Kleist Conference a Credit to Germanic Studies in Australia

25 February 2011

200 years after his death, German playwright Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811) has been the subject of a four-day conference hosted by the Department of Germanic Studies.

The conference has already been reported as an outstanding success in the cultural section of the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" one of Germany's leading newspapers.

Kleist lived during the Napoleonic Wars, and wrote poems, novels, plays and short stories. His contemporaries (many also pioneers of German Romanticism) included Beethoven, Hegel and Goethe.

The Sydney conference has opened a series of international conferences as part of the Kleist Commemorative Year 2011.

"The primary goal of our conference is to demonstrate the continuing excellence of the long tradition of Germanic Studies in Australia", said Dr Yixu Lu, Chair of the Department of Germanic Studies, and convenor of the conference.

German (and Germanic Studies) began its long and distinguished tradition here n the 1850's, only a few years after the University of Sydney was founded.

"To this day," said Dr Lu "it remains the largest German department in NSW, and among the largest in Australia".

"This conference illustrates how literature can bridge international and cultural boundaries and demonstrates the place of Australian research in the humanities in a global context".

Australia has produced some major Kleist scholars, many of whom participated over the weekend. The conference, said Dr Lu, has brought together four generations of Australian German Studies scholars.

23 research papers were presented at the conference by experts on Kleist from Germany, the USA, New Zealand and Australia.

The bicentenary of Kleist's death will also see exhibitions and commemorative theatre productions in Germany, France, the UK, the USA and Eastern Europe.

Dr Lu, whose current research includes the works of Kleist, says Kleist's standing as a German literary figure has steadily increased since the early 20th century.

His works were vital influences on such major writers as Franz Kafka, she said.

The several German scholars who attended the conference had their travel supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service).

The conference was also attended by the Governor of NSW and Sydney University Chancellor, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir; as well as by the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Professor Duncan Ivison.

The principal sponsor of the Sydney conference is the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Bonn, which was represented by Dr Gisela Janetzke. The event was also supported by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, The School of Languages and Cultures, the German Embassy in Canberra, the German Consulate General in Sydney and the Goethe Institute in Sydney.

Contact: James MacKay

Phone: 02 9351 2208