This past January, for its annual Werner Grilk Lecture in German Studies, the Department welcomed Professor Helmut Lethen, who spoke on “Magical Thinking in Cultural Studies.” By which he meant the tendency to confuse rough simultaneity with causality– as when someone (such as the German media theorist Friedrich Kittler) claims it to be “no coincidence” that the first typewriters were produced in a weapons factory, or that EMI, Pink Floyd’s record label, employed technology used in warfare to locate U-boats. In his talk, Lethen went on to offer a spirited exploration of the coincidences that shaped his own intellectual biography –including the Beatles single “Twist and Shout,” a Stravinsky recording, some American sociology, and a lot of German critical theory. 

Lethen is Visiting Professor for Cultural Studies at the Kunstuniversität Linz, which he joined after stepping down as Director of the International Research Center for Cultural Studies (IFK) in Vienna (2007–2016). He previously held positions at the Universities of Utrecht (Netherlands) and Rostock, and has held visiting professorships at Chicago, UCLA, Indiana, and Berkeley.

Lethen is the author of numerous works on German literary and cultural history, including Neue Sachlichkeit (1970), Verhaltenslehren der Kälte (1994; translated as Cool Conduct: The Culture of Distance in Weimar Germany, California 2002), Der Sound der Väter (2006) and Die Suche nach dem Handorakel (2010). His most recent book, Der Schatten des Fotografen (2014), assembles essays on photography and won the Prize of the Leipzig Book Fair in 2014. 

This year’s lecture was the first to be held since Werner Grilk passed away. Thanks to the generosity of the donor—a student of Werner’s—who endowed it, we will continue to hold the event as a memorial lecture in Werner Grilk’s honor. We are delighted to announce our next speaker: in late September, Professor Celia Applegate (Vanderbilt) will be delivering the 17th annual Werner Grilk Memorial Lecture in German Studies.