Eighth Biennial Graduate Student Conference
Department of Germanic Studies
Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
February 25-27, 2011

The Critical Blot: Opacity and Meaning in German Language,
Literature, and Culture

Keynote Address:  Benjamin Bennett (University of Virginia)
Plenary Address:   Joe Salmons (University of Wisconsin)

„Diesem Willen zum Schein, zur Vereinfachung, zur Maske, zum Mantel,
kurz zur Oberfläche – denn jede Oberfläche ist ein Mantel – wirkt
jener sublime Hang des Erkennenden entgegen, der die Dinge tief,
vielfach, gründlich nimmt und nehmen will.“ Nietzsche, Jenseits von
Gut und Böse

Over the centuries, writers, philosophers, linguists, historians,
artists, musicians, and filmmakers have attempted to wrestle with the
façades that Nietzsche describes. Obscurity, indecipherability,
pregnant silences, faulty light – these masks of opacity resist being
known when they are all that can be known. Can the methods that begin
by trying to punch through them in the end only caress them? While the
surface, i.e., what we actually see and hear of language and art, is
relatively easy to observe (as long as the observer is sensitive to
its structure), that which lies behind (the surface) has driven
analyses and entire theories and has led to the development of myriad
scholastic methods and empirical instruments.

 This conference wishes to open up avenues of investigation into the
shadowy underworld of opacity: how has it been theorized and deployed
within literature, linguistics, art, philosophy, history, and music –
and how can we theorize it today? Potential topics may include, but
are not limited to, the following areas of inquiry:

– Opaque regions in literature and film: Leerstelle, psychologically
inaccessible characters, seemingly unmotivated actions
– Suturing of the camera/audience in film and the invisibility of the gaze
– Philosophy/Thing theory: Bill Brown, Luhmann’s blind spot,
Heidegger’s art work – how are things made visible?
– Performance: interplay of text and staging, text and music, voice
and music, possible disjunctions and counter-narratives
– Contrast of transparency and opacity in literature, i.e., in German
Romantic texts from Tieck to Kleist
– Goethe: mirroring and mirroring of mirroring, Translation and
Weltliteratur from the 18th century to Benjamin and beyond
– Syntax: Transformation/Movement (with and without traces); barriers
to movement
– Second Language Acquisition: learnability problems;
over/undergeneralization; positive & negative evidence
– Historical Linguistics: comparative method/reconstruction;
limitations of manuscript/inscription evidence; gaps in the data and
their implications; principles and models of historical change
– Phonology/Morphology: underlying representations; derivations;
opacity phenomena (overapplication and underapplication); rules of
(supposed) absolute neutralization


Deadline for Abstracts: November 15, 2010.

Please send a 1-2 page anonymous abstract, with a separate cover sheet
indicating the author’s name, affiliation, address, and e-mail address
to: [log in to unmask]


The German Studies Call for Papers List
Editor: Stefani Engelstein
Assistant Editor:  Olaf Schmidt
Sponsored by the University of Missouri
Info available at: