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The Having Been There of Things
: Barthes' Reality Effect and 19th Century History Painting

Wednesday, February 22nd | 6pm | 19 University Place, 1 FL Great Room

The NYU Department of German presents "the Having Been There of Things: Barthes' Reality Effect and 19th Century History Painting," a lecture by Professor Peter Geimer (Freie Universität Berlin). The lecture will have an introduction by Professor Christopher Wood.

The past is unobservable. Everyone has heard about it or read about it, remembers it or has seen historical pictures or models of past events. But no image can recreate those moments with their original integrity. What could ‘realism’ mean under this condition of irretrievable loss of the real? In a critical reading of Roland Barthes’ essay “The Reality Effect” (1968) and its definition of realism (“by which we mean any discourse which accepts ‘speech-acts’ justified by their referent alone”) the talk transfers Barthes’ notion of realism into the realm of history painting. My focus will be on Ernest Meissonnier’s paintings of Napoleon’s battles and his various techniques of reconstruction: reenactment, excess of detail, use of relics and photographic traces.

Peter Geimer studied Art History, Modern German Literature, and Philosophy in Bonn, Cologne, Marburg, and Paris. After he held research positions at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin), the University of Konstanz, and the ETH Zurich he became Professor of Recent and Contemporary Art History at Free University, Berlin; since 2012 he has been the co-director of the Center of Advanced Studies BildEvidenz. In 2017 his book Inadvertent Images. A History of Photographic Apparitions will be published with University of Chicago Press.

Christopher Wood is Professor of German and Chair of the Department of German at New York University.




New York, January 2017 – The Friedrich Ulfers Prize will be presented to Barbara Epler at the exclusive opening ceremony of NYC’s Festival Neue Literatur on March 2, 2017.

Epler is the president and publisher of New Directions Publishing Company, an independent publishing house focused on introducing contemporary international authors to a U.S. audience. Epler has long been a leading advocate for literature in translation, and has published international luminaries, such as W.G. Sebald, Roberto Bolaño, László Krasznahorkai, Robert Walser, Yoko Tawada, and Jenny Erpenbeck.

“For me, it’s a blessing to work on such marvelous books,” said Epler. “What I would like to say most of all is that I haven’t seen a better time for translation than over the last few years, what with the explosion of fantastic small publishers bringing out translated literature and big houses, too, publishing more books from all around the world. Right now we really need the news from all over the globe – and we need all the great books we can get. Art and truth trump hate and lies." The Friedrich Ulfers Prize, which is awarded annually by Deutsches Haus at NYU, is endowed with a $5,000 grant and honors a publisher, writer, critic, translator, or scholar who has championed the advancement of German-language literature in the United States. Previous recipients of the Friedrich Ulfers Prize include Burton Pike, Robert Weil, Sara Bershtel, and Carol Brown Janeway.

In a statement, Professor Friedrich Ulfers states that “Ms. Epler is part of a group of publishers who is at the forefront of reclaiming a space for German letters in this country after the catastrophes inflicted by Germany on the world during the years 1933-1945. For accomplishing this with a genuinely global passion, I am honored to recognize her as the recipient of the Friedrich Ulfers Prize.”

Susan Bernofsky, author, translator and director of the Literary Translation Program in the MFA Writing Program at Columbia University School of Arts, will give a laudation in Barbara Epler’s honor.


Barbara Epler started working at New Directions after graduating from Harvard in 1984, and is now the publisher. The writers Epler has published include W.G. Sebald, Roberto Bolaño, László Krasznahorkai, Robert Walser, Clarice Lispector, Yoko Tawada, César Aira, Inger Christensen, Franz Kafka, Yoel Hoffmann, Bei Dao, Tomas Tranströmer, Jenny Erpenbeck, Veza Canetti, Fleur Jaeggy, Raduan Nassar, Joseph Roth, Takashi Hiraide, Alexander Kluge, and Antonio Tabucchi. She has worked with some of the world’s most gifted translators and has served as a judge for the PEN/Heim Translation Fund Awards. In 2015, Poets & Writers awarded Epler their Editor’s Prize and in 2016 Words Without Borders gave her the Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature.


