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David Martyn

David Martyn (B.A. Yale Univ., Ph.D. Cornell Univ.) has been Associate Professor at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, since 2003. At Macalester, Martyn teaches courses in German language, German literature and culture from the 18th century to the present, and in philosophy and critical theory. Before he took up this position, he taught literature and literary theory at the Department of German at the University of Bonn. In February 2011, he was visiting scholar at the University of Konstanz; in March 2011, he was Fellow at the Zfl (Zentrum für Literaturforschung, Berlin), and during the summer 2011, he is visituing researcher at the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School.

His major interests are 18th- and early 19th-century German literature and philosophy, literary and cultural theory, and constructions of linguistic and cultural identity in Germany from the late 18th century to the present. Currently, David Martyn is working on a book on literature as a "second language" (Literatur als Zweitsprache von Leibniz bis Tawada) which will be published by Fink Publishing House in 2012. The book contrasts the poetics of German as a "mother tongue" after Herder with texts by non-native German authors from Salomon Maimon to Yoko Tawada.

His first book was a study of Immanuel Kant and the Marquis de Sade (Sublime Failures: The Ethics of Kant and Sade, Wayne State University Press, 2003). Drawing on the surprising homology between Kantian ethics and Sadian libertinism that authors such as Horkheimer and Adorno or Jacques Lacan have pointed out, the book attempts to elaborate a non-subjective theory of agency centered on the notion of “failure” as it figures in Kant’s theory of the sublime. Martyn has also worked on theories of language and hermeneutics around 1800, especially as they relate to questions of cultural and religious identity. This is an interest he has pursued in his recently published critical edition of Moses Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem, the most important work on Judaism published in Germany in the 18th century; in articles on language and nationalism in J.G. Fichte; and in a forthcoming article on the “violence of understanding” in Kleist and Schleiermacher. He is currently writing a book on language and identity that concerns literature written in German by authors for whom German is a ‘second’ or ‘foreign’ language, including Salomon Maimon, Adelbert von Chamisso, Elias Canetti, and the contemporary “germanophone” authors Salim Alafenisch and Yoko Tawada.


Department of Philosophy and Humanities
Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
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