John H. Smith

picture of John H. Smith

Professor, German
School of Humanities

PH.D., Princeton University

Phone: (949) 824-6406
Fax: (949) 824-6416

University of California, Irvine
250 Humanities Instructional Building
Mail Code: 3150
Irvine, CA 92697
Research Interests
Eighteenth- to twentieth-century literature, philosophy, and intellectual history; literary theory
Research Abstract
My research has generally focused on the German philosophical tradition from the Enlightenment to the present. Already in graduate school I realized that it is often easier (and more interesting) to work on such thinkers as Kant, Schelling, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, and Habermas in a German rather than a philosophy department, esp. if one wants to devote attention to their language. My first book, The Spirit and Its Letter: Traces of Rhetoric in Hegel’s Philosophy of Bildung, looked at the role that rhetoric played in the formation of Hegel’s thought. Methodologically the book combines the institutional history of rhetoric, hermeneutics, critical theory, and deconstruction. My next book, Dialectics of the Will: Freedom, Power, and Understanding in Modern French and German Thought, explored the viability of a dialectical concept of the will to rethink human agency after the “death of the subject.” I have published in 2012 a broad historical survey of (mostly) German (Protestant) theologies and philosophies of religion, from Luther and Erasmus to the present, to investigate the tradition that both provided some of the most fundamental modern conceptions of God and led to his “death.” Indeed, I have shown that these two aspects of the tradition have always been in dialogue. My present research project involves the role that notions of the infinitesimal, continuity, and the mathematical infinite have played in German thought from Leibniz, through Idealism. My argument is that ideas surrounding infinity were "normalized" through a long process of fruitful cross pollenization involving philosophy, mathematics, religious poetry, and aesthetics.

My teaching reflects these interests in intellectual history with courses such as “The Death of God and the Return of Religion” and “German Philosophy for Critical Theory.” But I also believe in offering students, undergraduates and graduates, a strong background in German literary history (the Bildungsroman, the Novelle, lyric).

Koslowski, Peter. “(De)Construction Sites of Postmodernism” (“Die Baustellen der Postmoderne--Wider die Vollendungszwang der Moderne”). Zeitgeist in Babel: The Postmodernist Controversy. Tr. John H. Smith and Jane O. Newman. Ed. Ingeborg Hoesterey. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1992.

Hamacher, Werner. “The Promise of Interpretation: Reflections on the Hermeneutical Imperative in Kant and Nietzsche” (“Das Versprechen der Auslegung: Überlegungen zum hermeneutischen Imperativ bei Kant und Nietzsche”). Looking After Nietzsche. Tr. John H. Smith. Ed. Laurence A. Rickels. Albany: SUNY Press, 1990. 19-48.

Loos, Adolf. Spoken into the Void: Collected Essays 1897-1900 (Ins Leere gesprochen) and Contraries: Collected Essays, vol.2 (Trotzdem). Tr. John H. Smith. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1982-84.

Adorno, Theodor. “Functionalism Today.” Tr. John H. Smith. Oppositions: A Journal for Ideas and Criticism and Architecture 17 (1979) 31-41.

Bloch, Ernst. “Formative Education, Engineering Form, Ornament” (“Bildung, Ingenieurform, Ornament”). Tr. John H. Smith. Oppositions 17(1979). 42-52.
Selected Publications

Dialogues Between Faith and Reason: The Death and Return of God in Modern German Thought. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2011.

Goethe and Idealism: Art, Science, Religion, and Philosophy—1790 to 1817. Ed. with Elizabeth Millán-Zaibert. Special issue Goethe Yearbook 18 (2011): 3-203.

Dialectics of the Will: Freedom, Power, and Understanding in Modern French and German Thought Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2000.

The Spirit and Its Letter: Traces of Rhetoric in Hegel's Philosophy of Bildung. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1988.

How Infinity Came to Be at Home in the World: Metaphors and Paradoxes of Mathematics in Modern German Thought, 1675-1830 (in progress)


“Religion and Early German Romanticism: The Finite and the Infinite.” In A
Companion to German Romantic Philosophy. Eds. Judith Norman and Elizabeth Millán. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2018. (pp. 60-96)

“Religion and German Literature, 1700-1770: The Shock and Normalization of the Infinite.” Religion and Literature in the German-Speaking World 1200-2015. Eds. John Walker and Ian Cooper. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2019.

“Steps toward an Ecology of Geist: Hegel, Bateson, and the Spirit of Posthumanism.” In, The Posthuman in an Age of Humanism. Ed. Edgar Landgraf, Gabriel Trop, and Leif Weatherby. Bloomsbury Press. 2018 (pp. 165- 181).

“You Are What You Will: Kant, Schopenhauer, Facial Expression of Emotion, and Affective Computing.” German Life and Letters. Special Issue on Embodied Knowledge and/in the Age of Goethe. 70:4 (October 2017), 266-277.

“Kant, Calculus, Consciousness: The Mathematical Infinite in Us.” Goethe Yearbook 23 (2016), 95-121.

“Ceci n’est pas un manifeste! Envisioning Europe and European Studies.” In Visions of Europe: Interdisciplinary Contributions to Contemporary Cultural Debates. Berliner Beiträge zur Literatur- und Kulturgeschichte. Eds. Anke
Biendarra and Gail K. Hart. Frankfurt a.M: Peter Lang, 2014.

“Friedrich Schlegel’s Calculus: Reflections on the Mathematical Infinite around 1800.” In Dalia Nasser, ed. The Relevance of Romanticism. Oxford University Press, 2014.