Friedrich Ulfers is Associate Professor of German at New York University. In the past he also served as Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Science, the German Department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies, Director of the NYU in Berlin Summer Program and Director of Deutsches Haus at NYU. The recipient of NYU's Distinguished Teaching Medal and Great Teacher Award, and two-time winner of the College of Arts and Science's Golden Dozen Award for Excellence in Teaching, Ulfers has taught not only in the German Department but also in NYU's interdisciplinary programs, offering courses that engage a range of interests, including literary theory, continental philosophy, and the relationships between science, literature, and philosophy. Friedrich Ulfers is also affiliated with the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. He served there as professor of Philosophy, teaching an intensive Summer Seminar on Nietzsche and 20th/21st Century Thought and giving a variety of lectures. From 2006-2009 he was Dean of the Media and Communications Division of the School, and in 2009 he was appointed Professor Emeritus.


Festival Neue Literatur is the only U.S. festival to showcase fiction originally written in German, and will take place from March 2–5, 2017. This will be the eighth installment of Festival Neue Literatur, where New York City once again hosts six of the most important emerging and established authors from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. This year’s festival theme is “Queer as Volk,” and the festival will focus on LGBTQ literature from the German-speaking world. All events are free of charge, though RSVPs are required.

Festival Neue Literatur (FNL) was established as a collaborative project of New York’s leading German language cultural institutions: the Austrian Cultural Forum, the Consulate General of Switzerland, the Consulate General of Germany, Deutsches Haus at Columbia University, Deutsches Haus at NYU, the German Book Office, Goethe-Institut New York, and Pro Helvetia.

Festival Neue Literatur 2017 is made possible through generous support from BMW of North America. Additional support is provided by Radeberger Gruppe.

Photo credit: New Directions Publishing


About the Chamisso Prize

The Adelbert von Chamisso Prize is a literary prize awarded by Robert Bosch Stiftung since 1985 to authors writing in the German language whose literature is affected by cultural changes. The prize is awarded with 15.000€, up to two "Förderpreise" are awarded with 7.000€.

Harald Weinrich had the great idea of convincing the Robert Bosch Stiftung of the value of establishing the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize. Initially the prize awarded authors writing in German language to which they have migrated and which has become part of themselves. In the 1980s, the literature honored by the prize was still called “guest worker literature” and later “migration literature”, but today it has become a natural part of contemporary German literature, and is often simply described as “Chamisso Literature”. It extends to artistic and literary adaptation and makes the work by Adelbert von Chamisso Prize winners a natural part of contemporary German language literature. Therefore, the definition of the prize has been enlarged in 2012.

Since the first prizes were awarded in 1985 to Aras Ören and Rafik Schami, 65 writers from more than twenty different countries have won the award. Since 1997, the “Honorary Endowment of the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize of Robert Bosch Stiftung” has been awarded to three people whose life work has contributed in a special way to the aims of the prize: Jirí Grusa, Imre Kertész and Harald Weinrich.

Chamisso Prize winners are not only excellent authors and representatives of contemporary German language literature, but also have an exemplary function, especially for young people with a background of migration. The enthusiastic reception of the prize-winners’ readings, which were encouraged and supported by the Foundation in schools, book shops and theatres in the entire German-speaking region, is evidence of the high level of interest in such literature. Another special aspect of the Adelbert von Chamisso Preis is the fact that it does not merely include an award ceremony, but also accompanying activities to encourage people to read the authors, especially in schools.

Uljana Wolf, born in 1979 in Berlin, lives and works as a poet and translator in Berlin and New York. Her volume of poems, kochanie ich habe brot gekauft, was published in 2005, followed by falsche freunde in 2009, and her joint sonnet erasure project with Christian Hawkey, Sonne From Ort, in 2012. Uljana Wolf has also published the essay BOX OFFICE (2010) and multiple poetry translations. She has received numerous prizes for her literary works and translations, including the Peter Huchel Prize and the Dresden Poetry Prize.

Peter-Huchel-Preis, 2006
Dresdner Lyrikpreis, 2006
Wolfgang-Weyrauch-Förderpreis, 2013
Erlanger Literaturpreis für Poesie als Übersetzung, 2015


Meine schönste Lengevitch.

