COOL CLASSES: “From The Gutenberg-Galaxy To Cyberspace: Literature, Film, And New Media”

This comparative literature seminar examines diverse artistic responses (from Bertolt Brecht to Spike Jonze) to a rapidly evolving media environment that oscillate between technophilia and technophobia.

Class name: “From The Gutenberg-Galaxy To Cyberspace: Literature, Film, And New Media

Taught by: Professor of German and Comparative Literature Ulrich Schönherr


Here’s what Schönherr had to say about his class:

The emergence of new acoustic, visual, and electronic media since the late 19th-century has not only dramatically changed the way how we store and record information, communicate, think and perceive reality, it has also fundamentally changed the status of writing, literature, and the book—the predominant social medium since the invention of the printing press. The challenges posed by photography, phonography, radio, film, and electronic media prompted writers to rethink, redefine, and reflect upon their declining position vis-à-vis the new audio-visual technologies, which have successfully dethroned the book as the primary storage system of our culture. Focusing on modernist as well as contemporary texts and films, the seminar examines the diverse artistic responses to a rapidly evolving media environment, oscillating between technophilia and technophobia. (Readings include texts and films by Spike Jonze, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Fritz Lang, Bertolt Brecht, Thomas Mann, Julio Cortazar, Michelangelo Antonioni, Don Delillo, Charlie Brooker, Marcel Beyer, Leni Riefenstahl, Georges Perec, and Geoff Ryman.)

The various literary and filmic representations illuminate the close connections between media, politics, and warfare, surveillance and social control, the transformation of private and public sphere, the question of truth and authenticity in the age of simulation, but also media’s liberating potential for democratizing culture and society, and the importance of shaping individual, social, and collective identities, including gender and sexuality. However, one last paradox of the new media ecology remains yet to be explained: The more we are connected to the “world,” the more we become as recipients isolated from our social surroundings. Reading was initially a communal event before it became a solitary activity. Likewise was the visit to a movie theater, before it retreated to our television sets in our living rooms, where it became private. Today we have access virtually to everything in our “global village” through our computers, but physically we are even more alienated from our communities.

These are just some of the issues and questions the seminar explores in class discussions and close readings of literary texts and movies. In addition, we will have the opportunity to read excerpts from prominent classical and contemporary theorists of media, such as Benjamin, Adorno, Barthes, McLuhan, Baudrillard, Ong, Kittler, Landow, and Virillo.

Even though I designed the seminar some time ago, I still love to teach this course, because it turns out to be always a new course due to the nature of its subject matter, which requires constant revision and rethinking. More importantly, it is the course where I learn most from my students, for they are the true experts of new media. Whereas my schooling was fundamentally not very different from the education Friedrich Nietzsche or Sigmund Freud had to endure, my students’ socialization began with the introduction of the computer into the classroom. I am very grateful for this!


See what other courses the Department of Comparative Literature is offering this semester.

Cool Classes is a series that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford experience.