Michael McGillen

|Assistant Professor
Academic Appointments
  • Assistant Professor of German Studies

  • Associated Faculty Member in Comparative Literature

Michael McGillen is Assistant Professor of German Studies and an Associated Faculty Member in Comparative Literature. He teaches in German Studies, Comparative Literature, and Jewish Studies, and offers courses on Modernist Literature, Urban Spaces, German-Jewish Exile Literature, Kafka, Nietzsche, the Frankfurt School, Religion and the Post-Secular, as well as German language courses on all levels. His research concerns the afterlives of religion in German modernism, with a focus on German-Jewish literature and intellectual history, temporalities of the moment and historical memory, and discourses of secularization. He is the author of articles on Kafka, Kierkegaard, Auerbach, Sebald, Johnson, Beckett, Husserl, Blumenberg, Barth, and Ball, and his work has appeared in journals such as New German Critique, The Germanic Review, Word & Image, and Gegenwartsliteratur.

His book Shapes of Time: History and Eschatology in the Modernist Imagination is appearing in November 2023 with Cornell University Press in the series Signale: Modern German Letters, Cultures and Thought. It tells the story of how four key figures in modern German and German-Jewish thought—Karl Barth, Franz Rosenzweig, Siegfried Kracauer, and Robert Musil—combined religious thought and modernist mathematics to represent a moment of time outside of narrative sequence that they pictured spatially in the language of geometrical shapes and forms. Conceiving of the shape of time as a curved and nonintuitive space in which apparently parallel lines intersect and time folds back on itself, these writers offered alternatives to the historicist paradigm of linear and chronological time. Through close readings and conceptual analysis of literary, theological, and philosophical texts, the book offers new insights into the afterlives of religion in modernity and into modernism's spatial and mathematical turns.

His current research explores how German and German-Jewish writers in the post-Holocaust era responded to the problem of a lost inheritance, what it meant to live and write in exile, and how to engage with the German past in the absence of a tradition that could be renewed. This research includes an article on "Historical Passages and Scenes of Transport in Uwe Johnson's Jahrestage," and essay on "Reality's Return: On the Inconsolability of Memory in Sebald," and a second book project entitled Lost Inheritances: Traumatic Memory and the Narration of History in Postwar German Literature, which examines how the problems of inheritance, exile, and tradition were negotiated by postwar writers through a turn to narrative modes such as anecdotes, stories, and myths. 

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Dartmouth Hall, Room 209C
HB 6084


  • Ph.D. Princeton University
  • B.A. Northwestern University

Selected Publications

  • Shapes of Time: History and Eschatology in the Modernist Imagination. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2023. (Series: "Signale: Modern German Letters, Cultures and Thought"). 

    "Reality's Return: On the Inconsolability of Memory in Sebald." Gegenwartsliteratur: A German Studies Yearbook 22 (2023): 265–288. 

    "Husserl's Image Worlds and the Language of Phenomenology." Phenomenology to the Letter: Husserl and Literature. Eds. Rochelle Tobias, Kristina Mendicino, and Philippe P. Haensler. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2021. 23–44. 

    "Orientation in Pictures: Multistable Spaces in Kafka and Beckett." Word & Image, 36.3 (2020): 225–236.

    "Free Variation from the Archive of Culture: Blumenberg and Husserl on Phenomenological Description." Leistungsbeschreibung / Describing Cultural Achievements: Literarische Strategien bei Hans Blumenberg / Hans Blumenberg's Literary Strategies. Eds. Timothy Attanucci and Ulrich Breuer. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2020. 73–94.

    "Historical Passages and Scenes of Transport in Uwe Johnson's Jahrestage." The Germanic Review, 93.2 (2018): 130–154.

    "Erich Auerbach and the Seriality of the Figure." New German Critique, no. 133 (2018): 111–154. 

    "Zwischen Bildlichkeit und Auflösung des Bildes: Ästhetik des Religiösen in Hugo Balls expressionistischen Gedichten." Expressionismus 3 (2016): 83–91. 

    "Lapsarian Repetitions: Iterations of the Fall in Kafka and Kierkegaard." Kafka und die Religion in der Moderne / Kafka, Religion, and Modernity. Eds. Manfred Engel and Ritchie Robertson. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2014. 93–115.

    "Theology's Weimar Moment: History before the Eschatological Limit." The Weimar Moment: Liberalism, Political Theology, and Law. Eds. Leonard Kaplan and Rudy Koshar, Lanham: Lexington Books, 2012. 269–287.