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"The Role of Liberal Arts in Fostering Empathy: Language, Literature, and Human Understanding"
Gary Schmidt, Professor and Chair

(The 13th annual College of Arts and Sciences John Hallwas Liberal Arts Lecture, Sept. 10, 2015)

I would like to thank John Hallwas for his very gracious introduction, as well as Dean Martinelli-Fernandez, Sharon Knight, and Bob Johnson for their support and hard work in preparation for this lecture.  Thank you, also, to Casey LaFrance and all members of the Hallwas selection committee for making it possible for me to speak to you today. A special thank you to my colleagues Catherine Moore, Dan Brown, and Guada Cabedo-Timmons for their expert consultation on linguistic matters in French and Spanish, and to Ute Chamberlin of the History Department, with whom I team-taught a course on the Holocaust during Fall Semester 2013, an experience that inspired me to submit the proposal for the current lecture.  Thank you to my husband Roger Graham for his support and patience during the past few months while I grappled with the formidable task of writing this lecture. Finally, I wish to thank all previous Hallwas Lecturers for their engagement with the critical public discussion regarding the liberal arts; I will draw on some of their insights today.

As a rather unworldly teenager brought up in the suburbs of Chicago, I made the “decision” to attend a liberal arts college.  I say “decision” in quotation marks because far from truly understanding the significance of what it would mean for my future as an individual coming to recognize himself and his place in the world, my enrollment at a liberal arts college fulfilled what was expected of me.  It was a choice to follow the tradition of a family of academics, my father having been a professor of Political Science and my mother a teacher. Ironically, it was by making this “choice” that I obtained the perspectives and the intellectual tools that I needed to speak back to the broader tradition in which I grew up, to challenge both its unspoken assumptions and its clearly articulated prohibitions. It was by making this choice that I was able to become an active participant in creating the stories, the metaphors, and the images to explain my life, my world, and my place in it rather than  passively submitting to the pre-packaged, one-size-fits all worldview that shaped my childhood.

As a freshman, I was required to take a two-term introductory sequence to the liberal arts, in which we read fictional and non-fictional writings by philosophers, anthropologists, theologians, biologists, psychologists, astronomers, historians, novelists, playwrights, and poets. Many of the authors whose works we read pre-dated the boundaries that define the present-day academy, but many of those authors are rightfully claimed by such fields as sociology, physics, religious studies, and philosophy.  Although we read these texts in English translation, the majority of them were written originally in other languages, and the complexity of ideas they presented, the richness of their style, structure, and vocabulary, and the diversity of the intellectual perspectives they offered sparked my imagination about using new, unfamiliar words to describe supposedly familiar phenomena, as well as using familiar words to describe the unfamiliar.

While most liberal arts colleges have long since revised and expanded their reading lists to include writings by non-white, non-male, non-European, and even non-heterosexual authors, the basic premise remains: by grappling with ideas that are very often uncomfortable for young readers, students grow intellectually, emotionally, ethically, and socially.  Such a model for the liberal arts adheres to a core principle: the engagement with challenging, well-written texts is essential for the academic and personal development of students and is a key component to the development of intellectual self-determination. Further, intellectual self-determination is a necessary condition for citizenship in a democratic society and for a lifetime of intellectual, professional, and social growth. It is also a key component of what the 2013 Hallwas Lecturer S'thembile West refers to as “how the arts and sciences help to facilitate creative self-construction.”

Like many of my classmates, I resisted, sometimes evenresented being forced to read writings I felt were irreverent, anti-American, anti-Christian, even immoral, yet what I ultimately discovered when reading these texts were not only insights and ideas about my own life but also an awakening to the reality that people whose actions I had judged using my own previously unquestioned standards may indeed be acting in a manner perfectly consistent with their own standards and that those standards were tied to collective and individual responses to particular experiences, and that the words, metaphors, and narratives they used did not necessarily reflect, confirm, or validate my own. 

The path from blind acceptance of orthodoxy to questioning, probing, theorizing, self-questioning, re-theorizing, and finally to an embrace of the pursuit of knowledge as a lifelong journey was for me anything but a direct and clear path.  I cannot draw a straight line from the difficult texts I was required to read as a freshman to my ability to stand up today in 2015 unashamedly as a man married to another man, although during my undergraduate years in the 1980s such a marriage was almost unthinkable and our relationship would have been criminal in many states. Nevertheless, it was by being confronted with alternative ways of seeing the world offered by thinkers from a wide range of disciplines that I could begin to understand and work through the contingency of my own prior experience.  

Contingency is a concept of particular importance for me and one that I will return to many times in my remarks today. What I mean by the quality of being contingent is resulting not from necessity but rather by chance or accident – in this case the accident of birth into a middle-class white protestant family living in the Midwest of the United States.  My window onto the world was contingent not only on this accident of birth but also on the individual peculiarities of my upbringing. I believe it is important to note this distinction, for one of the arguments I wish to pursue here is that the qualities of careful reading and critical analysis that one learns in the liberal arts are crucial as we attempt to make very difficult distinctions between the general and the specific, between the universal and the particular, between rule-governed behavior and sometimes unpredictable expressions of individuality.  And indeed, without careful critical reflection and attention to the complexity of language and experience when making such distinctions, we run the risk of falling into clichés, stereotypes, and prejudices that actually close the door to an increase in knowledge and human understanding. We run the risk of believing that a worn-out metaphor or label represents an actual truth, and we stop asking questions until something jolts us out of our comfortable use of a language that has ceased to advance our understanding. The philosopher Richard Rorty, in his book Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity quotes Donald Davidson’s work on the philosophy of language to make an argument for the continued re-writing of our language as not only the driving force for knowledge advancement but also for empathy:

Davidson lets us think of the history of language, and thus of culture, as Darwin taught us to think of the history of a coral reef. Old metaphors are constantly dying off into literalness, and then serving as a platform and foil for new metaphors. This analogy lets us think of “our language” – that is, of the science and culture of twentieth-century Europe—as something that took shape as a result of a great number of sheer contingencies.[i]   

For Rorty, cultural, social, and political change occur when people gradually learn to speak differently.

Our acceptance of the contingency of experience is, in Rorty’s words, “a willingness to face up to the contingency of the language we use.”[ii] And this means nothing more and nothing less than the fact that our words, our terms, our definitions are historical products and that our conceptual vocabulary might have been different and indeed can and should change as our perspectives broaden.  As Rorty convincingly argues, when one is confronted with new languages that utilize alternative vocabularies, the result is cognitive dissonance. Most human beings seek to resolve cognitive dissonance – some choose to ignore or repress ideas and language that challenges their assumptions, other seek to assimilate them. For Rorty, the most creative and productive resolutions of cognitive dissonance result in the creation of  new vocabularies, tantamount to new ways of seeing the world that chip away at the status quo, eventually replacing old ways of seeing with new ones.

