German Literary Studies and the Nation
© 2018, American Association of Teachers of German This paper argues that German literary studies was, from its inception, an entirely nationalist and nation-building endeavor, perhaps the quintessential nationalist project. Among the discipline's foundational premises are its belief in and commitment to a diversity of culturally individuated national communities (rather than one uniform humanity), a non-hierarchical plurality of vernaculars (rather than classical languages), and historically inflected and culturally expressive aesthetic forms (rather than transhistorically and transregionally valid templates of excellence). Three disciplinary activities of early Germanistik—Germanic historical linguistics, vernacular canon formation, and national literary history—are introduced as key instruments of nationalization. In conclusion, the paper claims that contemporary German Studies in the US, thankfully a reflective and critical enterprise, nonetheless remains institutionally completely dependent on the paradigm of the linguistically and culturally defined nation.
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