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Matthew Wilson Smith



Building 260, Room 204
(650) 497 7419

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Thursdays 1-3pm

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Matthew Wilson Smith

Associate Professor of German Studies and Theater & Performance Studies

Matthew Wilson Smith has previously held professorships at Cornell University and Boston University as well as visiting positions at Columbia University and Johannes Gutenberg-Universität (Mainz).  His interests include modern theatre and performance, modernism and mass media, and relations among technology, science, and the arts.  His current book project, The Nervous Stage: 19th-century Neuroscience and the Birth of Modern Theatre, explores historical intersections between the performing arts and the neurological sciences and traces the construction of a “neural subject” over the course of the nineteenth century.  It is forthcoming from Oxford University Press in 2017.  His previous book, The Total Work of Art: From Bayreuth to Cyberspace (Routledge, 2007), presents a history and theory of the Gesamtkunstwerk in relation to technology and mass culture, placing such diverse figures as Wagner, Moholy-Nagy, Brecht, Riefenstahl, Disney, Warhol, and contemporary cyber-artists within a genealogy of totalizing performance.  He is the editor of Georg Büchner: The Major Works, which appeared as a Norton Critical Edition in 2011.  His co-edited essay collection, Modernism and Opera, is forthcoming from Johns Hopkins University Press in 2016.


B.A. Brown University, 1993
M.A. University of Chicago, 1995
M.A., Ph.D. Columbia University 2002


GERMAN 137 Hysteria and Modern Culture (HUMBIO 162H, TAPS 169)

The term "hysteria" has been used for centuries to categorize the mysterious ailments of others. This course will focus on the history of hysteria's representation and production from the late nineteenth century through WWI. Readings will include medical writings (Charcot, Bernheim, Freud), plays (Ibsen, Strindberg, Toller), and feminist theory (Cixous, Clément, Diamond). We will also devote some attention to the ongoing influence of the discourse of hysteria on contemporary medical and popular cultures.

GERMAN 41N Inventing Modern Theatre: Georg Büchner and Frank Wedekind (TAPS 41N)

The German writers Georg Büchner (1813-1837) and Frank Wedekind (1864-1918). Many of the most important theater and film directors of the last century, including Max Reinhardt, G. W. Pabst, Orson Welles, Robert Wilson, and Werner Herzog, have wrestled with their works, as have composers and writers from Alban Berg and Bertolt Brecht through Christa Wolf and Thalia Field. Rock artists as diverse as Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Duncan Sheik, and Metallica have recently rediscovered their urgency. Reading these works in translation and examining artistic creations they inspired. Classroom discussions and written responses; students also rehearse and present in-class performances of excerpts from the plays. The aim of these performances is not to produce polished stagings but to creatively engage with the texts and their interpretive traditions. No previous theatrical experience required.

GERMAN 284 The Nervous Age: Neurosis, Neurology, and Nineteenth-century Theatre (HUMBIO 162, TAPS 354)

The nineteenth century witnessed profound developments in neurological and psychological sciences, developments that fundamentally altered conceptions of embodiment, agency, and mind. This course will place these scientific shifts in conversation with theatrical transformations of the period. We will read nineteenth-century neuropsychologists such as Charles Bell, Johannes Müller, George Miller Beard, Jean-Martin Charcot, and Hippolyte Bernheim alongside artists such as Percy Shelley, Georg Büchner, Richard Wagner, Émile Zola, and August Strindberg.

GERMAN 262 The Total Work of Art (TAPS 262S)

Frequently associated with the work of Richard Wagner, The Total Work of Art (or Gesamtkunstwerk) is a genre that aims to synthesize a range of artistic forms into an organic unity, a unity that both models and helps to forge an ideal state. This seminar will examine the history of the Gesamtkunstwerk from its roots in German Romanticism to the present day, focusing on the genre's relations with technology and mass culture across a wide range of media. Creations we will consider include Wagner's Festival Theatre at Bayreuth, Walter Gropius' plans for a Totaltheater, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's radio-oratorio The Lindbergh Flight, Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, Walt Disney's theme parks, Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable, and Bill Gates' "home of the future." Taught in English.