The graduate students of the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia hosted their sixteenth annual graduate student conference in February 2009. This year's topic was "Eat, Drink and be Merry", a biblical citation from the books of Ecclesiastes and Isaiah invoking the transience of all life. Seeking to engage their subject from different angles, the conference organizers Kerstin Steitz, Irina Kuznetsova, and Matthew Lockaby welcomed student participants from various U.S. universities. The keynote lecture was delivered by Professor Stanley Corngold (Princeton University), one of the most renowned scholars in Germanic literatures and intellectual history as well as an expert on Franz Kafka.
Professor Corngold opened the conference on Friday evening with an analysis of figures of consumption in Nietzsche and Kafka. Opposing Nietzsche's 'bulimic' style to Kafka's 'anorexic' writing, he related their treatment of intellectual intoxication to the field of bodily nutrition. The student presentations of the following Saturday ranged from an analysis of the Baroque literature, opposing a pious lifestyle to the excesses of food/drink and carnal love, to a critical reading of individual autonomy and the market economy in contemporary film. Altogether, the papers demonstrated the close proximity of the feast, luxury and pleasure to the threat of scarcity and social unrest. Another important and recurring conference theme was the relationship between intellectual and embodied forms of consuming or consumption. The lively discussions between presenters and audience (also including faculty members) revolved around the relationship between lack, excess and celebration.
The conference was co-sponsored by Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, the Center for German Studies, the Max Kade Foundation, and the Graduate Student Council of Arts and sciences at UVa.