Dr. Aigner is a full professor of German literature at Wofford College in South Carolina, where she teaches literature at all levels of German.
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I view literature as narrative texts that capture both an emotional response to and are a critical reflection of a socio-cultural and historical time period in the German-speaking world. I bring literature into all levels of my language classes as a way of practicing language, thinking critically, and as a means of conveying the poetry and range of language used to express the human experience. In my lower-level classes, I will bring in poetry by a diverse range of authors, often using a poem that reflects on the chapter’s vocabulary/ topic or grammar. 19th century German “Romantik” poetry by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe lends itself well to teaching about the beauty of language, the importance of the environment in “Romantik” art and literature, and the use of the “narrative past” verb tense, which students need to learn in order to read and to produce more formal and poetic texts. In my “survey of literature” course I bring in poems about World War I, written by civilian women in Berlin and by men at the front, presenting them as “messages in a bottle,” in which poetry takes us to this horrific place of war, emotionally but with the intention of future generations tasked to preserve humanity and human life. Georg Trakl’s poem “Grodek” and August Stramm’s “Patrouille” are two examples of such war poems that bring us close to this moment in time. In my classes I speak of Heinrich Heine’s “Lorelei” and how it can be read alongside Paul Celan’s Holocaust poem “Todesfuge,” one of the most gripping Holocaust poems ever written in German. We discuss the figure of the maiden with the “golden hair” as a trope in German culture. I enjoy teaching Ingeborg Bachmann’s poem “Reklame” to teach about post-WWII consumerism and the “Wirtschaftswunder” in Germany, asking students to write their own poem in which they contrast their own emotional state today with slogans from popular advertisements on radio and TV. In my third-year German class I have students read post-WWII “New Objectivity” short stories and then write their own short story using characteristics of that genre. Literature is essential as a means of experiencing empathy, engaging in humanity, and possibly “hearing” the author and carrying on his/her call for action toward a more peaceful, sustainable, just world.