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Becoming Epistolary

Thursday, April 20 – Friday, April 21

Deutsches Haus at NYU

Deutsches Haus at NYU and the Department of German at NYU present the NYU German Department Graduate Student Conference "Becoming Epistolary" with keynote speaker Thomas Schestag, Professor of German Studies at Brown University. Please note, the keynote lecture will be held in German.

In old age we are like a batch of letters that someone has sent. We are no longer in the passing, we have arrived.
—Knut Hamsun

But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. —Romans 7:6

Saint Paul's letter to the Romans inaugurates a Western tradition that heralds a coming messianic time, a joining of its community, and a circumscribing of a universality that continues to haunt our collective history, our pursuit of justice, and even our sense of lack and hope. Charged with a calling, an address, and the irruptive signature of "Paul," this single letter, like the endless stream of letters to come, burns itself into Western memory, digs itself into the cannon, and erupts with a repressive force. Whether it is Goethe's nauseating romanticism in Werther doubling as suicide note, Freud’s erotic writings to Fliess at the core of psychoanalysis, Derrida’s satirical (even blasphemous) deconstruction of the epistolary in The Post Card, or Else Lasker-Schüler’s bohemian, nomad correspondences, we cannot escape the letter, but perhaps, we can lean into its punch.

In risking exactly this, we might just divine the messianic character of the letter whether in law or spirit, and reckon with what is to come. Oriented in this fashion, there is no doubt that one can find all sorts of Schatzkästlein, if not outright spiritual nourishment, in becoming epistolary ourselves as philologians of the letter and inheritors of a its accumulated past. In our calling and address to you, our conference seeks to be acommemorable conventicle of philologians of the letter who do not hesitate being transfigured by reading and working on 'correspondence.' Attuning our minds to the secret of letters, as Hamsun did, we will ultimately be, 'like a batch of letters' arriving on the scene of something uncannily ours. We might even experience 'Jetzt der Erkennbarkeit' for the sake of which Walter Benjamin never stopped writing letters in messianic vein of his very own.

Thursday, April 20
6:00pm - Keynote Lecture: Thomas Schestag (Brown)
Ich werfe Lettern aufs Papier, um einen Brief zu schreiben.
(Please note: The keynote lecture will be held in German.)
Introduction: Hyowon Cho (NYU)

Friday, April 21

10:00-10:15am - Opening Remarks: Marie-Luise Goldmann (NYU)
Epistle to the Germans
10:15-12:15am - Panel ABCs-ymal”:
Irina Kogan (Yale)

On Rilke’s Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge
Jenni Caisley (Cambridge)

On Die Wahlverwandtschaften
Endre Holeczy (NYU)

Text on Text in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Der Sammler und die Seinigen
Jonas Teupert (UC Berkeley)

Fugitive Forms: Mediality of Writing in Kleist’s Early Letters
Moderation: William Cheung (NYU)
Response: Professor Ulrich Baer (NYU)

1:45-3:15pm - Panel “Penultimate Ultimatum”:
Hyowon Cho (NYU)

Stasis in Correspondences
Paul Hoehn (UC Berkeley)

Two Clumsy Correspondences in Judith Hermann’s Sommerhaus
William Cheung (NYU)

Racial Apocalypse in Schnitzler’s Andreas Thameyers letzter Brief
Moderation: Benjamin Schulter (NYU)
Response: Professor Christopher Wood (NYU)

3:15-3:45pm - Break

3:45-5:45pm - Panel “Writing or Writhing?”:
Leonie Ettinger (NYU)

Kafka’s Ein Bericht für eine Akademie: A Traumatic Report of a Human Ape
Sayalee Karkare (UC Boulder)

The Use of Voice-Over in Essayistic Films and its Effect
Margarete Tiessen (Cambridge)
An Epistolary Profession: The Publishing House S. Fischer at the End of the Great War
Dennis Johannsen (Brown)

To Those Already Sad: Sending and Receiving Rejection Letters”
Moderation: Marie-Luise Goldmann (NYU)
Response: Friedrich Ulfers (NYU)

6:00pm-Closing Remarks: Avital Ronell (NYU)
Introduction: Doreen Densky (NYU)

Events at Deutsches Haus are free and open to the public. If you would like to attend this event, please send an email to As space at Deutsches Haus is limited, please arrive ten minutes prior to the event to ensure you get a good seat. Thank you!