Dr. Stefan Bronner, Assistant Professor in Residence of German Studies, obtained his PhD in Germanistik at the Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg and has published on a wide range of topics including German literature and culture, postmodernism, continental philosophy, spirituality, and the contemporary world.
Bronner’s work is deeply rooted to his passion for literary scholarship. Bronner has become increasingly invested in the concept of “passion” itself and recently he has been collaborating with an international group of like-minded thinkers to actualize new intersections between literature and different ideas about passion. Together, they are at the forefront of a conceptual movement that he calls “Passionate Humanities.” Passionate Humanities is about getting away from stale modes of scholarship and teaching in the traditional academic system. Bronner is interested in “Literaturvermittlung” or the “mediation of literature for the real world.” The group is interrogating subjects like how the widespread availability of media such as Netflix affects the role of literature and reading more generally in everyday life and whether, given this changing context, literature can stay relevant for new generations. At their first gathering in Munich, Bronner and his colleagues brainstormed creative ways of bringing literature to life. The conference focused on strategies for reinventing the humanities and increasing passion for study in today’s corporatized world. Presenters explored ideas for re-thinking the traditional dissertation and for finding ways to engage the importance of irrationality, and the value of Eros and body to teaching and the classroom. The collective is currently drafting a manifesto, planning a US gathering for 2020, and archiving their discussions in an audiovisual blog that can be accessed at https://untiefen.blog.
Bronner’s ideas about passion stem, in part, from his own experiences as a student and teacher. In his teaching and his research, Bronner is interested how personal relationships, impulse, and affect can motivate students to study and to learn. Bronner affectionally refers to Dr. Klaus Post, a “fairytale uncle,” whose lectures were more like epic orations than passive presentations of knowledge. He studied continental philosophy with another professor he admired intensely who has been equally important in shaping his interests. There was also the German professor whom he loathed: Bronner remembers working equally hard for that professor because he would not let that person ruin German studies for him. Bronner would like to create what he calls an “Academy of Passions” which would involve projects like creating a belletristic and liberal humanities curriculum for inmates or survivors of trauma. Another initiative would be the development of a “spiritual university,” a reading program focused on global works of scripture or theology that give readers a break from the contemporary world.
Bronner is not sure he will be a “professor for life.” Working as a professor in residence at UCONN, however, has given him a great opportunity to advance his research and connect with both grads and undergrads. Whatever he ends up doing, he knows literature and culture will be constants in his life. In his hometown, Augsburg, he founded Literaturhaus, or “Literature House,” a creative, virtual space for the enjoyment of literature and the arts. Literaturhaus is mainly a virtual space, but Bronner’s family residence in Augsburg-Oberhausen, a working-class neighborhood, sometimes becomes an actual space for hosting literary events, exhibitions, and readings. Bronner decorated his residence with plastic letters and he photoshopped famous German authors attending the opening of Literaturhaus —with their permission, of course—blending the virtual and the actual in unexpected combinations. In another example, they hosted a book launch for Eckhart Nickel and recreated a “scent bar.” Visitors could smell the peculiar odors that Nickel’s characters had smelled in his novel. Bronner and his colleagues also furnish the Literaturhaus to model specific literary settings.
Augsburg is known for its reserve and even a tendency toward grumpiness, but the city nonetheless remains indispensable to Bronner. He divides his life between Storrs and Augsburg, and being a German studies professor has made it possible for him to travel back and forth frequently. The in-between very much shapes who Bronner is, always in transit between Storrs and Augsburg, between professional and passionate intellectual, between literature and the real world.
His dissertation was on the popular Swiss novelist Christian Kracht and was published as a full-length monograph in 2012. The book analyzes what he calls the “spiritual turn” in German culture, and he reads Kracht alongside an eclectic range of popular works from the films of David Lynch’s to Confucius’s Book of Changes or I Ching. Recently, he co-edited a collection of essays on Kracht, all of which examine the topographical breadth of Kracht’s literary settings and the theme of living the “in-between” space. He also co-edited a collection of essays that explore the symbolic dimension of terrorism in 2012.
By Simone Puleo