Assimilating Rorty’s thoughts into my own life history, I offer the following: as the novels, poems, biographies, and essays of non-heterosexual individuals found their way into the mainstream they challenged the dominant vocabularies used to talk about sexual minorities, vocabularies that availed themselves of notions of sin or medical discourses of pathology and degeneracy; these were gradually replaced with vocabularies developed by feminists, gay liberationists, civil rights activists, and queer theorists.  Many of these wrote and continue to write in languages other than English and their analyses of the different ways that language shapes our thought have led to important insights. French feminist Monique Wittig, for example, analyzes how personal pronouns require speakers to mark gender. Wittig explores how the masculine “he” masquerades as the universally human and how the French neutral prounoun “on” (one) and the unusual femine plural “elles,” which has no equivalent in English and cannot be translated without significantly altering the function and meaning of the original, offer possible alternatives to the way masculine pronouns render women different or invisible. In English it is impossible to feminize the third person plural pronoun, there being no form corresponding to “elles” [with an s]. In French “elles” with an s is rarely used; the masculine plural is assumed as the universal, but “elles” with an s is nevertheless a possibility, a potential that Wittig explores in her fiction in order to imagine what it would be like to express the universal as feminine rather than masculine.

Without challenges to the dominant language political transformation would be unthinkable. Yet what should also be clear is that the transformation of language is ongoing: we cannot draw a line and say we have reached a destination, we cannot predetermine the outcome if we truly believe in academic and personal freedom. I agree with Rorty, when he claims that cognitive dissonance is in and of itself a good thing, because it leads us to new knowledge, and this has significant implications for what we do in the liberal arts and sciences:

The craftsman typically knows what job he needs to do before picking or inventing tools with which to do it. By contrast, someone like Galileo, Yeats, or Hegel [ . . .] is typically unable to make clear exactly what it is that he wants to do before developing the language in which he succeeds in doing it. His new vocabulary makes possible, for the first time, a formulation of its own purpose. It is a tool for doing something which could not have been envisaged prior to the development of a particular set of descriptions, those which it itself helps to provide.[iii] (12-13)

And so it is for the practitioner of the liberal arts: when we require our students to read challenging and uncomfortable texts, we cannot know what the result will be, nor, I would argue, should we predetermine a desired outcome in terms of concrete values or beliefs. Instead, it should be the engagement itself with the new language of the text that is our goal, the students’ involvement and commitment to an ongoing, never-ending process of critical reflection. While I was preparing this lecture, an article appeared in the Atlantic that I found particularly relevant to this model of a liberal arts and sciences education. In “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt claim that, “In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like, and seeking punishment of those who give even accidental offense.” [iv] The authors decry the increasing demands by students that professors issue “trigger warnings” when topics are about to be discussed that might cause emotional distress to students. The problem, according to Lukianoff and Haidt, is that such sheltering of students from words and ideas does not actually protect them from the realities described by them and may actually hamper their ability to respond in “real life” to such realities.  The idea of “trigger warnings” is something I believe should be of interest to all practitioners of the liberal arts and sciences who agree that education always involves a certain amount of discomfort. Mistaking the word for the thing itself is another way of not recognizing the contingency of language, of forgetting that a word can mean different things to different people in different contexts and that a word in translation may mean something quite different than in the original.  When speaking a second or third language, people may falsely translate idioms or common metaphors of their native tongue and as a result be misunderstood. Lukianoff and Haidt suggest that this may have been the case in the “so-called water-buffalo incident” at the University of Pennsylvania in 1993, when an “Israeli-born student” was charged with racial harassment after he yelled “Shut up, you water buffalo!” to a crowd of African-American sorority women who were allegedly making noise at night outside his dorm-room window. According to Lukianoff and Haidt, the student falsely translated a Hebrew insult that had no racial connotations but referred simply to a thoughtless or rowdy person. Having no knowledge of Hebrew myself, I am unable to assess the accuracy of this claim, but what I do find interesting is the possibility this story illustrates of misunderstanding and misjudging others when we are unaware of or choose to overlook the intricacies of linguistic and cultural difference.

In the remainder of my lecture, I will focus on how the critical study of language and literature empowers students to intellectual self-determination and, along with other core disciplines of the liberal arts and sciences, creates the foundation for our ability to empathize, to place ourselves in the position of others who on the surface appear to be different or, as Rorty puts it, individuals whom we falsely judge to be less worthy because we find the vocabularies they use to describe the world to be incoherent, strange, unpredictable, or even offensive. For Rorty, the development of the imagination is the essential element necessary to human solidarity:

Solidarity is not discovered by reflection but created. It is created by increasing our sensitivity to the particular details of the pain and humiliation of other, unfamiliar sorts of people. Such increased sensitivity makes it more difficult to marginalize people different from ourselves by thinking, ‘They do not feel it as we would.’[v] (xvi)

My focus today will be on the role of language in fostering such active imagining, specifically literary language and the process of translation. After a discussion of how the study of language and literature is related to the human capacity for empathy, I will introduce briefly the poet and Holocaust survivor Paul Celan, suggesting how the active grappling with his complex language motivates us to reflection, and sensitizes us to nuance and ambiguity; and, finally, how all these are intensified when we consider the added element of translation from a foreign language. Before concluding, I will briefly suggest some parallels between the capacities fostered in reading poetry with those in learning a foreign language.

The New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition, definesempathy” as “the projection of one’s own personality into the personality of another in order to understand him better; ability to share in another’s emotions or feelings.” The Collins English dictionary defines it somewhat differently as “the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person's feelings. See also identification.”  “Empathy” is, of course, a construction, an abstraction, and it will be difficult to find two people who agree entirely on what it means. What I find interesting about the difference between the New World Dictionary and the Collins definition is the notion of projecting oneself into the Other that is emphasized in the former. One possible reason for the somewhat older definition is the more faithful adherence to etymology, i.e. to the origin of the word. The word empathy actually came into the English language as a Greek translation of the German word Einfühlung (from ein "in" + Fühlung "feeling"), a term from a theory of art appreciation that claims appreciation depends on the viewer's ability to project her personality into the viewed object.  I take then two important points from the etymology of the English word “empathy”: 1. The concept arises out of an active engagement with an object of art, something that when broadly defined is the quintessential object of humanistic scholarship; this object, whether it is a painting,  an historical primary source, a novel, or philosophical essay, becomes a vehicle for entering into a perspective different than that of the one viewing or reading it; an example of this would be the sympathetic reading of a poem such as the one I will offer later in my lecture. 2. The etymology of the English term “empathy” demonstrates the winding path that concepts follow as they move across cultural and linguistic borders. By studying such borrowings and the process of translation itself we might actually gain a more nuanced understanding of words that in our current language have become so commonplace we have ceased to reflect meaningfully about them. In other words, the perspective offered by another language may denaturalize our assumptions, may jolt us out of our linguistic complacency and thus trigger change.

