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Professor Tony Phelan

Emeritus Fellow


I have very broad interests in the field of modern and contemporary German culture and thought, from the 18th century and the age of Goethe to the modernist writers of the 20th century such as Brecht, Kafka, Rilke, and Musil.

Research Interests

I recently completed a full length study of Heinrich Heine, the 19th century poet, essayist, and journalist. Currently I am working on the literary and philosophical effect of the friendship between Bertolt Brecht and Walter Benjamin, during their years of exile, including their conceptions of history and their investigation of gesture/Gestus. Benjamin, particularly in his study of Romantic art criticism and his work on Paris, in the Passagen-Werk, also provides a guiding critical approach to work on the philosophy and aesthetics of the Jena Romantics and their novels, particularly in relation to ideas of modernity and postmodernity. This research is concentrated on fiction by German Romantic authors, such as Novalis, Friedrich and Dorothea Schlegel, Tieck, and Brentano, in relation to the sophisticated theory of literature developed by the young Romantics in Jena.  Many of these stories are strange, uncanny and disturbing in the ways they explore ideas of selfhood and subjectivity – including the Märchen or fairytale for which the Romantics became famous. I address these issues in the broad context of the relation between Romantic literature and philosophy, originally identified by Walter Benjamin in his 1920 dissertation and brought to prominence more recently by continental theorists such as Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy.

Since 2006 I've been active as co-convenor of an Oxford Princeton research collaboration on Walter Benjamin: Benjamin Encounters. Benjamin has been influential in literary and philosophical work since his writings were published in German in the 1960s: most recently his analysis of the new media – specially film, photography, and radio drama – has been widely taken up. The collaboration between staff and graduates at Oxford and Princeton seeks to examine the cultural, intellectual, and critical contexts of his writing. From 2009 a new dimension of this work is planned with a project on 'The Rhetorics of Religion in German Modernism', exploring the theological turn in German literature and thought from the 1920s.

Recent Publications

  • 'Prose Fiction of the German Romantics' in The Cambridge Companion to German Romanticism, ed. Nicholas Saul (Cambridge University Press, 2009)
  • Reading Heinrich Heine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)
  • 'Meditation and its Distractions: Moerike's 'Im Weinberg'' in Oxford German Studies, 36 (2007), 34-46
  • 'What Wilhelm Meister did next' in Publications of the English Goethe Society, LXXV Part ii (2006), 109-124
  • 'Reading Paris: Political Hermeneutics in Heine’s Lutezia' in Imagining the City I: The Art of Urban Living, ed. Christian Emden, Catherine Keen and David Midgley (Peter Lang, 2006)
  • 'The State of the Art: Heine’s Atta Troll. Ein Sommernachtstraum and “Jehuda ben Halevy”' in Oxford German Studies, 33 (2004), 177-194
  • 'Fortgang and Zusammenhang: Walter Benjamin and the Romantic Novel' in Walter Benjamin and Romanticism, ed. B.Hanssen & A.E.Benjamin (London: continuum, 2002)
  • 'Mathilde’s Interruption: Archetypes of Modernity in Heine’s Later Poetry' in A Companion to the Works of Heinrich Heine, ed. Roger F. Cook (Rochester and Woodbridge: Camden House, 2002)
  • 'Returning generals: Brecht's 'The Manifesto' and its contexts' in Empedocles' Shoe. Essays on Brecht's poetry, ed. Tom Kuhn and Karen Leeder (London: Methuen, 2002)
  • 'Novalis and the Hidden Door of Dream' in Dream Images, ed. Hanne Castein and Rüdiger Görner (München: iudicium, 2002)
  • 'The Classical and the Medieval in Faust II' in A Companion to Goethe's Faust Parts I and II, ed. Paul Bishop (Rochester and Woodbridge: Camden House, 2001)
  • 'Figures of Memory. The "Chroniken" in the Svendborger Gedichte' in Brecht's Poetry of Political Exile, ed. R. Speirs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)
  • 'Gesicht aus Aussehen' in Rilke und die Moderne, ed. A.Stevens and F. Wagner (München: Iudicium, 2000)
  • 'July Days in Skovsbostrand: Brecht, Benjamin & Antiquity' in German Life & Letters, LIII (2000), 573-86
  • 'Rilke: "Die Gazelle"' in Landmarks in German Poetry, ed. Peter Hutchinson (Bern, Berlin &c: Peter Lang, 2000)
  • 'The Tribe of Harry: Heine and contemporary poetry' in Heine und die Weltliteratur, ed. T.J.Reed and A. Stillmark (Oxford: legenda, 2000)
  • 'The Content of Silhouettes' in Paragraph, 21:2 (1998), 150-68
  • 'Heines Metropolen: Berlin–London–Paris' in Der fremde Blick, ed. I. Breuer und A. A. Sölter (Bozen [Bolzano]: sturzflüge, 1997)

Academic Biography

  • Fellow and Tutor in German, Keble College & Faculty Lecturer in German (1998 - present)
  • Chairman & Head of Department of German Studies, University of Warwick (1997 - 1998)
  • Lecturer and Senior Lecturer in German Studies, University of Warwick (1971 - 1997)

College Contact Details

Professor Tony Phelan
Keble College
Telephone: 01865 272763
Fax: 01865 272705

Faculty/Dept. Information

Prof. Tony Phelan
Keble College
United Kingdom