an object that becomes the starting point for the subsequent research: a postage stamp bearing the head of Adolf Hitler.
The second lecture attempts to sketch a topography of Germany by way of its techno-logical development, in particular the so-called ‘Reichsautobahn’ - one the most comprehensive construction projects of National Socialist Germany (and one indeed that outlasted it). It will explore how this is bound up with the language of the Third Reich and its violent history.
The third lecture concerns the aerial warfare that destroyed Europe’s towns and cities, and is set in dialogue with W.G. Sebald’s reflections on the same theme in his On the Natural History of Destruction.
The fourth lecture concludes by asking what is the literary task that arises out of this history for a contemporary writer.

These lectures consciously take account of, and reflect, the breaks and discontinuities of German history. True to the modus operandi of the author’s own poems, they employ a collage technique that demands the imaginative collaboration of reader and audience alike. 

Weidenfeld Visiting Professors of European Comparative Literature:

1994 - 1995 George Steiner

1995 - 1996 Martha C Nussbaum, Professor of Law and Ethics, The University of Chicago

1996 - 1997 Gabriel Josipovici, Professor of English, School of European Studies, University of Sussex

1998 - 1999 Amos Oz, Professor of Hebrew Literature, Ben Gurion University of Negrev, Israel

1999 - 2000 Roberto Calasso, Author and Publisher, Adelphi Edizioni, Milan

2001 - 2002 Umberto Eco

2002 - 2003 Nike Wagner (Michaelmas Term 2002) and Robert Alter (Trinity Term 2003), Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, University of California at Berkeley

2003 - 2004 Mario Vargas Llosa

2004 - 2005 Sander Gilman, Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago

2005 - 2006 Michele Le Doueff

2006 - 2007 Wolf Lepenies

2007 - 2008 Bernard Schlink

2008 - 2009 Marjorie Perloff

2009 - 2010 Roger Chartier

2010 - 2011 James Wood

2011 - 2012 Ali Smith was awarded the CBE in 2015. Her Humanitas lectures formed the basis of her book Artful (2012) which was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths prize.

2012 - 2013 Don Paterson

2014 - 2015 Javier Cercas. The third and fourth lectures in the series can be viewed online on the Weidenfeld-Hoffman Trust website.

2015 - 2016 Dame Marina Warner

2016-2017 Sean O'Brien

2017-2018 Elif Shafak

2018-2019 Durs Grunbein

The Chair was the first of Lord Weidenfeld's Visiting Professorships in Oxford, which are intended to bring leading practitioners and scholars to both universities to address major themes in the arts, social sciences and humanities.