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“100 Years Of Death and Judgment” Conference Set

Published: September 17, 2012

The conference “100 Years of Death and Judgment” celebrates the 100th anniversary of a significant year in world literature: 1912, the publication year of Thomas Mann’s classic novella Death in Venice and the year Franz Kafka wrote The Judgment. The conference will take place in the Karl Anatol Center on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 21-22, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

“It would be hard to find a much more important year in the history of German short prose than 1912,” said Jeffrey High, a member of the Romance, German, Russian Languages and Literatures Department (RGRLL) since 2002. “Everyone from Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner to Truman Capote and Stephen King owes a debt to these two works. Their achievements are part of a literary tradition that traveled from Italy to Spain and France, and achieved its distinct profile in late 18th and early 19th century Germany. The anniversary of the year 1912 is significant because of the prominence and undiminished relevance of these two examples of the modern psychological ‘death’ novella.”

Speakers include CSULB graduate and undergraduate students Sophia Clark, Daniel Constable, Dan Dawes, Rebecca Herman, Jessie James, Dorin Smith and Benjamin Tippin from the German, English and art programs. Many CSULB German M.A. candidates, majors and minors are playing important roles in the organization of catering, transportation and publicity. Enrico Vettore, an RGRLL faculty member since 2007, will speak Sept. 22 on Visconti’s classic 1971 film adaptation of Death in Venice. The presentations on Friday, Sept. 21, will be followed by an outdoor screening of the film. Conference events begin on Wednesday, Sept. 19, from 1-1:30 p.m. with a live student reading of Kafka’s The Judgment at the speaker’s podium in front of the University Bookstore.

Sponsors include the College of Liberal Arts, RGRLL, the CSULB German Club, the Associated Students Inc., CSULB’s Office of Academic Affairs, the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Washington D.C.-based German Embassy, and the German Academic Exchange Service in New York City.

High looks forward to 17 conference papers in a meeting organized completely by students. Among the notables in attendance will be Thomas Mann scholar Ehrhard Bahr of UCLA, the editor of Heinrich von Kleist and Modernity Bernd Fischer of Ohio State and Kafka expert Wolf Kittler from UC Santa Barbara. “I was impressed by our students’ ability to coordinate participants from all over the country, though I wasn’t surprised. They are outstanding event organizers,” HIgh said.

Graduate student Clark, who earned her B.A. degree from CSULB in 2010 with a double major in art history and German studies, is a master’s candidate in German studies with plans to graduate in the spring and is the conference’s prime student organizer.

“This conference is completely run by students,” she said. ”We applied for all the grants and invited all the papers. This is a great opportunity for students to experience a real academic conference. There will be participants from regional universities such as the Claremont Graduate School and UC Irvine, and from as far away as UC Berkeley, the University of Arkansas, Emporia State University Kansas, Ohio State University, Penn State University and Vanderbilt.”

100 Years of Death and Judgement

One reason for the conference’s heavy response is the reputation of German Studies at CSULB and the abundance of opportunities junior scholars have here, Clark believes.

“For many students, this will be their first conference. Experience gives students the confidence to attend more conferences,” she said. “Here they can discover the challenges that await them on their way to giving a paper at a professional or professorial conference. I hope conferences like this one will inspire more support for further opportunities for student participation.”

Clark is pleased with her choice to enroll at CSULB. “I remember arriving on campus as a freshman and being amazed at how many activities and opportunities there were in the German program,” she said. “This is true not only in the classroom or at the German summer school, but also in the organization of campus events and conferences. I began working on the Schiller conference in 2009, then I worked on the Kleist conference in 2011 and the Austrian Studies conference in 2012, and I have learned a lot about event organization in the process.”

High expects the current conference to be a success. “The Schiller conference drew many international scholars, though our students were the real stars” he recalled. “The Kleist conference was aimed more at graduate student presenters. This time, we tried to make the focus even younger with undergraduate students presenting and moderating. One of the most important reasons to hold conferences on campus is to offer students experiences that will inform their professional lives.”

He encourages both the university and the local community to attend. “If I were a student or community member and had to choose just one academic conference to attend this year, this would be it,” he said. “The scope is neither too broad nor the amount of reading required too much. At issue are two shorter works of literature that a very large number of educated people in the world have read. But it also is a great opportunity to read either work for the first time. If you have read The Judgment, you will understand half the conference, and if you’ve read Death in Venice, you will understand the other half. Everybody should read both, many times.”

–Richard Manly