Jeffrey Wallen

Professor of Comparative Literature
Hampshire College Professor Jeffrey Wallen
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Jeffrey Wallen
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Jeffrey Wallen is professor of comparative literature.

He has also taught as a visiting professor at the Free University Berlin and at the University of Toulouse, and has been the director of Hampshire's semester-long study abroad program. He has published widely on nineteenth- and twentieth-century European literature; on biography and literary portraiture; on testimony, Holocaust literature, and Berlin Jewish history; and on debates about education. His book Closed Encounters: Literary Politics and Public Culture was published by the University of Minnesota Press.

Some of his most recent publications are "Beckett in Time of Crisis," "Totem and Taboo: The Perverse Writings of Ka-Tzetnik 135633," "The Lure of the Archive: The Atlas Projects of Walid Raad," "Migrant Visions: The Scheunenviertel and Boyle Heights, Los Angeles," “Twemlow’s Abyss,” "Narrative Tensions: The Eyewitness and the Archive,” "Falling Under an Evil Influence," "The Death and Discontents of Theory," and "Sociable Robots und das Posthumane." He is currently working on a study of the archive in contemporary thought and art.

His teaching interests include 19th- and 20th-century comparative literature (German, French, British), critical theory, Holocaust Studies, modernism, Jewish Studies, psychoanalysis, and philosophy.

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Recent and Upcoming Courses

  • In the early twentieth century, Joyce, Woolf, Kafka, and other writers radically transformed our notions of the novel, and of literature. In this class, we will explore the formal and geographic extremes of literary modernism, and examine how each of these writers challenge our familiarity and comfort in fiction, and attempt to reconceive the possibilities of the literary text. This course is affiliated with the Time and Narrative Learning Collaborative (LC). Among other questions we will be considering: How do these writers transform our perception of time, and reconceptualize our understanding of memory and "lost time"? Keyword: Literature

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  • In the late 19th century, when cities first became home for millions rather than thousands of people, many writers became fascinated with how people behave differently when part of a crowd or a "mass." What is the attraction of being part of a crowd? In the 20th century, the phenomenon of the crowd has become central to modern life, as people joined crowds in many circumstances: mass political movements, strikes, concerts, parades, protests, sporting events, rallies, religious gatherings. We will explore moments in the 20th century where the emergence of crowds has changed the course of history, but also how it has become part of ordinary life. We will look at works of literature and film, and explore the power and behavior of crowds through readings in psychology, political theory, journalism, and many other approaches. This course is affiliated with the Time and Narrative Learning Collaborative (LC). Among other questions, we will be considering: How does being part of a crowd change our sense of time?

  • Autobiography is not one literary genre among others--autobiographical writing cuts across all distinctions of genre. In the last 30 years, there has been a remarkable proliferation of life writing, and also expansion into new forms, such as on the internet and graphic novels. In this course we will read earlier forms of confession, autobiography, and memoir, and look at a wide range of recent writings, including testimony, memoirs of illness and recovery, and coming out narratives. We will also examine theories of the self, of identity, of consciousness, and of memory. (keywords: literature, graphic novels, autobiography, memoir, writing)

  • At the heart of the twentieth century lies the destruction of European Jewry, but both before and after the Holocaust there is an amazingly rich and varied literature written by Jews in western, eastern, and central Europe (and many of these writers moved around frequently). The Jewishness of their writings will not be the central theme, but will rather serve as the thread to connect in one course a very diverse range of writers, such as Else Lasker-Schuler, Franz Kafka, Bruno Schulz, Isaac Babel, Anna Seghers, Osip Mandelstam, Paul Celan, Vasily Grossman, Georges Perec, Elias Canetti, Irene Nemerovsky, Joseph Roth, Imre Kertesz, Hannah Arendt, Jurek Becker, and others. (keywords: literature, Jewish studies)

  • The problem of evil won't go away. Despite repeated attempts to dismiss the concept of evil as archaic and outmoded, it continues to haunt contemporary culture and thought. In literature, evil becomes a particularly prominent theme in the 19th century. Is literature intimately--or necessarily--connected to transgression, and to evil? We will explore 19th- and 20th-century literary as well as philosophical texts that take up the fascination with evil, and explore the difficulties thinkers have in confronting and making sense of it. We will also watch a few films that engage the question of evil. (keywords: literature, philosophy, ethics)

  • This course is a selective study of the institutions of museums and archives. In a seminar format we will read and discuss a small number of theoretical essays, both canonical and non-canonical, that will help us explore why engaging with the collecting of artworks and the storage of documents have become central for contemporary thought and artistic practice. Our inquiries will range from the Wunderkammer and the imperialist origins of museums to the place of archives in contemporary art practices. Occasional guest speakers from museums and archives will join us (in Zoom meetings, and perhaps in person) as we debate issues of decolonization and provenance; the artist as curator and the curator as artist; questions of reproduction and the copy; and the place of memory studies in archives and museums today. Students will be responsible for a rigorous independent research project, culminating in a curatorial or archival project. (keywords: museums, art history, literature, archives)