Gedichte. Kookbooks, Berlin 2013

Sonne From Ort.

Sonett-Ausstreichungen. (zusammen mit Christian Hawkey). Kookbooks, Berlin 2012

falsche freunde.

Gedichte. Kookbooks, Idstein 2009


Essay. Stiftung Lyrik-Kabinett, München 2009

kochanie ich habe brot gekauft.

Gedichte. Kookbooks, Idstein 2005



The prestigious annual prize honors individuals who have championed the advancement of German-language literature in the United States.

New York, November 11, 2015
- The Friedrich Ulfers Prize, which was awarded for the first time in 2013, will be presented to Burton Pike at the exclusive opening ceremony of New York City's Festival Neue Literatur on February 25, 2016.

The Friedrich Ulfers Prize prize is awarded annually by Deutsches Haus at New York University ( and endowed with a $5,000 grant by renowned scholar Professor Friedrich Ulfers. The prize honors a publisher, writer, critic, translator, or scholar who has championed the advancement of German-language literature in the United States.

The prize will be awarded at a special ceremony that also marks the opening of the 2016 Festival Neue Literatur. Shelley Frisch, award-winning translator and author of The Lure of the Linguistic, will hold the laudation in Mr. Pike’s honor. Upon being notified of the forthcoming honor, Mr. Pike commented, “Translation is a way of bridging the gaps between cultures old and new, and a window into how people in other countries live and think. It makes understanding possible.” New York’s only annual German-language literary festival held in English will take place from February 25 to 28, 2016, at venues throughout New York City. The next Festival Neue Literatur (FNL) will be the seventh installment of the annual literary gathering, where New York City will once again play host to six authors from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. Previous winners of the Friedrich Ulfers Prize include Robert Weil in 2015, Sarah Bershtel in 2014, and Carol Brown Janeway in 2013.


Burton Pike is Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature and German at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He has also taught at the University of Hamburg, Cornell University, Queens and Hunter Colleges of CUNY, and has been a Visiting Professor of German at Yale University, as well as department chair at Cornell, Queens College, and the CUNY Graduate Center. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Medaille für Verdienste um Robert Musil from the city of Klagenfurt, Austria, and was a member of the Executive Committee of the Internationale Robert Musil Gesellschaft, and was also active in both the American and International Comparative Literature Associations.  He is a member of the PEN Translation Committee. He has written extensively on Musil, has edited and co-translated Musil’s The Man without Qualities (finalist and Special Citation, PEN Translation Prize) and a book of Musil’s essays, Precision and Soul, as well as editing a collection of Musil’s stories. He has also translated and written the introductions to Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, and Gerhard Meier’s Isle of the Dead, which won the 2012 Helen and Kurt Wolff Prize for the best translation of a literary work from German. He translated a story by Proust for Conjunctions, a story by Ingeborg Bachmann for Grand Street, and stories by Alissa Walser for Chicago Review and Painting in a Man’s World. More of his translations of prose and poetry from German and French have appeared in Fiction, Grand Street, Conjunctions, and other magazines.


Friedrich Ulfers is an Associate Professor of German at New York University. He has also served as Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Science, the German Department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies, Director of the NYU in Berlin summer program, and Director of Deutsches Haus at NYU. He is the recipient of NYU's Distinguished Teaching Medal and Great Teacher Award, and was twice awarded the College of Arts and Science's Golden Dozen Award for Excellence in Teaching. He has taught not only in the German Department but also in NYU's interdisciplinary programs, offering courses that engage a range of interests, including literary theory, continental philosophy, and the relationships between science, literature, and philosophy. Friedrich Ulfers is also affiliated with the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. He served there as a Professor of Philosophy, teaching an intensive Summer Seminar on Nietzsche and 20th/21st-century thought. From 2006–2009 he was Dean of the Media and Communications Division, and in 2009 he was appointed Professor Emeritus. In 2014, Friedrich Ulfers was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz, the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit.

Festival Neue Literatur 2016 is made possible through generous support from BMW of North America.

Media Contact
Evan Strouss

France Honors Avital Ronell

October 25, 2015 | By French Culture


On Thursday, October 22, 2015, Cultural Counselor Bénédicte de Montlaur honored distinguished philosopher Avital Ronell with the insignia of Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. The award was presented during a ceremony at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York City.

