Q+ Seminar “The Aesthetics of Violence” with Professor Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht of Stanford University (USA)

Report by Max Dreysse (American studies) and Katharina Schelp (German/philosophy)

Whether it is an accident on the highway, at the movie theater, or in a sports arena: evidence for fascination with violence can be found in the most diverse areas of human life. In his seminar titled “The Aesthetics of Violence,” Professor Gumbrecht of Stanford University took a close look at this fascination together with 10 Q+ students. The interdisciplinary dynamic of the group – including students from the fields of English literature, American studies, German studies, mathematics, music, physics, journalism, sociology, sport science, and economics – created a highly productive atmosphere for discussion that took even the internationally renowned U.S. scholar by surprise.

A few days beforehand, literary scholar Dr. Timothy Attanucci got the students who would be participating in Dr. Gumbrecht’s seminar ready for the upcoming event with a preparatory meeting spanning several hours, filled with interesting discussions. The readings used for this, specified by Professor Gumbrecht, were meant to provide an introduction to the essential terms and concepts of their work to come, including:

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht: „Diesseits der Hermeneutik. Über die Produktion von Präsenz“; Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht: „Nach 1945. Latenz als Ursprung der Gegenwart“; Heinrich Kleist: Michael Kohlhaas; Heinrich Kleist: Das Erdbeben von Chili; Heinrich Kleist: das Bettelweib von Locarno; GOYA: Los Desastres.

In the seminar, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht addressed various fundamental questions against the background of his conceptions of “presence” and “latency.” Questions included: What is violence in the first place? What is aesthetics? What is an aesthetic moment, what is a violent, cruel, or desperate one? And (how) do these terms fit together? These questions and others, which may seem easy enough to answer at first glance, soon proved to be extremely productive starting points for rich, often lively discussions. Professor Gumbrecht’s enthusiastic willingness to meet students on equal footing was definitely of great importance here – even the smoke breaks were used to carry on the ongoing discussion. The afternoon turned out to be an intensive and productive combination of a highly demanding lecture and stimulating discussion.

At the end of this Q+ seminar, there were many questions left unanswered – as was to be expected. The discussion could probably have gone on for many more hours. Nevertheless, we had arrived at many answers – answers that in some cases were only possible due to the particularly broad spectrum of knowledge stemming from the diverse professional and personal experiences of the participants. In this way, Professor Gumbrecht helped to provide us with a comprehensive, in-depth overview of this multi-faceted, challenging, and very exciting topic.

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