Circulating Humor: Nonsense Politics
14 September 2012, 4 – 7 pm
Institute for International Studies, 223 Moses

Infotainment rules. Year-end television ratings in 2011 confirmed that The Daily Show and The Colbert Report had drawn more viewers than Fox News, the most watched news channel in the US. What does this tell us about the state of democracy and participation? In this year of another “electoral theater,” it appears timely to analyze politics as comedy and comedy as politics. Humor constitutes a stage for performances that forge and disrupt rituals of community. German comedian Martin Sonneborn, former editor of the magazine Titanic and founder of the party Die Partei, proposes an absurd program such as the re-erection of the Berlin wall; Turkish German stand-up comedian Serdar Somuncu impersonates Hitler; University of California students emulate the rhetoric of efficient privatization; activists tricksters assume corporate personas and ruling voices. All these comics intervene by mobilizing strategic role-play, mimicking practices they set out to deconstruct by exposing their absurdity, and inviting the audience to join in their tactics of denudation. At this workshop, such examples will be discussed and analyzed collaboratively with participants. We will work toward a theoretical framework for the analysis of comic interventions as complex social, discursive and aesthetic acts.

“Nothing is Done”, an exhibition of satirical posters by graphic artist Klaus Staeck targeting environmental questions will complement this workshop. Opening in Doe Library on 13 September 2012.
Introduction: Social Dynamics of Role-Play and Exposure
Deniz Göktürk (University of California, Berkeley)

Performative Dimensions of Wit and Nonsense
Uwe Wirth (University Giessen)
In this paper, I will trace the performative dimension of wit in particular, and of ‘the comical’ in general, in reference to Jean Paul´s definition of wit as “the disguised priest who unites every couple” and Freud´s definition of non-sense. One aspect central to Freud´s theory of humor and jokes will serve as a vantage point for my argument: the aspect of „comic lending,“ which Freud borrowed from Jean Paul and re-defined as Aufwandsdifferenz (difference of effort). This term is applied to phenomena of performed non-sense, such as the so-called non-sense joke, in which “fallacies” are brought to the fore and are at the same time “disguised” by “cloaking them in the appearance of logical reasoning.” In my paper I discuss the political implications of this performative dimension, especially with regard to the logic of “difference of effort”, but also with regard to the Derridean logic of grafting (greffe). In the workshop we will analyze the comical at the crossroads of performativity, grafting and politics by focusing on a contemporary example. In 2004, on the occasion of the federal election, Martin Sonneborn, former editor-in-chief of the satirical magazine Titanic, founded the party „Die Partei“ (The Party) and caused much indignation with his nonsensical, provocative party manifesto, which included the proposal to rebuild the Wall between East and West Germany.

Mocking the Nazi Past: Genetic Memory in Serdar Somuncu and Oliver Polak’s Stand-up Comedy
Annika Orich (University of California, Berkeley)
This paper discusses the way genetic thinking has shaped the concept of cultural memory in contemporary German society. To trace this relationship, I will examine the stand-up comedy of Serdar Somuncu and Oliver Polak, currently, as some have argued, “the most caustic comedians of the country.” German Turkish comedian Serdar Somuncu gained fame for his controversial readings of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf in the mid-1990s and has recently caused a stir with his show Hassprediger. In recent years, German Jewish comic Oliver Polak has attracted attention for his taboo-breaking routine Ich darf das, Ich bin Jude and Jud Süß Sauer. Somuncu and Polak’s comedy constitutes a site of memory that commemorates the Third Reich and challenges common notions of this past. Their comedy routines about Germany’s notorious history and the country’s perennial process of coming to terms with its Nazi past moreover serves as a means to critically examine the present status of immigrant minorities in German society. I will argue that Somuncu and Polak’s humor complicates the way in which cultural memory is constituted as a hereditary entity that is transmitted from one generation to the next and, thus, difficult to acquire outside of ethnic inheritance and belonging. Of particular interest for this discussion is the role that humor plays in both challenging and reinstating the genetic components of cultural memory and related discourses on German national identity.

Travesties of Privatization
Shane Boyle (University of California, Berkeley)
Through a discussion of selected guerilla performances, Internet pranks, and ironic manifestos created by the UC Movement for Efficient Privatization (UCMeP), this talk examines how student activists at the University of California have turned to satiric performance as a mode of critique and mobilization against the budget cuts to public education in California. UCMeP’s playful yet earnest performative manipulations of the discourses and rituals of authority staged by the UC administration take the rhetoric and proposals for privatizing public higher education to an absurd extreme. Be it raising philanthropic money to reward the UC Board of Regents, renaming campus buildings in honor of administrators, or auctioning off prominent campus landmarks to the highest bidder, UCMeP employs a performance-based strategy of satiric over-identification that ridicules the authoritative discourses used to legitimate austerity measures and criminalize dissent. Inspired by the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army in Germany and the Volxtheaterkarawane in Austria as well as tactical impersonations by The Yes Men, such performances resonate on a broader international scale. How might we distinguish between the political import of satire as deployed by activists enmeshed in particular political struggles from its use in other contexts, like television, film, and online media? And as scholars and activists, how might considering the relation of satire to the struggles it seeks to engage provide a useful lens of critique?

