Stephen Klemm

Faculty
Comparative Studies in Literature & Culture

Meet Stephen Klemm of Comparative Studies in Literature & Culture, who teaches courses in German language, literature and culture, always with an eye toward their mutual interaction and co-constitution.

What attracted you to Occidental?

The atmosphere of the small liberal arts college, especially here within such a dynamic place as Los Angeles, has always attracted me. I’m also particularly impressed with the students and the approach to learning that they have here. At Oxy, students demand that their education does not consist in a mere transfer of knowledge but involves active engagement intellectually, emotionally and politically, which is something I really admire.

How have you been connecting to students during remote learning?

I’ve been trying to open up as many avenues to connect with students as possible. This includes email, threads discussing and reflecting on texts, and, of course, Zoom meetings. So far, I’ve been really impressed with the energy, motivation, and commitment to learning that students have shown under really difficult circumstances.  

What do you look forward to most about returning to campus?

Getting the chance to chat and discuss with students and colleagues spontaneously. This experience teaching and working remotely has made me realize just how important the random, unplanned aspects of our being together with one another are. This includes everything from the time before and after class where we can say hi or clarify concepts we’re discussing to the random conversations on the 4th floor of Johnson that are a product of just bumping into one another. These unplanned moments are crucial for getting to know people and creating an atmosphere and community. I’m really looking forward to having those interactions again.  

I am particularly interested in the ways in which developments in the natural sciences opened a space for thinking about nature, culture, and subjectivity in non-teleological, open-ended ways.

How do you balance your research with your teaching, and how much do the two intersect?

This semester has been tough, as teaching and keeping in touch with everyone remotely has been time intensive. But generally, I make sure to block out chunks of time during the week then I can focus solely on reading and writing for research. Fortunately for me my research and teaching do intersect. My research focuses on the intersections of aesthetic theory, philosophy, and the history of science in German literature and philosophy around 1800. I am particularly interested in the ways in which developments in the natural sciences opened a space for thinking about nature, culture, and subjectivity in non-teleological, open-ended ways.

My current book project focuses on the way in which Romantic metaphysics and literary theory take up these ideas to develop a theory of cultural transformation in which cultures and people are not seen as closed, static entities but opened up to the finitude of existence and with it, the possibility for open-ended transformation. My courses in German language and literature reflect these dynamics in everything from our discussions about Germany as a dynamic multi-cultural society to classes that address these ideas in texts as disparate as the literature of Kleist and Kafka to the reflections of Nietzsche in the lyric poetry of the Frankfurt hip-hop artist Azad.