Andrew Hewitt
Chair / Professor

Though the cultural theory of the Frankfurt School exercises the most notable influence on my work, my reading strategy reflects both a rigorous early training in Russian Formalism and a later prolonged engagement with deconstruction. Pressed to articulate the irreducible core of my project, I would cite an insistence on the specificity of the aesthetic experience and the resistance of the aesthetic artifact to any explanatory schema that ignores that specificity.

My earliest literary studies were influenced by French Structuralism. Later, the study of Modern and Mediaeval Languages at Cambridge led me to trace the provenance of structuralist analysis back to Russian Formalism and the linguistic paradigms of the Prague School. This tradition also offered a definition of literariness that defined the very field of study in which I was engaged. Only at the end of my studies did I become convinced that the literary horizon is necessarily defined in historical terms, and that formal modes of reading required a meta-theoretical framework that would locate the artwork ideologically and historically.

Thus, my interest in Marxist theory — pursued in a German-focused Comparative Literature Ph.D. at Cornell — derived from a concern with the nature of the "work" of art. I began to define this as a mode of (literary) production that could not simply be mapped onto a traditional Base-Superstructure model as a reflection of social struggle. Just as literature resisted linguistic assimilation, so the aesthetic protested against the very ideologies to which it ostensibly gave.

My first book, Fascist Modernism, represented a pragmatic conjunction of two disparate projects — one rooted very much in the High Modernism which had been handed down as a cultural canon at Cambridge, and a puzzled fascination with the aesthetic appeal of fascism. Often, my work seems conceived in historical terms — if we understand history in the "weak" sense of cultural studies - yet my foregrounding of something irreducibly aesthetic will always disappoint those who seek hard historical claims in my work. I remain skeptical of any cultural studies that do not first address the structure and materiality of the artifact before situating it in cultural discourse.

My second book, Political Inversions, attempted to articulate the intricate relation drawn in both popular culture and cultural theory between political and sexual deviance — between homosexuality and fascism. Here I engaged critically with the Frankfurt School thinkers who shaped my thought. The work was further intended to challenge an increasingly Anglo-centric Queer Theory with continental counter-models.

Work on this book also allowed me to rethink the role of German Studies. Why is it that students studying Freud, or Marx, or Cultural Studies only rarely gather in German departments? This is the role I see for German Studies - as a meeting place for diverging and wide-ranging interests, welcoming students working in several disciplines.

Finally, I am just completing a book on what I call "social choreography" — by which I understand both dance as an overtly aestheticized choreography, and gesture and parapraxis as quotidian instances of the body’s (failed) socialization. Taking dance as a direct challenge to the hegemony of the aesthetic artifact, I examine the way in which work, labor and production have been redefined within modernity.

Like all my work, this book is comparatist in spirit, and I actively seek out students with comparatist and interdisciplinary projects to work with. My graduate classes regularly mix in equal parts students from German, Comp. Lit., Architecture, Musicology and World Arts and Cultures.

In the Winter Quarter of 2000, Professor Hewitt became Chair of the Department of Germanic Languages.

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