Kurt Beals

Kurt Beals

Associate Professor of German and Comparative Literature
Director of the Max Kade Center for Contemporary German Literature
Performing Arts Department (Affiliate)
PhD, University of California, Berkeley
research interests:
  • 20th- and 21st-Century German Literature and Culture
  • Translation Theory and Practice
  • Experimentalism and Avant-Gardes
  • Digital Humanities
    View All People

    contact info:

    office hours:

    • On leave through Fall 2022
    Get Directions

    mailing address:

    • Washington University
    • CB 1104
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
    image of book cover

    Kurt Beals' research focuses on experimental movements in 20th-century and contemporary German literature, including Dada, Concrete poetry, and digital poetry.

    Beals focuses on the ways that these movements incorporate, respond to, and reflect on contemporaneous developments in media technologies and information theory. His book Wireless Dada: Telegraphic Poetics in the Avant-Garde was published in 2019 by Northwestern University Press. He has published articles on authors including George Grosz, Paul Celan, Regina Ullmann, and Max Bense, in journals including New German Critique, The German Quarterly, and Dada/Surrealism. He is also co-editor of the volume Hans Richters Rhythmus 21: Schlüsselfilm der Moderne. In addition, Beals has translated a wide range of works from German into English, including a volume of poetry by the contemporary German poet Anja Utler, a collection of stories by the Swiss author Regina Ullmann, the volume Is that Kafka? 99 Finds by Reiner Stach, and a forthcoming volume of speeches and essays by Jenny Erpenbeck.

    Beals earned his bachelor's degree in philosophy from Oberlin College, with a minor in German. He earned his master's degree and doctorate in German from the University of California, Berkeley. His dissertation research was supported by grants from the DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst) and the ACLS (American Council of Learned Societies). Beals teaches general courses on German language and culture, as well as courses focused more specifically on experimental literature, media theory, and contemporary poetry.

    Fall 2021 Courses

    The Task of the Translator (German 493)

    This undergraduate course offers an introduction to the theory and practice of translation, consisting of three main components. First, students will have the opportunity to translate a wide range of fictional and non-fictional texts from a variety of genres (short stories, journalism, academic prose). The focus will be on translation from German to English, but we will also translate from English to German. Second, we will read selections from key works on the theory of translation, from Martin Luther's sixteenth-century treatise on his Bible translation to twentieth-century essays by philosophers like Walter Benjamin, and we will consider important translation practices such as the film dubbing and subtitling. Third, we will analyze excerpts from some of the most celebrated literary translations of the past 200 years, including German translations of authors ranging from Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling as well as English translations of authors such as Goethe and Kafka. The course aims to give students a sense of the challenges and rewards of translation as well as a deeper understanding of the relationship between language, thought, and culture. Prerequisite: German 302D and German 340C/340D OR German 341/341D OR German 342/342D

      Literary Seminar: Media and Experiment (German 528)

      This graduate seminar covers innovative engagements with new media over roughly the past century, incorporating both theoretical frameworks and aesthetic responses. On the one hand, the course will cover major works of media theory from this period, particularly as they apply to literature, with an emphasis on German authors. Theorists are likely to include Benjamin, Heidegger, Adorno, McLuhan, Kittler, Siegert, and Krämer. On the other hand, we will consider how new media have shaped aesthetic practices, particularly in literary movements identified as experimental or avant-garde. The focus in this respect will be on German-language contributions to movements such as Dada and Concrete poetry, including the works of Raoul Hausmann, Max Bense, and Ferdinand Kriwet. In addition, we will consider works by authors such as Yoko Tawada that foreground the role of written media, and by contemporary writers and artists such as Julius Popp and Amaranth Borsuk who work at the intersection of textual and digital media. Readings can be done in German or English; discussion will be in English.

        Selected Publications

        Wireless Dada: Telegraphic Poetics in the Avant-Garde (Northwestern University Press, 2019).

        “High-Tech Heimat: Mountains and Mediation in Literature, Film, and Visual Art,” German Quarterly 92, no. 2 (2019)

        “‘Do the new poets think? It’s possible’: Computer Poetry and Cyborg Subjectivity,” Configurations (2018)

        “Dada: Art and the Discourse of Advertising,” New German Critique (2017)

        Regina Ullmann, The Country Road. New Directions, 2015. (Translation)

        Wireless Dada: Telegraphic Poetics in the Avant-Garde

        Wireless Dada: Telegraphic Poetics in the Avant-Garde

        Wireless Dada: Telegraphic Poetics in the Avant-Garde demonstrates that the poetics of the Dada movement were profoundly influenced by the telegraph and the technological and social transformations that it brought about in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

        While telegraphy’s impact on other avant-gardes such as Italian futurism and German expressionism is widely acknowledged, its formative role in Dada poetics has been largely neglected. Yet the telegraph exerted an unmistakable influence on the Dada movement, providing a fundamentally new paradigm for understanding language that proved well suited to an avant-garde in search of revolutionary means of expression.

        Drawing on methods and insights from media history and theory, avant-garde studies, and German literary studies, Kurt Beals shows how the telegraph and the cultural discourses that surrounded it shaped the radical works of this seminal avant-garde movement. The “nonsense” strain in Dada is frequently seen as a response to the senseless violence of the First World War. However, Beals argues, it was not just the war that turned Dada poetry into a jumble of senseless signals—it was also the wireless. 

        The Country Road

        The Country Road

        Resonant of nineteenth-century village tales and of such authors as Adalbert Stifter and her contemporary Robert Walser, the stories in The Country Road are largely set in the Swiss countryside. In these tales, the archaic and the modern collide. In one story, a young woman on an exhausting country walk recoils at a passing bicyclist but accepts a ride from a wagon, taking her seat on a trunk with a snake coiled inside. Death is everywhere in her work. As Ullmann writes, “sometimes the whole world appears to be painted on porcelain, right down to the dangerous cracks.” This delicate but fragile beauty, with its ominous undertones, gives Regina Ullmann her unique voice.

        Is That Kafka?

        Is That Kafka?

        In the course of compiling his highly acclaimed three-volume biography of Kafka, while foraying to libraries and archives from Prague to Israel, Reiner Stach made one astounding discovery after another: unexpected photographs, inconsistencies in handwritten texts, excerpts from letters, and testimonies from Kafka's contemporaries that shed surprising light on his personality and his writing.

        Is that Kafka? presents the crystal granules of the real Kafka: he couldn't lie, but he tried to cheat on his high-school exams; bitten by the fitness fad, he avidly followed the regime of a Danish exercise guru; he drew beautifully; he loved beer; he read biographies voraciously; he made the most beautiful presents, especially for children; odd things made him cry or made him furious; he adored slapstick. Every discovery by Stach turns on its head the stereotypical version of the tortured neurotic—and as each one chips away at the monolithic dark Kafka, the keynote, of all things, becomes laughter.

        For Is that Kafka? Stach has assembled 99 of his most exciting discoveries, culling the choicest, most entertaining bits, and adding his knowledgeable commentaries. Illustrated with dozens of previously unknown images, this volume is a singular literary pleasure.