Good evening. It is my pleasure to welcome you all here tonight as we honor the philosophical pioneer Avital Ronell.

Usually, I begin a speech with the question: Who is this person? But with Avital, that question takes on a philosophical significance.

Avital has spent much of her career immersed in a kind of complex theory called “deconstruction.” That means she trains us to question the questions.  She teaches us to critique the concepts that we use to understand the world. And under her guidance, we always find that things are more nuanced than they appear.

The same could be said of Avital herself. Avital has made a career of defying labels, so to ask, “Who is she?” might be the wrong question. Instead, we can let her work speak for itself.

Avital, your prolific writing and endless insights have won praise and turned heads. Your expansive style shines with the influences of philosophical greats like Heidegger, Nietzche, and more. But you’ve woven your influences into a unique, new perspective, making you a major figure in philosophy today. And all this has been possible because you are an independent, creative and rigorous thinker, unafraid to challenge convention.

For all these reasons and more, it is my pleasure to honor you here tonight. 

Your sense of intellectual daring is perhaps best demonstrated by your connection to French philosopher Jacques Derrida. You were one of Derrida’s first English translators, and you helped introduce his ideas to America. Early in his career, people said he wasn’t a philosopher. Established figures like John Searle picked fights with him. The Anglophone academy wasn’t ready for him. But you were. To embrace and translate a difficult and, at the time, unpopular brand of philosophy demonstrates true intellectual independence.

According to Derrida, when you met him in 1979, you told him your name was “Metaphysics!” Soon, though, he learned your real name and you began to study with him in Paris. You went on to become Derrida’s co-teacher at New York University and one of his first English translators. You helped convince him to come to NYU. And by leading his seminars when he was away, you made it possible for him to teach. So between translating Derrida’s thoughts and teaching them, you have helped confuse thousands of college students!

As Tom Bishop puts it, you and Derrida were on the same wavelength. For helping Derrida cross the Atlantic, American thinkers owe you a great debt.

Your affinity for France and French philosophy goes beyond your connection to Derrida. Tom Bishop calls you an honorary member of NYU’s French faculty, and you have worked alongside French philosophers like Jean-Luc Nancy, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Emmanuel Levinas. You taught with Hélène Cixous in Paris and were inspired by her “feminist hours.” So subsequently, at Berkeley, you held Sunday seminars for women who were stuck at home during the week. You skillfully imported a French philosopher’s thoughts through your own multifaceted American lens.

Your work blends multiple modes of thought into something brilliant and unique. At the “Found in Translation” panel at the Villa Gillet’s “Walls and Bridges”Festival, you spoke about what we can gain when we move between languages. And as a thinker who speaks English, French and German fluently, you epitomize those gains: new perspectives, new layers of meaning in familiar words.

By integrating French thinkers into your own groundbreaking work, you have done much for French philosophy in the United States. And by working with French philosophers and publishing in French journals, you have also done much for French philosophy in France!

The diversity and inventiveness of your work never ceases to astound. At NYU, you are a professor of Germanic Languages, Humanities, and Comparative Literature. At the European Graduate School, you hold the Jacques Derrida Chair of Philosophy. Today, you are known for your original readings of topics as diverse as AIDS, addiction, and the Gulf War.  And since your days at Princeton, you have carefully blended philosophy, literature and psychoanalysis. You’ve crafted a singular mosaic that is all your own — yet one that harkens back to the ancients.

One of your longstanding philosophical interests is language. Fittingly for someone who challenges implicit meanings, you have a complex relationship with words. Your writing is witty and accessible. According to your friend Emily Apter, you take everyday exchanges, even mundane logistics at NYU, “and infuse them with Nietzsche, with poetry, with humor, compassion, and celebration of the other.” 

You stick up for academic prose that others dislike because they don’t understand it. In a letter to The New York Times, you wrote that academics “have the good taste to stick to the rigors dictated by their work — even if this should not easily translate into publicly approved language usage.” For you, meaning is not a static quantity in one’s head — but something that emerges and transforms as we speak and write to one another.  

