The Culture of German Modernism

Jan 2009

Huyssen won a teaching award a few years back, and it was very well deserved. He has been by far one of my favorites at Columbia—genuinely interested in his students' intellectual development, highly accessible (both in person and via email) despite a heavy course and advising load, as well as departmental chair responsibilities, and unfailingly civil. He is highly demanding in the classroom, expecting students to at least attempt to match his own inquisitiveness and uncanny ability to reveal the larger significance of literature. He won't hesitate to shoot you down if your classroom comments are foolish, but his engaging demeanor encourages lively back-and-forth once you grow comfortable with his expectations. Huyssen's a big-picture thinker, often musing about the changing nature of society, the influences of technology, the role of globalization, and the limits of language. If you're interested in German intellectual history, you'll find the examples he uses fascinating, and even if you're not, he makes a good effort to elucidate complex theories of modernity and literature using a wide array of texts. Be forewarned that, like many humanities professors, he treats the A grade like an A+. If you care more about your GPA than your education, you may be disappointed. But he is highly recommended.

Jan 2006

Prof. Huyssen teaches a super interesting class! The reading is mostly really neat (though slow going even for students who have taken German lit classes before) and class discussions are equally interesting. He responds and thinks about questions that you ask him in class and in office hours so sincerely, and gets so excited about class and has so many things to say that it usually went 15 minutes late. I don't think that it is a good class to practice spoken German, as there was always opportunity to ask questions, but not really to practice a lot of speaking each class. That said, Prof. Huyssen is so interesting that it is worth taking his class anyways, particularly because he was sometimes very good at relating works written 100 years ago to our own contemporary conception of cities.

Dec 2005

Gosh, wish someone had told me that the class was designed for pretentious kids...all I remember was a mind-blowing hour and fifteen minutes twice a week, plus an extra 8 mind-blowing hours of reading on the weekends...but then again, I did all the readings and the work assigned, came to all the classes, so I was able to get a lot out of Professor Huyssen's hilarious, serious, awesome classes. I can see the pretentious appeal, sure. He is super-hip, caustically, ironically funny, and right-on. He makes sense of Dada and the postmodern aesthetic. But he does so in a down-to-earth, silly, and startingly creative way that appeals to even the most cornfed midwesterner of us. Would I be caught dead carrying a Strand bag? No. Would I toast my MGD in honor of Huyssen, though? Hell yes! And again, I did the work for the class and showed up for it, which was essential to keeping up with Huyssen's incredible, unbelievable class design and train of thought. If you didn't...well...I guess you could get mad at some vague notion of "pretension" or something, but I find it more fruitful to get as much out of my 30Gs and access to brilliant professors that I can. Different strokes, I guess. For potential Huyssen students: just take a look at 99% of Huyssen's reviews, which are consistently glowing, and for good reason. He's not my god or anything, but I sure am glad he exists. And that I got to see into his brain a little bit.

Nov 2005

If you're a pretentious CCLS major who loves to drone about how fascinating Dada or the postmodern aestetic is, you will absolutely love this class and fawn all over Huyssen's knowledge. However if you are a german speaker with little interest in hyper-intellectual persuits, you will absolutely hate this class. Again, a great class for pretentious know-it-alls who want to feel superior to ordinary people.