Anna Horáková joined our faculty this fall. I asked her a few questions about her research and her teaching:
How did you become interested in the field of German Studies? When did you start learning German?
I was born in Brno in what back then was Czechoslovakia, about eighty miles away from Vienna. When I was born, however, the two cities were divided by the Iron Curtain, which of course also divided Czechoslovakia from Germany, so the German language and German-speaking culture were both quite close and very far. To me they represented a parallel world. But the real interest in German Studies began for me when I started pursuing my undergraduate degree in England. During my studies there I became acquainted with aesthetics and continental philosophy, and realized that German – with its language, literature, and philosophy – stood at the crossroads of my interests.
Tell us something about the main focus of your research, and why you think it is relevant for today?
My research looks at poets and artists whom one could call dissidents under the really existing socialist conditions of East Germany. What I found in archives and in interviewing these authors – most of them are still alive – is that while they were not singing the country’s praises and, in fact, often experienced state repression, they did not necessarily wish to abolish the East German project wholesale and were interested in the horizon of possibilities it had opened up. By this I mean that they saw in the socialist project a potential to build a society that would combine active solidarity with the possibility of individual fulfillment. The reason why this is compelling for us today is because we need to remind ourselves that the way we organize our life in common is not the only way possible. There is a widespread concern about the state of the world today and the direction that the economy is taking, including how it affects social and environmental conditions. Personally, I don’t believe in things being determined to have failed from the beginning, and that it is more interesting to interpret a phenomenon from a dynamic perspective, rather than its end.
What are some of the favorite topics you like to teach? How do you explain German culture to your U.S. students?
Generally, I try to get a variety of students in U.S. institutions acquainted with thought patterns with which they are not necessarily familiar. However, I don’t view teaching modern languages and literatures as bringing one culture to another, but as opening up a space where the language and culture of German-speaking areas provide a gateway to the multiplicity of voices that can be heard within it. For instance, I often assign works by German-speaking authors who write in German but who were born elsewhere, such as authors with migration backgrounds or from German-speaking minorities outside of the German-speaking countries – and thus push us to reconsider what we may have come to expect of German literature and culture. In other words, it’s not all sauerkraut and beer!
What do you think about W&M so far?
It’s a wonderful place to work! Collegiate, friendly, and supportive, with fantastic students who care about what they study, not to mention our beautiful campus. Recently I discovered the trails around Lake Matoaka and I can’t wait to see the forest in different seasons!
Thank you, Anna!