Linguistics and literary studies: “A high academic level”

Justus Liebig University Giessen

A literary and foreign language scholar from Poland, Dr Elzbieta Tomasi-Kapral wrote her master’s thesis on the devil’s pact motifs to be found in German literature. Her doctoral degree focused on writers who embark on a search for their own identity. She was a visiting scholar at Justus Liebig University Giessen in the summer of 2015 . She reports in our interview on her experiences in the German academic and higher education world and explains why she is so fascinated by German language and literature.

Dr Tomasi-Kapral, in your academic work you explore among other things the multifaceted literature of the GDR and the process of coming to terms with the past in post-1945 German literature, and you are also involved in numerous international (translation) projects. Why are you so fascinated by German language and literature?

I already began learning German at primary school. Looking back, I believe that the German teacher who taught me the rudiments of German back then succeeded in infecting me with her fascination for this language and culture. Over the years I have also learnt other languages, yet none has fascinated me as much as German does. This is probably because of the clear rules and easily understandable structures that are characteristic of the German language. Everything has its place in a German sentence, and what I particularly appreciate is that the moment one begins a sentence one must already have a clear notion of how it will end. Over the years, the German language became my key to German literature. It is my opinion that Germany has some of the best literature in Europe. It would be easy at this point to cite a long list of German writers whose literary oeuvre has had an important bearing on world literature. What I also find particularly fascinating are the themes that are dealt with in German literature. The key historical moments that have shaped not only this nation but also Europe are reflected in German literature. Not only are the fears and concerns of German society expressed here, but also its hopes.

You were a visiting scholar at Justus Liebig University Giessen in the summer of 2015. What exactly were you doing there, and why was it so important for you to spend this period of research at the university?

There has been intensive academic contact for many decades between the University of Łódź in Poland, where I am a lecturer, and Justus Liebig University Giessen. In recent years I have been involved in many projects with historians and experts in Slavic and German studies from Giessen. Plans for collaboration in the coming years were also discussed during my stay there this year, such as a joint conference of German studies scholars on “Engaged Literature” that is to be staged in October 2016. Together with Professor Cora Dietl, a professor of German literary history at Justus Liebig University Giessen, we also drew up the programme for a seminar on mediaeval German literature we are jointly running at Łódź uni in the winter semester that has just begun. I also talked to people at the Giessen Centre for Eastern European Studies (GiZo) about collaboration in the next few years within the framework of the DAAD network “Cultural contact and conflict zones in Eastern Europe”. Another important aspect of my time at Giessen was library research in connection with my habilitation project. I am studying the way in which the communist past is portrayed in contemporary German and Polish prose.

In your opinion, what sets linguistics and literary studies in Germany apart?

When I regard German linguistics and literary studies from the perspective of a foreign German studies scholar, what strikes me above all is the high academic level. In my view, what is also important is the fact that German studies in Germany keeps pace with the current developments and challenges of today’s world.

Which German projects in your academic field do you find particularly exciting?

In recent years I have been able to take part in many projects that were initiated by German academics. The goal of these projects was (and is) to promote German language, literature and culture abroad. I enjoy being involved in projects that have a literary focus, and in ones that aim to foster cultural exchange between the participating partners via literature. This also includes projects that promote the translation of literary texts from German into Polish and vice versa. It is my firm belief that literature is the best way to acquaint oneself with a nation’s character, mentality and idiosyncrasies.

Dr Tomasi-Kapral, thank you for the interview. We wish you every success with your research!

Giessen University

Giessen University is a modern university with a history dating back over 400 years. It has around 28,000 students. Besides offering a wide range of courses – including science, law, economics, sociology, education science, linguistics and cultural studies – it also offers life science disciplines such as human and veterinary medicine, agricultural, environmental and nutrition science, and food chemistry.