Your work has attracted a large audience. I think this is in part because you’ve created a philosophy that exists in the real world. You don’t isolate your work from every day social issues – you embrace them head on.  You ask questions people care about.

You were one of the first critical theorists to investigate the AIDS crisis. Artforum called your essay on Rodney King “the most illuminating essay on TV and video ever written,” and Ariana Reines made a play out of your work, “The Telephone Book.” You hosted “Selon Avital Ronell,” a series of conversations at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. At one point, you and Judith Butler took the stage together while dancing to Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman!” Not what the audience expected from a pair of respected theorists — but they loved it anyways.  

Then again, it’s not surprising, seeing as convention isn’t really your style. According to your onetime editor Diane Davis, you seek to blur divisions between philosophy and rumor, headline and literature — “the very distinctions through which academia sustains itself.” And you are suspicious of meaning and certitude — two things that philosophy has long pursued.  You have said that “the emergency supplies of meaning that are brought to a given incident are cover-ups, a way of dressing the wound of non-meaning.” This truth may be unpleasant for a philosopher, but you did not shy away. 

As Marcel Duchamp said: “Je me suis forcé à me contredire pour éviter de me conformer à mon propre gout” or “I force myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.” Like Duchamp, you pinch yourself to keep from falling into the slumber of old tropes and stale thoughts. And when you pinch yourself, you pinch, us too.

Avital, your use of language is bold. Your commitment to creativity is unflinching. And your tremendous command of philosophical tools makes you all the more effective as an insurgent. You acquainted the United States with one of the 20th century’s greatest philosophers. You helped introduce America to a new way of thinking, one that had roots in France. And in your work, you have expanded our horizons while also reminding us how little we know about things right under our noses.  Avital, yours is a career worth celebrating. And we are sure you aren’t done yet.

Chère Avital Ronell, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

NEW YORK, October 16, 2015 – Avital Ronell, philosopher, literary theorist, and professor of German, English, and comparative literature at NYU, will be awarded the insignia of chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by Bénédicte de Montlaur, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, on Thursday, October 22, 2015, at the Payne Whitney Mansion in New York, home to the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.

As a philosopher, Ronell has been noted for her distinctive, daring style, which applies the influences of Heidegger, Nietzsche and more, to contemporary subjects like drug wars and the AIDS crisis. Ronell began working closely with French philosopher Jacques Derrida before his writings were accepted by mainstream academia, and was one of Derrida’s first English translators. She has worked extensively with other French philosophers such as Jean-Luc Nancy, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Emmanuel Levinas, Hélène Cixous, among others, and has brought their intellectual ideas to an American, German, and Latin American audience by incorporating them into her own thought. Her writing has covered everything from the philosophy of the telephone to the conundrums of stupidity and always with language that is as poetic and performative as it is rigorous.Through her extraordinary intellect and boundless creativity she has created a singular body of work with an international reach. One of her innovations, in addition to her written work, involves the establishment of the lecture performance as a mode of theoretical articulation.

Ronell’s published works include the following: Loser Sons: Politics and Authority(2012); The Uber Reader: Selected Works of Avital Ronell (2007); The Test Drive(2005); Stupidity (2001); The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech (2001); Finitude’s Score: Essays for the End of the Millennium (1994); Crack Wars: Literature, Addiction, Mania (1992); and Dictations: On Haunted Writing (1986).

The Order of Arts and Letters (Ordre des Arts et des Lettres) was established in 1957 to recognize eminent artists and writers, as well as people who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world. The Order of Arts and Letters is given out under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Culture and Communication.  American recipients of the award include Paul Auster, Ornette Coleman, Agnes Gund, Marilyn Horne, Jim Jarmusch, Richard Meier, Robert Paxton, Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, and Uma Thurman. 

The Cultural Services of the French Embassy promotes the best of French arts, literature, cinema, language, and higher education across the US. Based in New York City, Washington D.C., and eight other cities across the country, the Cultural Services brings artists, authors, educational and university programs to cities nationwide. It also builds partnerships between French and American artists, institutions and universities on both sides of the Atlantic. In New York, through its bookshop Albertine, it fosters French-American exchange around literature and the arts.

Media Contact:

Judith Walker - + 1 (212) 439-1417 – - @franceinnyc -