Active empathizing, I would argue, requires an act of translation: more than just a gut emotional response, the creative hypothesizing about the inner life of the other is a necessary precondition of empathy. Such creative hypothesizing requires, in the words of the 2014 Hallwas Lecturer, Dr. James Rabchuk, “seeing the invisible,” for a human being’s inner life, like subatomic particles, remains unseen by the naked eye. Or, as philosopher Martha Nussbaum writes, “[T]he insides of people, like the insides of stars, are not open to view. They must be wondered about.”[vi]  Nussbaum argues persuasively for the capacity of literature, particularly narrative and drama to foster a “sympathetic vision” of people who are different by discovering our “common vulnerability,” of becoming familiar with “risks that are common to all human beings.”[vii]  To Nussbaum’s profoundly humanistic and universalist vision, I would like to add the elements of particularity that a close attention to language brings. When we attend to what is specific to a foreign language and also to our native tongue, and how these differ, we also gain a greater understanding and appreciation for the contingency of our words and ideas. Let me begin by applying this contingency to my own language, for when I speak of “seeing the invisible” I am utilizing a metaphor which is itself an oxymoron, for the invisible is defined literally as that which cannot be seen. Inherent already to this metaphor of “seeing the invisible” is my recognition of its contingency and of the provisional and tentative status of my own creative hypothesizing about the inner life of the other in which we are engaging. Yet withoutsuch creative hypothesizing, without the invention of fictional life histories for ourselves and others, we are left with the wasteland of hackneyed phrases and dead metaphors – in other words, we are left with linguistic constructions that have long ceased to produce new insights into the thoughts and feelings of others, and we have closed the door to empathy.

 We must constantly balance the impulse towards finding universals, commonalities in our humanity with peoples of other cultures and life histories with the awareness that without a careful attention to the specificity of the situation of the Other we run the risk of imposing an allegedly universal vision of humanity and justice that judges others based on our own perspective and allows the dominant language to masquerade as the universal language.  This happens far too often when one speaks of English as the universal language but really means the language of wealth and power. 

Recent research in linguistics on how language influences thought has revived interest in the so-called Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which in its strong version claims that language determines thought. Although most linguists reject a strong version of this hypothesis, Lera Boroditsky suggests that “a flurry of new cognitive science research is showing that in fact, language does profoundly influence how we see the world.” Such research provides empirical evidence that the structure of one’s language influences the pieces of information that we pay attention to and can hence also influence such things as how we explain causality or attribute blame.  Boroditsky says it best in her own words:

In studies conducted by Caitlin Fausey at Stanford, speakers of English, Spanish and Japanese watched videos of two people popping balloons, breaking eggs and spilling drinks either intentionally or accidentally. Later everyone got a surprise memory test: For each event, can you remember who did it? She discovered a striking cross-linguistic  difference in eyewitness memory. Spanish and Japanese speakers did not remember the agents of accidental events as well as did English speakers. Mind you, they remembered the agents of intentional events (for which their language would mention the agent) just fine. But for accidental events, when one wouldn’t normally mention the agent in Spanish or Japanese, they didn’t encode or remember the agent as well.[viii]

The point here is that the structure of one language requires the mentioning of certain details that may not be required in another and this in turn influences what listeners or readers of a particular language actually pay attention to. Looking at it from another perspective, the structures of a language may also offer speakers the possibility of framing an event in a certain way that is quite different from the possibilities offered by a different language. Sticking with the theme of agency, responsibility, or blame, I offer two examples that Spanish-speakers will be familiar with.  The accidental burning of a cake may often be described by an English-speaking person baking the cake as direct agency, “I burned the cake,” making no distinction between a deliberate burning of the cake and an accidental one.  The structure of Spanish offers a possibility on the opposite end of the spectrum: a typical response by the baker would be, “Se me quemó el pastel,” which, being a passive voice construction, literally translates as “the cake burned itself to me.” Standard English does not have an equivalent way of shifting the guilt from the baker to the cake, although colloquial utterances, such as “the cake went and burnt on me” are indeed possible.  Significantly, Spanish also allows an intentional action to be expressed with the same passive construction, for example one could translate the English active sentence, “I burned my boyfriend’s photo” with “Se me quemó el foto de mi novio”  (“My boyfriend’s photo burned itself .)

This example, with both its standard English equivalent and a colloquial variation, supports a weak version of the Sapir-Worf hypothesis: language does not determine thought, but rather it sets parameters for a range of possibilities, such that certain perceptions and evaluations of a situation are more likely in one language than in another.  

The refutation of the Sapir-Worf hypothesis would be, according to Boroditsky the claim that

just because Turkish, Korean, Japanese, and Russian speakers say different stuff and include different information in their sentences, doesn’t mean they actually know different stuff. They could know the same things, see the world the same way, and just include different things in their sentences. That is, people could all think the same ways, but talk differently.[ix]

Certainly, if this were case, then we would be justified in believing that communicating with non-native speakers of English in English is always just as good as learning their language and attempting to communicate with them on their terms. But there is good reason to believe that the different ways languages are structured are indeed tied to different modes of perception and different perspectives on the world and, hence, that linguistic diversity is an essential component of cultural diversity.

For Nussbaum, democracy fails when as citizens we make other citizens invisible, when we fail “to see the flesh and blood of those with whom we live.”[x] Rewriting the concepts of every language and culture of the globe in English and believing that as a monolingual one can truly access the particularities of  the billions of human beings for whom the language of daily interaction, the language of poetry, art, music, worship, education, and family life is not English is another form of rendering invisible the experiences of our fellow human beings who speak and dream in Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Arabic, Spanish, Bengali, Hausa, French, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Twi, Indonesian, Quetchua, Korean, German, and hundreds of other languages. We cannot learn all of these languages, but by attempting to learn even just one we can open ourselves up to an understanding of the intellectual, emotional, and social components of thinking and acting in the framework of the Other.

