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24 May 2023 - 24 May 2023

3:00PM - 4:00PM

Online - Zoom meeting link below

  • Free

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Annie Pfeifer presents her new book 'To the Collector Belong the Spoils' at an online German Research Colloquium in collaboration with the English Department.

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Walter Benjamin in 1928

You are invited to an online book presentation in the framework of the German Research Colloquium and in collaboration with the English Department.
Annie Pfeifer (Columbia University) will join us for a presentation and discussion of her new book To the Collector Belong the Spoils published by Cornell University Press on Monday, May 24 from 3-4pm.

To the Collector Belong the Spoils rethinks collecting as an artistic, revolutionary, and appropriative modernist practice, which flourishes beyond institutions like museums or archives. Through a constellation of three author-collectors—Henry James, Walter Benjamin, and Carl Einstein—Annie Pfeifer examines the relationship between literary modernism and twentieth-century practices of collecting objects. From James's paper hoarding to Einstein's mania for African art and Benjamin's obsession with old Russian toys, she shows how these authors' literary techniques of compiling, gleaning, and reassembling constitute a modernist style of collecting which that reimagines the relationship between author and text, source and medium. Placing Benjamin and Einstein in surprising conversation with James sharpens the contours of collecting as aesthetic and political praxis underpinned by dangerous passions. An apt figure for modernity, the collector is caught between preservation and transformation, order and chaos, the past and the future.

Positing a shadow history of modernism rooted in collection, citation, and paraphrase, To the Collector Belong the Spoils traces the movement's artistic innovation to its preoccupation with appropriating and rewriting the past. By despoiling and decontextualizing the work of others, these three authors engaged in a form of creative plunder that evokes collecting's long history in the spoils of war and conquest. As Pfeifer demonstrates, more than an archive or taxonomy, modernist collecting practices became a radical, creative endeavour—the artist as collector, the collector as artist.


Annie Pfeifer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Germanic Languages at Columbia University. Her research and teaching interests focus on 19th and 20th century German literature, aesthetics, and culture. Her first monograph, To the Collector Belong the Spoils: Modernism and the Art of Appropriation, was published by Cornell University Press in February 2023. Together with Reto Sorg, the Director of the Robert Walser Center in Switzerland, she edited “Walk I absolutely Must” a 2019 collection of essays on Walser and the culture of walking. Her articles have appeared in The New German Critique, German Life and Letters, The Germanic Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB) as well as the opinion section of The New York Times.



Where and when

Please find the Zoom meeting link here

(Alternatively Zoom Meeting ID: 918 1869 1843 Passcode: 218371)

Contact the organiser Dr Yael Almog here