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Annual Grilk Lecture

Thursday, November 13, 2014
5:00 AM
Michigan League, Michigan Room (2nd Floor)

The Werther Effect: Transtextualities of the Modern Novel

On Thursday, November 13th at 5pm, Professor Andrew Piper will deliver the annual Werner Grilk Lecture in German Studies. Professor Piper will speak on

The Werther Effect: Transtextualities of the Modern Novel

Andrew Piper is an Associate Professor of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at McGill University, where he is also associated with the Departments of Art History and Communication Studies. His work spans these disciplines and more, with foci on the history of the book, on networks and literary topologies, on practices of textual circulation and sharing, and on the relationship between media and translation (for more on Professor Piper, see his webpage; for more on the subject of his talk, see below).

This annual Grilk Lecture is sponsored by the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures in honor of Professor Werner Grilk, Prof. emeritus, a former member and active colleague in our department. We gratefully acknowledge support for this year’s talk by Professor Piper from the Departments of English and Comparative Literature.

Transtextualities of the Modern Novel

This project seeks to develop new ways of understanding the relationship between the novel and eighteenth-century writing through the use of network-based models of reading. It does so by focusing on one of the most popular novels of the period, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774/1787). With the steep rise of printed writing in the eighteenth century, epistolary novels like Goethe’s Werther, Richardson’s Pamela, or Rousseau’s Julie became landmarks of the new vibrancy of the publishing industry, one that was increasingly transnationally oriented. As fictional networks of texts, epistolary novels came to stand for a new culture of literary connectivity.

In my talk, I will present work that uses topological models to study the transnational circulation of Werther. Combining network theory with the statistical study of linguistic patterns across a corpus of roughly 30,000 texts, I am interested in understanding the extent to which the language of the novel circulates within a broader environment and helps structure the literary field in particular ways. How might such quantitative models of lexical circulation, when combined with close interpretive readings of specific texts, allow us to see new kinds of conceptual work that a novel like Werther could perform during this transformative period of writing? If Werther was indeed a “syndrome”, in Klaus Scherpe’s words, of an emerging bourgeois society in the eighteenth century, what can such models tell us about the “work” of this pathos across cultures?

Co-sponsors: Department of Comparative Literature, Department of English, Institute of Humanities, International Institute