Having touched on how foreign language study might open the door to understanding cultural differences, let me turn to a consideration of how literature does the same, first with an example from French existentialist and Nobel Prize winning author Albert Camus, whose novel La Peste/ The Plague describes fictional events occurring in the actually existing North African city of Oran after a quarantine is imposed due to an outbreak of the Bubonic Plague. Camus’s novel has often been read as an allegory for the condition of human beings in Nazi-dominated Europe. Like many novels, it is a kind of thought experiment – one that uses language in its micro and macrostructures to hypothesize, imagine, to test the possibilities of human life and action. Camus’s protagonist is Doctor Rieux, who in his observations and reflections on his fellow citizens under extreme conditions, models the values of the liberal arts and sciences. Camus’ narrator tells us the following about the doctor:

Il essayait de rassembler dans son esprit ce qu’il savait de cette maladie. Des chiffres flottaient dans sa mémoire et il se disait que la trentaine de grandes pestes que l’histoire a connue ait fait pres de cent millions de morts. Mais qu’est-ce que cent millions de morts ? Quand on a fait la guerre, c’est à peine si on sait déjà ce que c’est qu’un mort. Et pisqu’un homme mort n’a de poids que si on l’a vu mort, cent millions de cadavres sèmés à travers l’histoire ne sont qu’une fumée dans l’imagination. [. . .] Qui connait dix mille visages?[xi] 

[He tried to recall what he had read about the disease. Figures floated across his memory, and he recalled that some thirty or so great plagues known to history had accounted for nearly a hundred million deaths. But what are a hundred million deaths? When one has served in a war, one hardly knows what a dead man is, after a while. And since a dead man has no substance unless one has actually seen him dead, a hundred million corpses broadcast through history are no more than a puff of smoke in the imagination.][xii]

The statistics, the bare facts of the millions do nothing to stimulate our active imagining of the suffering of those who died- they remain a “puff of smoke.” It is the story, here Camus’s own novel that follows that serves to provoke our active empathizing as well as our reflection on the proper response to the suffering that we have now come to visualize and to actively include as part of the world we inhabit rather than shutting it out from our consciousness.  

The translation is one that I found in Malpass Library, and I should note that Stuart Gilbert’s translation of “cent million de morts” as “100 million deaths” erases the fact that the plural “morts” can mean both “deaths” and “dead people,” and that only by referring to the singular form can we find the distinction between the two, “un mort,” being a dead man, while the word for death, “la mort” is grammatically feminine. Since Camus refers explicitly to “un mort” later in the same paragraph, “a dead man,” the context of the whole paragraph would have suggested that “100 million dead people” is a better translation, and by choosing “100 million deaths” the translator actually works against the spirit of the original, averting our gaze from those who suffered and died to the mere statistic of the deaths.

Camus, however, wants to open our eyes to the reality of suffering, and how people respond to it. According to German scholar Ottmar Ette, literature offers a laboratory for life to students, producing

knowledge of having imaginatively lived through an event or situation. . . Literature can translate life knowledge into experiential knowledge that is unfettered from the discipline-bound rules of academic discourse, allowing it to come into view more clearly. Along with being able to integrate multiple sets of logic simultaneously, this ability is one of literature’s greatest trump cards.[xiii]

 Ette, a polyglot and scholar of comparative literature, cites Leo Spitzer’s definition of literary scholarship as “the science [Wissenschaft] that seeks to comprehend the human being to the extent to which he expresses himself in words (speech) and linguistic creations.”[xiv]  As suggested by the insertion of the original German after the English “science” by the translator, the English term is only an imperfect translation of the German “Wissenschaft,” just as “Wissenschaft” is only an approximation of “science.” “Wissenschaft” might also be translated more broadly as “scholarship” and is actually a nominalization of the verb “wissen” (to know). Whereas “science,” at least as it is used in the United States, excludes the humanities and immediately connotes quantifiability and verifiability via experiment, and whereas it would be unlikely that someone would create a compound word such as literary science, in German the word “Literaturwissenschaft” is the common term for what we engage in as scholars of literature; analogously the “humanities” are best translated in German as “Geisteswissensschaften” – literally: sciences of the spirit. This does not mean that German humanities scholars present quantifiable or experimentally replicable results but rather that “Wissenschaft” provides an umbrella under which both the humanities and the sciences might live, if they so choose.

Ette writes,

I see it as inevitable that literary scholarship will develop in the direction of a science for living together [Zusammenlebenswissenschaft] and that the humanities will become incorporated into a broader conception of the sciences for living. Nevertheless, we should not fool ourselves: art and literature will not provide us with some higher form of knowledge about life. But literature is capable of simulating many forms of life practice, making them accessible performatively and offering readers ways to “re-live” them and to understand the limits of their own cultural knowledge(s).[xv]

Thus, rather than trying to pit the humanities against the sciences, I would like to suggest that our awareness of the particularity of the German term “Wissenschaft” helps us to reflect on what may be an entrenched dichotomy of our own language between the sciences and the humanities, and that an awareness of this alternative language allows us to explore their potential complementarity. How fruitful it might be for us as scholars and students to read scientific phenomena through literature and literary stories through the language of the natural sciences and social sciences, that is: to engage in the heretical act of juxtaposing different disciplinary languages in order to analyze the different ways in which they create meaning and knowledge, reading one language through the lense of another.

Fareed Zakaria, in his book In Defense of a Liberal Education, quotes the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins as stating: “Other species can communicate, but no other species has true language with open-ended grammar.”[xvi] But what is the significance of this, you might ask? The quotation is worth analyzing: first of all, Dawkins does not deny that communication occurs in other species but he reserves the definition of “true language” to human beings and makes “open-ended grammar” a necessary condition for observing the presence of “true language.” What then is meant by “open-ended grammar”? I would suggest that it is precisely the possibility of human agency, the ability of humans to alter the language that pre-exists them as such.  We need to strike a balance between the extreme position that humans are spoken by language rather than speaking language and a naïve notion that languages are transparent tools allowing us to describe a reality that is just “out there.”  Too often we merely repeat words, sentences, and concepts that we have internalized, and we mistakenly believe to have definitively understood and permanently mastered a topic or a subject when all we have actually done is labelled it: we fall into the trap of believing that by giving a name to someone or something we have actually explained the person, object, or event definitively rather than just used language to stop the process of exploration.  Author Toni Morrison, in her 1993 Nobel Prize Lecture, discusses precisely our precarious relationship with language using, yes, an anecdote about a blind woman who is the daughter of slaves and who has a reputation for wisdom. The blind woman is approached by young people—might they be students?—who want to challenge her wisdom and one claims to hold a bird in his hand and asks the woman if the bird is alive or dead. Morrison recounts the tale as follows:

Finally she speaks and her voice is soft but stern. ‘I don’t know,’ she says. “I don’t know whether the bird you are holding is dead or alive, but what I do know is that it is in your hands. It is in your hands. 

