Modern German Thought Reading Group

Modern German Thought Reading Group

René François Ghislain Magritte, Belgian, 1958, Les vacances de Hegel, Oil on canvas, 24 x 20 in.

Since the mid-eighteenth century, German-language thinkers have played a key role in shaping ideas about modernity and its discontents. This reading group aims to bring together researchers and scholars across the University working on modern German thought. It is open to anyone interested in understanding the contribution German thought has made and continues to make to discussions of human societies and cultures, and their relationships to one another and to the non-human world.

We will read theoretical texts originally written in German, but which are also available in English translation. This choice is motivated by two complementary considerations: the focus on German-language texts acknowledges that ideas are in part products of specific historical circumstances and traditions. However, ideas never emerge in linguistic and cultural isolation, and their meaning is also contingent upon the context in which they are interpreted. The aim of the reading group is therefore to consider the selected texts both in terms of their specific historical limitations and their general and continuing relevance.

The group will meet once a month. The first meeting will be on Thursday, 26th November between 3-5pm in the School of Languages and Cultures Common Room (Room 536, Brennan MacCallum Building). The meeting schedule for the following semester can then be discussed depending on interest. Please email the convener, Cat Moir, to express your interest in participating.


Past Events

Adorno and Schelling on the Art-Nature Relation

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Monday 21 November 2016
3-5pm
SOPHI Common Room
Room 822 (opposite lift)
Level 8
Brennan MacCallum Building
The University of Sydney


Camilla Flodin, University of Uppsala
With a response from Harriet Johnson, University of Sydney.


Goethe’s Theory of Colours

When Goethe’s Theory of Colours (Zur Farbenlehre) appeared in 1810, the wavelength theory of light had been firmly established. Yet Goethe believed the theory was flawed. He conducted personal observations and experiments over a number of years in an effort to establish colour as a function of the relation between objective reality and subjective experience. The results are contained in his Theory of Colours, a book that had a significant impact on figures as diverse as J.M.W Turner, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Werner Heisenberg. Goethe valued his contribution to the scientific debate on colour more highly than his poetic achievements, but his controversial views, in particular his refutation of Newton, are well without the bounds of mainstream physics today. Nevertheless, Goethe’s Theory of Colours still has much to teach us about European conceptions of life and art at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Join the Modern German Thought Reading Group to discuss Goethe’s colour theory in the context of our broader project on ‘German Concepts of Life in the Long Nineteenth Century’.

Full PDF of English version available for download here

Full PDF of German version available for download here

Past Meetings

Thursday 3 November 2016
Thursday 13 October 2016

Secondary Literature
Dennis Sepper The problematics of Newton's theory of white light and colors from Goethe contra Newton: Polemics and the Project for a new Science of Colour

Frederick Burwick Goethe's Entoptische Farben and the Problem of Polarity from Goethe and the Sciences: A Reappraisal edited by Frederick Amrine, Francis J. Zucker and Harvey Wheeler.

Thursday 22 September 2016
Thursday 1 September 2016
Thursday 11 August 2016

Jakob von Uexküll

Jakob von Uexküll (1864–1944) was born in Estonia and educated at the University of Heidelberg and the Zoological Center in Naples. Uexküll developed the conceptual framework of biosemiotics, which understands life as a complex of biological signification and communication processes. In 1926, he founded the Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Hamburg. In A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans, this pioneering biophilosopher embarks on a remarkable exploration of the unique social and physical environments that individual animal species, as well as individuals within species, build and inhabit. Uexküll’s concept of the umwelt holds new possibilities for the terms of animality, life, and the framework of biopolitics. This text will therefore be of particular interest to those working on the history of biological thought, biopolitics and biosemiotics, network and complexity theories, phenomenology, and human animal-studies.

Full PDF of English version available for download here

Full PDF of German version available for download here

Past Meetings

Thursday 17 March 2016

Reading Jakob von Uexküll’s A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans (U. Minnesota Press, 2010), available in German as Streifzüge durch die Welten von Tieren und Menschen (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1956). The page numbers for the English text are pp. 157-end (PDF of English version available above) which corresponds to pp. 120-end in the German version (PDF of German version available above).

Thursday 25th February 2016

Reading Jakob von Uexküll’s A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans (U. Minnesota Press, 2010), available in German as Streifzüge durch die Welten von Tieren und Menschen (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1956). The page numbers for the English text are pp. 102-157 (PDF of English version available above) which corresponds to pp. 74-120 in the German version (PDF of German version available above).

Thursday 22nd January 2016

Reading Jakob von Uexküll’s A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans (U. Minnesota Press, 2010), available in German as Streifzüge durch die Welten von Tieren und Menschen (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1956). The page numbers for the English text are pp. 53-102 (PDF of English version available above) which corresponds to pp. 30-74 in the German version (PDF of German version available above).

Thursday 26th November 2015

We will begin by reading Jakob von Uexküll’s A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans (U. Minnesota Press, 2010), available in German as Streifzüge durch die Welten von Tieren und Menschen (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1956). The page numbers for the English text are pp. 1-52 (PDF of English version available above) which corresponds to pp. 7-30 in the German version (PDF of German version available above).