Tactical Performance: Symbolic Sabotage and Satirical Surprise
Larry Bogad (University of California, Davis)
This presentation will examine recent attempts by creative activists to use theatrical techniques to enhance the impact of social movement interventions – in public squares, corporate meetings, military recruiting centers, commercial port shut-downs, and other pressure points in the body politic. Guerrilla musicals, mass-produced newspapers and Clown Armies will be assessed for their specific strengths and weaknesses as levers/lockpicks in the activist toolkit.

Discussant: Priscilla Layne (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

Co-sponsored by the German Department, the Multicultural Germany Project, the Institute for International Studies, the Contemporary European Performance Working Group at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Goethe-Institut San Francisco.

Fictions of the Human/Fiktionen des Humanen
Munich-Berkeley Joint Workshop
September 1-3, 2011

Fiction(s) of the Human: The Reinvention of Man Since the Enlightenment
Fiktion(en) des Humanen: Die Neuerfindung des Menschen seit der Aufklärung


September 1


  • Britta Herrmann (Munich): "Man as Departure a Work of Art. The Invention of the (Post-)Human in the 18th Century"
  • Niklaus Largier (Berkeley): "Reconfiguring the Senses"

11.00-11.15  - Coffee Break

11.15 a.m.-12.15  - Paul Rabinow (Berkeley): "Streitschrift: What Science? What Art? What Life?"

12.15-13.45  - Lunch Break


  • Anja Lemke (Cologne): "The Artist’s Work as Production of Humanity – Schiller’s 'Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man'"
  • Karin Feldman (Berkeley): "On Fabel, Fiction and Human History in Gottsched"

15.45-16.00 - Coffee Break


  • Ian Duncan (Berkeley): "The Form of the Novel and the Form of Man"
  • Annette Keck (Munich): "Of Letters and Men: Literal Anatomies and the Construction of Humanity"

September 2

11.30-12.00 - Arrival / Reception: Howard Room, Faculty Club (Reception sponsored by German Department, UC Berkeley)

12.00-13.00 - Lunch

13.00-13.15 - Introduction: Britta Herrmann, Chenxi Tang


  • David Bates (Berkeley): "Cartesian Robotics and the Age of Information"
  • André Otto (Munich): "Desiring Machines – Anoedipal Anthropology"

15.15-15.30 - Coffee Break


  • Elif Özmen (Munich): "Anthropological Fictions in Contemporary Practical Philosophy"
  • Cary Wolfe (Rice University): "Constituting the Human: Biopolitical Thought"
  • Kerstin Schmidt (Munich): "'The theme is blackness': Reflections on Modernity and Race"


Organizers: Britta Herrmann and Chenxi Tang

Sponsored by

Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich: LMU-excellent
University of California, Berkeley:

  • Division of the Humanities
  • Townsend Center for the Humanities
  • Department of English
  • Department of German
  • Department of Rhetoric

Richard Kern will present a workshop on "Making Connections Between Film and Literacy." Kern is an Associate Professor of French and Director of the Berkeley Language Center.

This workshop will focus on critical, cultural, and creative connections between film and written texts. Both kinds of media express culture through the stories they tell and through the particular ways they tell them, and the interpretive skills students learn in one medium can often be adapted to the other medium. Participants will learn how film and written texts can be integrated in tasks and activities that support a broad-based foreign language literacy.

Workshop: Robert Walser with Walo Deuber

4/10/2008, 6:00 PM - 7:00 PM in B-4 Dwinelle Hall

Thursday, April 10th at 4:30pm: Film Screening and Workshop with the award-winning Swiss filmmaker Walo Deuber!

Prof. Deuber will screen and discuss his most recent film, “Er, der Hut, sitzt auf ihm, dem Kopf: Robert Walser Geschichten” – Ein Sehbuch (documentary-visual book). This innovative form of the “visual storybook” combines image and sound to present the viewer with a unique, new perspective on seven recently discovered love stories by Robert Walser. Created 50 years after the author’s death, this film proves that Walser’s work can still produce a profound impression on modern day audiences. Thanks to the voice of Bruno Ganz (The Downfall, Wings of Desire), the acting by Anja Margoni and Florian Rummel and the loyal adaptation by Walo Deuber the texts come to life like never before.

The focus of the workshop will be to discover new ways in which film can be employed as a medium for teaching literature, to understand the different aesthetic and technical conventions behind each medium, and to provide instructors with the necessary resources to guide their students to a sophisticated understanding of what film can do with literature.

Prof. Deuber has taught seminars in Europe and the United States and teaches scriptwriting and drama at the HGKL (Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst Luzern). After earning his doctorate from Zurich, Dr. Deuber worked as a journalist for various Swiss newspapers and was an editor for Limmat-Verlag. Select films by Walo Deuber include Spuren Verschwinden (Fading Traces, 1998) and Der schwarze Tanner (1984).