Morrison interprets the bird to represent language; it is “sublime word-work.” Using her own sublime word-work, Morrison touches on the same topic explored by Rorty: “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”

But what does it mean to “do language”?  For one, it does not mean using words to dominate, to control the people, events, and phenomena it purports to describe. Such use of language is for Morrison akin to “looting,” and it “can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, midwifery properties for menace and subjugation.”

”Language can never ‘pin down’ slavery, genocide, war. Nor should it yearn for the arrogance to be able to do so. Its force, its felicity is in its reach toward the ineffable.”

I suggest that the diversity of the languages we speak, whether these be disciplinary languages or natural languages helps us to take language into our own hands as the wise old woman of Morrison’s tale calls for, not to dominate but to express and understand nuance, complexity, and ambiguity.

Morrison offers a counter-tale to the common interpretation of the Tower of Babel:

The conventional wisdom of the Tower of Babel story is that the collapse was a misfortune. That it was the distraction, or the weight of many languages that precipitated the tower’s failed architecture. That one monolithic language would have expedited the building and heaven would have been reached. Whose heaven, she wonders? And what kind? Perhaps the achievement of Paradise was premature, a little hasty if no one could take the time to understand other languages, other views, other narratives. Had they, the heaven they imagined might have been found at their feet. Complicated, demanding, yes, but a view of heaven as life; not heaven as post-life.

When human beings take language into their hands they discover its infinite possibilities for variation and experimentation as the pre-existing structures are broken apart, cobbled back together, as words and ideas move across linguistic and cultural borders, as inchoate personal experiences are given form and meaning that can be shared with others human beings. Yet this active engagement with language is only possible if we as human beings move beyond passive acceptance of our contingent personal and collective vocabularies and become active agents in creating with language. Paul Celan was a German-language poet who took language into his own hands, who worked within a particular cultural, linguistic, and literary tradition to permanently alter the parameters of this tradition, or, as Rorty would say it: to create a new vocabulary.

Celan is considered by many to be the most significant poet of the German language since 1945. As Wolfgang Emmerich writes, Celan’s poem “Death Fugue,” is sometimes compared to Picasso’s painting Guernica, which portrays the horror of the German Air Force’s bombing of a village in Spain during the Spanish Civil War.[xvii] Like Picasso’s painting, Celan’s poem invites us to actively engage with human suffering not by claiming to definitively and transparently represent the reality as it actually was but by disturbing us, making us uncomfortable, sometimes even withholding clear meaning from us. Picasso and Celan force us to actively engage with the medium and hence with the subject the medium is attempting to convey. For Picasso, the medium is the painted canvas, for Celan it is the printed and spoken word.

Celan was born in 1920 in in the region called Bukowina that had recently become part of Rumania, but until 1919 had been part of Austria-Hungary.  His family was part of the German-speaking Jewish community that played an important role in the commercial and cultural life of the city referred to in German as Czernowitz and today is the city of Chernivtsi in western Ukraine. German was literally Celan’s mother tongue, since although it was the language of daily life in his family and for both his parents, it was in particular his mother who prided herself on her excellent German.  After both his parents were murdered in the Shoah, Celan continued to write primarily in German, even after his emigration to France in 1948. In addition, he became fluent in multiple languages and translated works from eight different languages intoGerman.[xviii] Celan’s poetry utilizes the traditions of German romantic and neoromantic lyric poetry just as it calls them into question. His repeated references to German high cultural icons and Christian symbols attests to his awareness of being embedded in this tradition and his will to give new meanings to its dominant images.

Tracy Knight, the 2006 Hallwas Lecturer, quotes the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, an Auschwitz survivor whose experiences in the death camp influenced his ideas about human psychology. According to Frankl, “[the] striving for a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in life.”[xix] Celan, who himself spent time in Nazi forced labor camps, devoted a lifetime trying to make meaning from experiences so horrible and events so extreme that many choose to forego using words to describe them. Yet, for Celan meaning is not an end goal, a geographical destination to be reached, rather the meaning is the journey itself, in the active process of engagement with the past and creation of the new, a constant back and forth between what was, what is, and what will be.

Celan situated himself through his writing in the German linguistic and cultural tradition. In his poetry, we see his active engagement with the metaphors and images of that system, and we see this engagement as both a personal struggle for meaning and a political act that forever changed the meanings of the culture in which he lived and worked. You will find the poem on your handout in the original German and an English translation. I invite you now to listen to the poet himself reading his text in the original as you follow along with the translation.


TODESFUGE (Paul Celan)

SCHWARZE Milch der Frühe wir trinken sie abends

wir trinken sie mittags und morgens wir trinken sie nachts

wir trinken und trinken

wir schaufeln ein Grab in den Lüften da liegt man nicht eng

Ein Mann wohnt im Haus der spielt mit den Schlangen der schreibt

der schreibt wenn es dunkelt nach Deutschland dein goldenes Haar


er schreibt es und tritt vor das Haus und es blitzen die Sterne er pfeift

    seine Rüden herbei

er pfeift seine Juden hervor lässt schaufeln ein Grab in der Erde

er befiehlt uns spielt auf nun zum Tanz


Schwarze Milch der Frühe wir trinken dich nachts

wir trinken dich morgens und mittags wir trinken dich abends

wir trinken und trinken

Ein Mann wohnt im Haus der spielt mit den Schlangen der schreibt

der schreibt wenn es dunkelt nach Deutschland dein goldenes Haar


Dein aschenes Haar Sulamith wir schaufeln ein Grab in den Lüften

    da liegt man nicht eng


Er ruft stecht tiefer ins Erdreich ihr einen ihr andern singet und spielt

er greift nach dem Eisen im Gurt er schwingts seine Augen sind blau

stecht tiefer die Spaten ihr einen ihr andern spielt weiter zum Tanz auf


Schwarze Milch der Frühe wir trinken dich nachts

wir trinken dich mittags und morgens wir trinken dich abends

wir trinken und trinken

ein Mann wohnt im Haus dein goldenes Haar Margarete

dein aschenes Haar Sulamith er spielt mit den Schlangen


Er ruft spielt süsser den Tod der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland

er ruft streicht dunkler die Geigen dann steigt ihr als Rauch in die Luft

dann habt ihr ein Grab in den Wolken da liegt man nicht eng


Schwarze Milch der Frühe wir trinken dich nachts

wir trinken dich mittags der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland

wir trinken dich abends und morgens wir trinken und trinken

der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland sein Auge ist blau

er trifft dich mit bleierner Kugel er trifft dich genau

ein Mann wohnt im Haus dein goldenes Haar Margarete

er hetzt seine Rüden auf uns er schenkt uns ein Grab in der Luft

er spielt mit den Schlangen und träumet der Tod ist ein Meister aus



dein goldenes Haar Margarete

dein aschenes Haar Sulamith

DEATHFUGUE (Tr. John Felstiner)

