Benjamin Lewis Robinson (A.B. Harvard, MPhil Oxford, Ph.D. Northwestern) is University Assistant in the Department of German at the University of Vienna. He is the author of Bureaucratic Fanatics: Modern Literature and the Passions of Rationalization (De Gruyter, 2019) and is currently engaged in a project on literature and biopolitics titled States of Need / States of Emergency. He is also preparing a book on J. M. Coetzee’s fiction. His essay “Passions for Justice: Kleist’s Michael Kohlhaas and Coetzee’s Michael K” appeared in Comparative Literature (2018). The edited volume The Work of World Literature is forthcoming with ICI Berlin Press.
“Kein Mensch muss müssen” — Lessing’s Nathan announces a ban on “must” from the political stage in 1783. Modern theater, according to Lessing’s political dramaturgy, should rehearse truly human drama, freed from the compulsions of political absolutism or metaphysical fate. When in Büchner’s 1835 theatrical presentation of the French Revolution, Danton asks: “Wer hat das Muß gesprochen, wer?”, the nature of the “must” in question has dramatically transformed. A biopolitical threshold has been crossed. For “must” refers no longer to necessity (Notwendigkeit) understood as an unassailable fate beyond all human agitations but to dire need (Not) understood as the very substance and exigency of political life. This lecture explores how German political theater negotiates the “must” articulated between Lessing and Büchner. It finds a compelling contemporary expression in Jelinek’s Die Schutzbefohlenen (2013–2016), her theatrical engagement with the “European migrant crisis.”
The event is part of the German Studies: New Perspectives Seminar at the Mahindra Humanities Center.
Pre-registration is required. Register here.