For further information or questions please contact Melissa Etzler

DaF in den USA: Grundzüge und Perspektiven
UC Berkeley / DAAD Workshop 2006
September 22-23, 2006

**Registration has ended, we can not accommodate additional participants at this time.**

Workshop Schedule

Friday, September 22 (282 Dwinelle Hall)

(Participants arrive at Hotel Shattuck Plaza)

13:00 - Welcome; Overview of Workshop Components

13:15 - Language Learning Autobiographies

13:30 - Video Presentation and Discussion: “Good” vs. “Bad” Teaching

14:45 - Coffee Break 370 Dwinelle Hall

15:00 - BLC Lecture by Prof. Janet Swaffar, UT Austin, title to be announced

17:00 - Reception / Distribution of Microteaching Assignments TBA

19:00 - Dinner

Saturday, September 23 (370 Dwinelle Hall)

9:00 - Teaching Demonstration and Discussion

9:45 - Language Teaching Methodology – History and Perspectives

10:15 - Coffee Break

10:30 - Lecture by Prof. Claire Kramsch, UC Berkeley: Was ist Sprachlehr- und lernforschung und was kann sie tun für den Deutschunterricht in amerikanischen German Departments?

12:00 - Lunch (370 Dwinelle Hall)

13:30 - Microteaching

15:30 - Coffee Break

15:45 - Microteaching

17:45 - Reflections

18:00 - Developing the Teaching Portfolio

18:30 - Concluding Remarks and Seminar Evaluation

For more information, contact Workshop Director Nikolaus Euba: (510) 642 – 2006 /

New Research and Writing in Modern German History

A University of California Workshop
February 27-29, 2004

The workshop will be held in the Regents Room at the Hotel Durant, 2600 Durant Avenue, Berkeley 94704. The conveners are professors Gerald D. Feldman and Christina von Hodenberg.


Friday, February 27

1:00-2:30 p.m. Introduction and Keynote Lecture: William Hagen (UC Davis) on "German History Beyond the Sonderweg: New Grand Narratives? New Narrative Styles?"

Coffee Break
3:00-5:30 p.m. Session I: New Work on Post-1945 Germany (Chaired by James Sheehan of Stanford University)

  • Robert Moeller (UC Irvine), "What Did You Do in the War, Mutti? Courageous Women, Compassionate Commanders, and Stories of the Second World War"
  • Christina von Hodenberg (Visiting Professor, UC Berkeley), "Let’s Make the Sandman a Social Critic: West Germany’s Mass Media in the Long Sixties"
  • Frank Biess (UC San Diego), "The Protracted War: Returning POWs and the Making of East and West German Citizens"
  • Harold Marcuse (UC Santa Barbara), "Bridging the History-Memory Gap: The Role of Age Cohorts in the Historiography of Nazi Germany"


Saturday, February 28

9:00-11:00 p.m. Session II: New Projects on 19th and early 20th Century Germany (Chaired by William Hagen of UC Davis)

  • Mark Cioc (UC Santa Cruz), "The Rhine as a Human Artifact"
  • Ann Goldberg (UC Riverside), "Honor Disputes, Defamation, and the Law in Imperial Germany"
  • Katherine Roper (St. Mary's College), "Mobilizing Crowds in Weimar Film and Society"

Coffee Break

11:30-1:30 p.m. Session III: Intellectuals and Ideologies (Chaired by Margaret L. Anderson of UC Berkeley)

  • David Luft (UC San Diego), "Intellectual History and the ‘Other’ Germany"
  • Cathryn Carson (UC Berkeley), "Critiques of Scientific Rationality in the Federal Republic"
  • Kenneth D. Barkin (UC Riverside), "W.E.B. Du Bois’ Love Affair with Imperial Germany"

Lunch Break

3:00-5:30 p.m. Session IV: Graduate Student Projects (Chaired by Christina von Hodenberg of UC Berkeley)

  • David Marshall (UC Riverside), "The Presentation of History in Berlin’s Zeughaus, 1953-2003"
  • Edith Sheffer (UC Berkeley), "Bordering East and West: Division and Reunification among Neighbors"
  • Alan Rosenfeld (UC Irvine), "Political Violence and an ‘Excess’ of Women’s Liberation in West Germany, 1970-1977"
  • Benjamin Wurgaft (UC Berkeley), "Mendelssohn, Kant and Maimon on Philosophy and Heresy"


Sunday, February 29

9:30-11:00 p.m. Session V: Graduate Student Projects (Chaired by Gerald D. Feldman of UC Berkeley)

  • Eric Bryden (UC Davis), "Legitimizing Weimar: Republican Political Culture, 1918-1933"
  • Joshua Sternfeld (UCLA), "Echo der Welt: The Social and Cultural Reception of Jazz Music in Late Weimar and Early Nazi Germany, 1928 -1934"

Coffee Break

11:30-12:00 p.m. Concluding Discussion: Where Do We Go From Here?

Sponsored by the DAAD and the Center for German and European Studies at the Institute for European Studies, University of California, Berkeley