BLACK milk of daybreak we drink it at evening

we drink it at midday and morning we drink it at night

we drink and we drink

we shovel a grave in the air where you won’t lie too cramped

A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes

he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair


he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are all sparkling he

    whistles his hounds to stay close

he whistles his Jews into rows has them shovel a grave in the ground

he commands us play up for the dance


Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night

we drink you at morning and midday we drink you at evening

we drink and we drink

A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes

he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair


Your ashen hair Shulamith we shovel a grave in the air

    where you won’t lie too cramped


He shouts dig this earth deeper you lot there you others sing up and play

he grabs for the rod in his belt he swings it his eyes are so blue

stick your spades deeper you lot there you others play on for the dancing


Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night

we drink you at midday and morning we drink you at evening

we drink and we drink

a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margareta

your aschenes Haar Shulamith he plays with his vipers


He shouts play death more sweetly this Death is a master from


he shouts scrape your strings darker you’ll rise up as smoke to the sky

You’ll then have a grave in the clouds where you won’t lie too cramped


Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night

we drink you at midday Death is a master aus Deutschland

we drink you at evening and morning we drink and we drink

this Death is ein Meister aus Deutschland his eye it is blue

he shoots you with shot made of lead shoots you level and true

a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margarete

he looses his hounds on us grants us a grave in the air

he plays with his vipers and daydreams der Tod ist ein Meister aus

    Deutschland /

Dein goldenes Haar Margarete

Dein aschenes Haar Sulamith[xx]



 “Death Fugue,” written in 1944 and 1945 and first published in a Rumanian translation in 1947 and only one year later in the original German, is one of Celan’s more “accessible” poems; perhaps for that reason it is also one that we must be most careful about reading. Since it contains elements of “reality”, i.e. aspects of the death camps that are historically verifiable –the camp orchestras or the crematorium smokestacks, for example, one might be tempted to read it as a realistic description. However, when we make even the slightest effort to look beneath the surface we discover there is much more going on here, that apparently realistic descriptions are laden with allusion, metaphor, and symbolic meaning.   

Wolfgang Emmerich notes that “Todesfuge” can be read as a poetological statement, in other words as a poem about the possibility of writing poetry in a post-Holocaust world.[xxi] The desirability, or even feasibility, of writing lyric poetry after the Shoah had been challenged by Theodor Adorno, himself a German intellectual of mixed Jewish and Catholic heritage who along with other members of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research fled Nazi-dominated Europe. In Dialectic of Enlightenment, Adorno and co-author Max Horkheimer describe the Holocaust as the logical end of a trajectory propelled by human beings’ urge to mastery and the domination of nature that had its origins in the Enlightenment. In 1949, Adorno had written, “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,”[xxii]  yet after reading “Todesfuge” he was forced to admit his error: “Perennial suffering has as much right to expression as a tortured man has to scream.”[xxiii] Celan’s poetry, rather than succumbing to a language that has been corrupted by a blind will to domination, uses that very language in the service of nuance, ambiguity, and complexity necessary for empathic listening; he makes it into a language that renders visible the invisible inner life of a Jewish poet and Holocaust survivor writing in German.

In its rhythm and structure the poem reproduces that of the fugue alluded to in the title: that polyphonic musical genre made famous by the German Meister, Johann Sebastian Bach, but it also carries out the command to play given in the poem itself by the camp commandant who in the house “writes to Germany.” The repetitions and variations, as well as the motif of the dogs, enacts the chase or flight that is inherent to the fugue as a form (the name being etymologically related to the Latin verbs to flee and to chase).  In addition to Bach, none other than Germany’s national poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe himself is referred to in the description of “Margarete’s blue eyes.” Margarete, or Gretchen, was the young girl who carried Faust’s child and was then abandoned by him to her fate after being condemned for infanticide, so that he could pursue his desire for mastery.

Celan’s poetic language points us then to the grand symbols of German culture and irreversibly writes the Nazi crimes into that cultural tradition. Yet it also contains a very personal response to this history, and one that includes both an invocation of Jewish traditions and of meanings particular to Celan himself.  To better understand certain meanings we need to read other poems by Celan to discover the personal poetic language that he developed and continuously revised and so that we might understand how to attend to his unique response to loss and how he related it to the collective experience of Germans and Jews.

As Emmerich writes, one might read the poem as a “Kaddish,” a prayer for the dead that is spoken here by the dying themselves.[xxiv]  Celan, who himself was not religious, not only makes repeated references to Jewish culture and religion in his poems, his intertwining of these with German and Christian cultural traditions brings to the foreground the German-Jewish symbiosis which is the subject, for example, of Amos Elon’s remarkable book The Pity of it All:  A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch: 1743-1933. Again, noted by Emmerich, while the rhyme scheme of the “Todesfuge” mimics the German lyric tradition from Goethe through Rilke, the reference to the camp orchestra, far more than just a reality-reference, also recalls Psalm 137, here in the King James Version:

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?[xxv]

Shulamith, as Emmerich notes, is a purple-haired figure from Song of Solomon who represents the promise of return to home in Zion, whereas in Celan’s poem her ashen hair negates the possibility of that return even as it still reminds the reader of its existence.

John Felstiner’s translation, unlike previous translations of the poem, is remarkable in the way it incorporates some of the original German into the translation, beginning gradually with familiar words such as “Deutschland”, then building upon repetition to replace “ashen hair” with “aschenes Haar”  and transforming “Death is a master from Deutschland” to “der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland” by the end of the poem, a phrase that has  been reused again and again in German culture up to the present day. In this fashion, Felstiner has found an extremely creative way to work with Celan’s original to make the topic of language itself accessible to those who read the poem in translation.

