Writing Prose: Narrative Forms and Social Communication in Goethe’s Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten

Lecture by Professor em. Inka Mülder-Bach of German and Comparative Literature at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich and visiting professor at the Department of German in Princeton.

Date: October 10, 2019
Time: 4:30pm
Location: East Pyne 205

The concept of prose is unique in that it is the only rhetorical term that has gained prominence as a central metaphor of modernity. Since the 18th century this concept has been marked by an irreducible ambiguity. On the one hand, it refers to a written idiom not constrained by metrical regulations. On the other hand, it designates a modern “sphere of thought” and a modern “state of the world” (Hegel) that find their adequate expression in this idiom. To write prose not only means to write in a language of prose. It means to write a language of prose and thus, mediated through language, to write a certain condition of the world.

The lecture will discuss how this correlation informs Goethe’s 1795 collection of novellas Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten (Conversations of German Refugees). Not only at the level of content but in the very forms and structures that bind its narrative prose this collection addresses the question of the social bonds and the fabric of society in an age of prose.


Sponsored by the Princeton German Department. Lecture open to the public.