Kurt Beals

Kurt Beals

Assistant Professor of German
Director of Undergraduate Studies in German
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
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Professor 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.

Spring 2020 Courses

Advanced German: Core Course IV (German 301D)

Discussion of literary and non-literary texts combined with an intensive grammar review. Systematic introduction to the expressive functions of German, with an emphasis on spoken and written communication. In addition to regular class meetings, students should sign up for a twice-weekly subsection. Prerequisite: Ger 210D, the equivalent, or placement by examination. Students who complete this course successfully should enroll in German 302D.

    Literary Modernities in Europe and America: Text and Traditions (IPH 3050)

    The course examines the various facets of modernity in major works of European, Eurasian, and, sometimes, American literature from the early Seventeenth Century to the 1920s, starting with Don Quixote. We will explore, among other things, the eruption of the novel, the secularization of autobiography, the literary discovery of the city, the rise of literary and aesthetic criticism that takes literature and art seriously as political and social institutions. In addition to literary works, the course will engage with two or three important models of critical practice e.g. Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women, Marx's German Ideology, Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, T.S. Eliot's Tradition and the Individual Talent, or perhaps that great work of fictionalized literary criticism, Borges' "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote."

      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.