Celan, as a poet, was a product of the German-Jewish symbiosis and the loss of the cultural and linguistic context of his life and work is expressed also as loss of transcendence or even loss of God, as one sees in the poem “Mandorla”. “Mandorla” is considered to be a less accessible poem than “Todesfuge,” but a close analysis of its language is extremely rewarding.

In the almond—what stands in the almond?

The Nothing.

In the almond stands Nothing.

There it stands and stands.


In the Nothing—who stands there? The King.

There stands the King, the King.

There he stands and stands.


            Jewish curls, no gray for you.


And your eye—whereto stands your eye?

Your eye stands opposite the almond.

Your eye, the Nothing it stands opposite.

It stands by the King.

So it stands and stands.


            Human curls, no gray for you.

            Empty almond, kingly blue.[xxvi]



The “almond” in which nothing stands refers to the shape of a mandorla, i.e., an almond-shaped aureola, a kind of golden halo surrounding Jesus or Mary in medieval Christian images. Felstiner’s translation well captures the paradox of the active verb “to stand” being used to describe the activity of a non-entity: the Nothing. The Nothing takes the place of the king, Jesus, and both the poet’s and reader’s eyes remain directed to this sacred space that is inhabited by an absence. There is, however, a further nuance in the original German that is not captured by the translation: In German, the verb “stehen” can mean both to stand and to be written, for example, it is written in the Bible would translate as “Es steht in der Bibel.” By understanding this double meaning of the German “stehen” we can also make the connection of loss expressed here as having to do with the loss of one’s language and the continued striving to recover it that was Celan’s lifelong struggle.

Yet before we too easily label Celan’s suffering under the rubric of the loss of transcendence and close the door to additional meanings present in the text, let us return to the motif of the hair, seen here in the line: “Judenlocke wirst nicht grau,” translated by Felstiner as “Jewish curls, no gray for you.” We have already noted the importance of the hair in “Death Fugue” in the opposition between Margarete’s golden hair and Shulamith’s ashen hair, an opposition that German artist artist Anselm Kiefer attempts to capture in a series of over thirty paintings based on Celan’s poem, among them one entitled “Dein goldenes Haar, Margarethe.”

In the line “Jewish curls, no gray for you,” inserted almost parenthetically into “Mandorla” and using the informal direct address, the Jewish lock of hair stands in for the Holocaust victim who will not live to a ripe old age, but also for European Jewry in general, and as we see, specifically for the poet’s own mother, as in the poem “Espenbaum“  (Aspen Tree): “Meiner Mutter Haar ward nimmer weiss.“ (“My mother’s hair never turned white.)[xxvii] Like the Jewish curls that never grayed with age because their owners were murdered, so too did the poet’s mother not live long enough to see her hair turn white. Described as “fair-haired,” this mother thus resembles the German Margarete more than the Jewish Shulamith, but her lament is that of Psalm 137 for a homeland to which she will never return. Thus, the fate of the poet’s mother, of his mother tongue, of European Jewry, indeed of all humanity (“Human curls, no gray for you”) are joined in Celan’s personal poetic language, which is consciously cobbled together from his native German, that “black milk of daybreak.”

Reading these poems is intensely uncomfortable, not only due to the subject matter but due to their linguistic complexity which compels us as readers to attempt to make meaning where the poet sometimes seems to want to make this difficult for us and where many would prefer to remain silent. However, this active involvement in imagining the inner life of the poet, is, I would argue, an example of what Rorty suggests to be the potential for empathy and human understanding found in writing and reading literature. And this requires careful and intense attention to language.

Like Toni Morrison, Celan is concerned with the debasement and contamination of language by discourses of mastery, whether these are political, aesthetic, or scientific, specifically with the corruption of the German language by the Nazis as a tool to manipulate people’s thoughts and action.  To counter such manipulation Celan takes the language of his oppressors into his own hands, such that sensitivity to language, its ambiguities, complexities, its potential for manipulation and obfuscation but also for communication and understanding is what the careful reading of Celan’s poetry fosters.

Grappling with difficult texts like Celan’s poetry forces us to come to terms with the ambiguity of both language and experience, it cultivates the active imagining of the inner life of the other that is the prerequisite to empathy. The complexity of Celan’s texts speak for them rather than against them. Very often we hear and use the term “accessibility” when discussing which readings to assign students, and poetry is often deemed to be the least accessible genre of all. Yet, I suggest we must always balance the need for accessibility with the need to push and to challenge our students to reach beyond what is immediately within their grasp. Difficulty is also an argument used sometimes against the study of foreign languages. Here, I would argue that the complexity of a particular language or of language learning in general speaks for it as a contribution to a liberal arts curriculum rather than against it.  So when none other than American literary icon Mark Twain pokes fun at the difficulty of German in his satirical piece, “The Awful German Language,” I take this as a compliment and a call to students to learn the language.[xxviii]

When students learn German they are forced to rethink the way language conveys meaning, to rely on a case structure more heavily than word order and to make semantic distinctions not made by English speakers. Like students of any foreign language, they are forced to attend to grammatical details not semantically important in their native tongue and to constantly monitor and question their own understanding. Like careful readers of poetry, they are required to search for the internal logic of the language they are studying rather than imposing the structure of their own language upon it. They must also learn to respect the difference in the structure and vocabulary of this language. Just as readers of poetry are sometimes alienated by a poet’s idiosyncratic use of language, the way it differs from what is familiar, the way it deviates from everyday usage, students of a foreign language are confronted with the way the new language defamiliarizes how they are used to structuring their statements about the world. To make sense of a poem or of a new language, one has to look for patterns, one has to consciously reflect on differences, one has to consider context, one has to have an appreciation for both rule-governed speech and individual deviations from it, and one has to develop the ability to creatively interpret and to revise such interpretations as one acquires more evidence. When students are forced to grapple with the complexity of a foreign language and with the difficulties that arise in translating, they expand their intellectual horizons, their ability to take the position of individuals from other cultures, their ability to empathize, and they also come to understand their own subjectivity much better, including their linguistic, intellectual, and cultural biases.  Being forced to describe the familiar using vocabularies and structures that are strange heightens our sensitivity to the contingency of our own vocabularies and can even help us to see the familiar in entirely new ways.  Being forced to grapple with one’s utterances, putting them into a system of rules entirely different can also help us to empathize with the situation of non-English speaking people in our own country and in the world.