“Leibniz Reception around 1800: Monadic Vitalism and Harmony in Schleiermacher’s Reden über die Religion and Schlegel’s Lucinde.” In Elizabeth Kimmerer and Patricia Simpson, Religion, Reason, and Culture in the Age of Goethe. Camden House. Camden House: 2013.

“Novelle and/as Ereignis: Heidegger and ‘Poietic’ Realism.” Seminar 48:4 (Nov.2012):417-439.

“The Infinitesimal as Theological Principle: Representing the Paradoxes of God and Nothing in Cohen, Rosenzweig, Scholem, and Barth.” MLN 127 (2012):562–588.

“Living Religion as Vanishing Mediator: Schleiermacher, Early Romanticism, and Idealism.” German Quarterly 84.2 (Spring 2011):137-158.

“Nietzsche’s Decadent Will and große Gesundheit: Psychology, Sexualized Maladies de volonté, and große Politik.” German Studies Review 34.2(2011):399-418.

“Heretical Thinking Then and Now: Jewish-Christian Dialectics in the Interwar Period.”Franz Rosenzweig Jahrbuch 6, 2011.

Introduction and “Die Gretchenfrage—Goethe and Philosophies of Religion around 1800.” In: Goethe and Idealism: Art, Science, Religion, and Philosophy—1790-1817. Edited with Elizabeth Millán-Zaibert. Goethe Yearbook 18 (2011): 3-10; 183-203.

“Rhetorik und Stylistik in der Philosophie / Rhetoric and Stylistics in Philosophy.” Encyclopedia entry for Rhetoric and Stylistics: An International Handbook of Historical and Systematic Research. Ed. Ulla Fix, Andreas Gardt and Joachim Knape. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter: 2010.

“Good Willing and the Practice of Friendship—A Dialogue.” Literary Paternity/Literary Friendship. Ed. Gerhard Richter, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002 (17-38).

“Thesen über den deutschen Willen.” Die nationale Identität der Deutschen: Philosophische Imaginationen und historische Realität deutscher Mentalität. Ed. Wolfgang Bialas. Frankfurt a.M./Berlin: Peter Lang, 2002 (231-48).

“Lessings didaktisch-dialektisches Testament für uns, ‘die wir itzt leben’; oder, How Erziehung Makes a Difference.” Lessing-Yearbook [Eds. Georg Braungart and Richard Schade]. 1999.

“Of Spirit(s) and Will(s).” Hegel After Derrida. Ed. Stuart Barnett. New York and London: Routledge, 1998. 64-90.

“Nietzsche’s ‘Will to Power’: Politics Beyond (Hegelian) Recognition.” New German Critique 73 (Summer, 1998) 133-63.

“Does Feminism Have/Need a Will of its Own?” Proceedings of the Fifth Conference of the International Society for the Study of European Ideas (ISSEI), Memory, History, and Critique: European Identity at the Millenium. Eds. Frank Brinkhuis and Sascha Talmor. Cambridge: MIT Press (CD Rom), 1997 (17 ms. pages).

“Sighting the Spirit: Rhetorical Visions of Geist in Hegel’s Enzyklopädie.” Sites of Vision: The Discursive Construction of Sight in the History of Philosophy. Ed. David M. Levin. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997. 241-64.

“Wie männlich ist der Wille? Ein ethischer Grundbegriff, andersrum.” Wann ist ein Mann ein Mann? Ed. Walter Erhart. Stuttgart: Metzler Verlag, 1997. 114-33.

“Was erben wir vom Willen der Aufklärung?” Nach der Aufklärung? Beiträge zum Diskurs der Kulturwissenschaften. Eds. Wolfgang Klein and Waltraud-Naumann Beyer. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1995. 263-76.

“Queering the Will.” Spec Issue of symploke (The Next Generation) 3.1 (Winter, 1995) 7-28.

“The Language of Mastery and the Mastery of Language: The Recognition of Rhetoric in Hegel.” Spec. issue of Clio, A Journal of Literature, History, Philosophy of History (Donald P. Verene. Memory and Imagination: Hegel, Vico, and Cassirer) 23.4 (Summer 1994) 377-395.

“The ‘Transcendance’ of the Individual." Diacritics 19.2 (1989) 80-98.

“Abulia: Sexuality and Diseases of the Will in the Late Nineteenth Century.” Genders 6 (Fall 1989) 102-124.

“Cultivating Gender: Sexual Difference and (the) Bildung(sroman).” Spec. issue of Michigan German Studies (on the Bildungsroman) 13.2 (Fall 1987) 206-225.

“U-Topian Hegel: Dialectic and its Other in Poststructuralism." German Quarterly 60.2 (1987) 237-61.

“The Call of the Letter; or, the Textual Identity of Handke’s Kurzer Brief zum langen Abschied.” Knjizevna Kritika (Literary Criticism) 1 (1986) 52-62.

“Dialogic Midwifery in Kleist’s Marquise von O and the Hermeneutics of Telling the Untold in Kant and Plato.” PMLA 100.2 (March, 1985) 203-19.

“Polemical Rhetoric and the Dialectics of Kritik in Hegel’s Jena Essays.” Rhetoric and Philosophy 18.1 (1985) 31-57
Humboldt Foundation (1991-92); Fulbright Faculty Research (1998-99); Humboldt Foundation (2004, 2010, and 2013); National Humanities Center (2018)
Other Experience
Rt. Hon. John G. Diefenbaker Chair in German Literary Studies
Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies, University of Waterloo, Ontario 2012—2013

Research Center
Friedrich-Schlegel-Graduiertenschule, Freie Universität (Berlin), 2010-11
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