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In Search of Happiness

Term 1

Since the late 18thcentury and until today, perceptions of happiness have shifted and changed. What counts as bliss, satisfaction, or joy, is historically and culturally determined. Studying major works of German literature, philosophy, and film that have reflected on the question of happiness, we engage with broader debates surrounding the nature of happiness in relation to historical events and social transformations. We examine the rise of different cultural values that impact the perception of human happiness. These include the human relationship to nature, the praise of Eastern cultures, self-realisation, and the adherence to religious faith. We discern how different genres of German literature advance their particular aesthetic conventions and philosophical innovations through the theme of happiness.

Term 1 materials are likely to include:

  • Hölderlin: selected poems
  • Georg Büchner: Lenz
  • Friedrich Nietzsche: Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik
  • Sigmund Freud: Die Zukunft einer Illusion
  • Herman Hesse: Siddhartha
  • Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Curt Siodmak, Fred Zinnemann: Menschen am Sonntag

Term 2 

In term 2 of this module, through an engagement with German literature from the Age of Enlightenment to the present, we will be further examining the question of happiness. Following authors, characters and texts from Goethe’s Werther (1774) to Juli Zeh’s Corpus delicti (2009) in their ‘pursuit of happiness’, we will closely attend to a variety of historically specific and philosophically distinct conceptualizations of (un-)happiness and their negotiation in works of art, thus subjecting the category of ‘happiness’ to a critical examination. At the same time, we will also consider the notion that art itself—as the dialectical other of a disenchanted world—carries in it a ‘promise of happiness’: art, in Theodor W. Adorno’s words, as ‘das Versprechen des Glücks, das gebrochen wird’. 

Our discussion of the primary material for the module will be complemented and informed by readings from theoretical texts on the concept of happiness and on the critical function of art in society at large.

Term 2, materials are likely to include:

  • Johann Wolfgang Goethe. Die Leiden des jungen Werther (1774) 
  • Heinrich von Kleist. Das Erdbeben in Chili (1807) 
  • Christa Wolf. Kein Ort. Nirgends (1979) 
  • May Ayim. Poetry (1995/1997)
  • Juli Zeh. Corpus Delicti: Ein Prozess (2009) 

This module will be taught and assessed in German.

Coordinators:  Dr Yael Almog and Dr Alexis Radisoglou

Further details of pre-requisites, co-requisites, aims, contact hours and assessment.