I have argued that empathy is not merely a raw emotional response, something one simply possesses or does not possess, but rather that it is the result of intellectual engagement, and that the creative imagining and critical reflection fostered by the study of language and literature are key components. In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Barry Schwartz lists perspective-taking and empathy as one of eight “intellectual virtues,” all of which are cultivated by a solid grounding in the liberal arts and sciences. And while I have been arguing for empathy for its own sake and as a precondition for citizenship in a democratic society, Schwartz claims that they offer a professional payoff as well. Using the example of a doctor, Schwartz writes, “Good decisions require both medical expertise and an understanding of the patient’s unique life circumstances.” In other words, the good doctor is both scientist and humanist, able to understand the rule-governed behavior of pathogens, etc. but also the experience and perspectives of individuals who are more than just the products of deterministic causality.  Given this fact, we might understand the benefit of pre-med students learning to analyze poetry or attending to the nuances of language usage that become visible when one knows more than one language.  

William Deresiewicz writes in a recent issue of Harper’s Magazine, “it is not the humanities per se that are under attack. It is learning: learning for its own sake, curiosity for its own sake, ideas for their own sake. It is the liberal arts, but understood in their true meaning, as all of those fields in which knowledge is pursued as an end in itself, the sciences and social sciences included.”[xxix] Deresiewicz’s assessment of the current state of higher education in America is scathing and highly alarming, if we take it at face value. He sees little room for the kind of open-ended exploration I have described, given that “creativity” has been co-opted in the neoliberal economy to mean entrepreneurial innovation. For the liberal arts and sciences to face such incredible challenges we must all work together to show why “learning for its own sake, curiosity for its own sake, ideas for their own sake” as Deresiewicz puts it, are not only beneficial but necessary for individuals and for society as the basis for individual autonomy and for living together in a world of difference.  Like Celan, we need to speak the language of our oppressors, but we must take it into our own hands and make it speak differently.  Let me state clearly, I do not have any illusions about the current level of public support for higher education in general and the liberal arts and sciences in particular. As Andrew Delbanco wrote recently in The New York Review of Books: following the erosion of Pell Grants, the crushing debt burden faced by graduates, and numerous other reductions in public subsidies for higher education, policy changes are needed at the federal and state level in order to realize the promise of public higher education for all Americans.[xxx] But there is much work that we ourselves as scholars, teachers, students, university employees, and community members can do to create new vocabularies about why the liberal arts and sciences are important.  Economist Edmund Phelps writes in an article entitled, “What is Wrong with the West’s Economies”  that the failure of the United States to invest in education is not merely an economic issue but one of failure to challenge young people born out of overprotectiveness.[xxxi]  With this in mind, I will conclude by returning to Martha Nussbaum: “[F]or literature to play its civic function it must be permitted, and indeed invited, to disturb us. […] For this reason we ought to protect the opportunity of the arts to explore new territory with broad latitude, and we should also protect the right of university teachers to explore controversial works in the classroom, whether or not we ourselves have been convinced of their lasting merit.”[xxxii]

Works Cited:

Adorno, Theodor. Negative Dialectics. New York: Seabury Press, 1963. Print.

Adorno, Theodor. Prisms. Trs. Samuel and Shierry Weber. London: N. Spearman, 1967. Print.

Boroditsky, Lera. “Encapsulated Universes.” Edge February 19, 2013. Web. <>

Boroditsky, Lera. “Lost in Translation.” Wall Street Journal July 23, 2010. Web. < >

Camus, Albert. La Peste. Paris: Gallimard, 1947. Print.

Camus, Albert, The Plague. Trans. Stuart Gilbert. New York: Random House, 1948. Print.

Celan, Paul. Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan, Trans. John Felstiner. New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2001. Print.

Delbanco, Andrew. “Our Universities: The Outrageous Reality.” The New York Review of Books LXII.12 (July 9, 2015): 38-41. Print.

Deresiewicz, William. “The Neoliberal Arts: How College Sold its Soul to the Market.” Harper’s Magazine 331.1984 (September 2015): 25-32. Print.

Elon, Amos. The Pity of it All. A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch 1743-1933. New York: Picador, 2002. Print.

Ette, Ottmar. “Literature as Knowledge for Living, Literary Studies as Science for Living.” Trans. Vera M. Kutzinksi. PMLA 125.5 (October 2010): 977-993. Print.

Emmerich, Wolfgang. Paul Celan. Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1999. Print.

Felstiner, John. Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1995. Print.

Lukianoff, Greg and Jonathan Haidt. “The Codddling of the American Mind.” The Atlantic 136.2 (September 2015) 42-52. Print.

Morrison, Toni. “Nobel Lecture.” December 7, 1993. Web. < >

Nussbaum, Martha. “From Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism Second Edition. New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 2010. 2306-2328. Print.

Phelps, Edmund. “What is Wrong with the West’s Economies.” The New York Review of Books LXII.13  (August 13, 2015): 54-56. Print.

Rorty, Richard. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989. Print.

Schwartz, Barry. “What ‘Learning How to Think’ Really Means.” The Chronicle of Higher Education June 18, 2015. Web. <>

Twain, Mark. A Tramp Abroad. New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1903. Print.

Zakaria, Fareed. In Defense of a Liberal Education. New York and London: Norton, 2015. Print.

[i] Rorty, 16.

[ii] Rorty, 9.

[iii] Rorty, 12-13.

[iv] Lukianoff and Haidt, 42.

[v] Rorty, xvi.

[vi] Nussbaum, 2309.

[vii] Nussbaum, 2313.

[viii] Boroditsky, “Lost in Translation.”

[ix] Boroditsky, “Encapsulated Universes.”

[x] Nussbaum, 2315.

[xi] Camus, La Peste, 33-34.

[xii] Camus, The Plague, 35-36.

[xiii] Ette, 987.

[xiv] Ette, 985.

[xv] Ette, 991.

[xvi] Zakaria, 138.

[xvii] Emmerich, 7.

[xviii] Felstiner, Paul Celan, 4ff.

[xix] As cited by Tracy Knight: (Frankl, 1984, p. 104).

[xx] Celan, 30-33.

[xxi] Emmerich, 47ff.

[xxii] Adorno, Prisms, 34.

[xxiii] Adorno, Negative Dialectics, 362.

[xxiv] Emmerich, 51.

[xxv] Emmerich cites Luther’s German translation, 45-46.

[xxvi] Celan, 172-73.

[xxvii] Celan, 20-21.

[xxviii] Twain, 290-307.

[xxix] Deresiewicz, 27.

[xxx] Delbanco, 40.

[xxxi] Phelps, 56.

[xxxii] Nussbaum, 2317.