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Auerbach Lecture | 05.07.2021 | 18 Uhr

Matt Erlin (German and Comparative Literature, St. Louis): Niklas Luhmann, Aesthetic Autonomy, and the Ethical Aspirations of North American Literary Studies
Moderation: Nicolas Pethes (Modern German Literature, Cologne) 


Beginning in the late 1980s, the systems theory of Niklas Luhmann was adopted and adapted by German literary scholars, and systems-theoretically informed approaches have now become a staple of German literary and cultural studies. In North America, however, Luhmann’s impact has been modest at best. In the first two parts of this lecture, I will offer some reflections on the possible reasons for this neglect and on the degree to which Luhmann’s case can shed light on the more general factors driving the cross-cultural circulation of theoretical paradigms. In the third section, I will make the case for a renewed consideration of Luhmann, arguing that precisely his resistance to critical theory in its various incarnations, which I take to be largely responsible for his limited reception in the US, in fact provides an extremely valuable lens through which consider the current calls for political and social engagement on the part of scholars in the humanities.

The lecture will take place virtually via Zoom. Guests are very welcome!