California State University, Long Beach
Inside CSULB Logo

CSULB Celebrates 250th Birthday of Schiller with Conference

Published: September 1, 2009

The Department of Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures (RGRLL) at CSULB will celebrate the 250th birthday of playwright, poet, philosopher, and historian Friedrich Schiller with a conference titled “Who is this Schiller [now]?” to be held Sept. 10-12 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the campus’ Karl Anatol Center. Admission is free.

“One reason this conference is huge is the quality of the participants,” said CSULB Professor Jeffrey High, a member of the RGRLL faculty since 2002 and organizer of the Schiller event. “We are welcoming everyone from Oxford’s T.J. Reed, who will speak on Schiller as historian, to the University of Heidelberg’s Fritz Heuer, who asked me just the other day why Schiller maintains his grip on 21st century audiences, ‘Who is this Schiller, indeed?’”

The life and works of Schiller (1759-1805) — one of Germany’s first historians, an important aesthetic theorist, and an international dramatist and poet — are among the best known of German and world literature, High explains. “From his first major drama, `The Robbers’ in 1781, to his last, `William Tell’ in 1804, Schiller’s explosive original artistry and feel for timely and enduring personal tragedy embedded in timeless socio-historical conflicts remain the topic of lively academic debate on the occasion of his 250th birthday in 2009.”

High hopes the conference will promote debate on the many flash points and shifts in critical reception received by Schiller and his works. “Specifically, papers will address reception problems from Schiller’s time to the present in pursuit of historical and contemporary answers to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s prophetic expression of frightened admiration in 1794: `Who is this Schiller?”–Who has he been?–and who is this Schiller now?’”

High will speak on Schiller’s continued relevance to U.S. readership while CSULB graduate students Erik Knoedler and Henrik Sponsel will, respectively, address the mysterious “black knight ghost” from Schiller’s play on Joan of Arc and the post-1945 criticism of Schiller that sought the origins of totalitarianism in the Enlightenment, a notion High scoffs at.

“If I had to choose a political thinker to compare Schiller with, from the visions of freedom to education to the pursuit of happiness, it would be Thomas Jefferson,” he said.

Other conference participants will include Matthew Bell from London’s King’s College; María del Rosario Acosta (Universidad de los Andes); Walter Hinderer and Paul Kerry from Princeton; Laura Anna Macor (University of Padua, Italy); Nicholas Martin (University of Birmingham, UK); John A. McCarthy (Vanderbilt University); Yvonne Nilges (Oxford University); Norbert Oellers (Universität Bonn); David Pugh (Queen’s University); Wolfgang Riedel and Jörg Robert from the Universität Würzburg; Ritchie Robertson (Oxford University);and Jeffrey L. Sammons (Yale University).

Along with RGRLL, the event is sponsored by the German Academic Exchange Service New York, the Goethe Institute San Francisco, the German Consulate in Los Angeles, the Austrian Cultural Forum New York, the CSULB Bookstore, the deans of the College of Liberal Arts, the Library, and the Graduate School; and the Office of the President at CSULB.

“Schiller’s position in German and world history is a unique one,” High explained. “He was writing philosophical and political art at the time of both the American and French revolutions. His 50th birthday helped to inspire the Germans to liberate themselves from France, his 100th birthday inspired liberals in the wake of the failed German revolution of 1848. The divided Germanys that followed the end of World War II both celebrated his 200th birthday with competing celebrations, one calling him a poet of western democracy and the other describing him as a poet of eastern revolution. They even used the same quotes to support their competing claims. His revolutionary lyrics on brotherhood and freedom to `Ode to Joy’ were sung at the fall of the Berlin Wall and at events celebrating the Olympic Games and the European Union. In 2009 on Broadway, Peter Oswald’s adaptation of Schiller’s `Mary Stuart’ won the Drama Desk Award and was nominated for seven Tony Awards.”

High encourages all lovers of poetry, drama, philosophy, and history to attend the conference. “I’ve never found a more exciting character than Schiller and it’s my job to look,” said High. “There are writers like Edgar Allen Poe who interest their readers in their personal lives as much as in their texts. Schiller is that kind of writer. Poe, whom I love, plumbed the depths of human anxiety. So did Schiller, but what is more enduring than Schiller’s exploration of the heights and extremes of human freedom?”