University of Rochester

Professor Honored with National Book Prize

December 3, 2004

Susan E. Gustafson, professor of German and director of the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Rochester, has received the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) 2004 Book Prize from the German Studies Association (GSA).

The award is presented for the outstanding book on German language, literature, or cultural studies published during the preceding two years. Gustafson was honored for her work Men Desiring Men: The Poetry of Same-Sex Identity and Desire in German Classicism (Wayne State University Press, 2002).

In presenting the award, the GSA noted that Gustafson’s book “combines literary criticism, close reading, and gender and gay studies in an original, sophisticated, and productive way. It also makes a valuable and stimulating contribution to the area of German Classicism, a major field in the study and teaching of German . . . Gustafson’s study makes careful, critical use of previous scholarship and is innovative both as a new approach to German Classicism and as an intervention in the ongoing debates about gender and gay studies.”

In her groundbreaking book, Gustafson challenges the assumption of philosopher Michel Foucault that homosexual identity first arose in the medical, psychoanalytical, and legal discourses of the late 19th century. Referring to 18th and early 19th century German literature, Gustafson shows writers were already consciously developing a poetic language to express their same-sex longing a century earlier, leading to a sense of identity and community.

Gustafson looks at how same sex orientation was described in 18th century court testimony before examining literary representations. Focusing on the major figures of German classicism—including art historian and archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann and writers Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Karl Philipp Moritz—she uses correspondence, drama, novels, novellas, and poetry to examine how the men constructed themselves as subjects who desire men.

“Much can and should be said about the intellectual rigor and theoretical sophistication of Susan Gustafson’s scholarship, but I think that, in addition, the DAAD/GSA award embodies well-deserved recognition of just how excitingly provocative and innovative her contributions to German literary and cultural studies are,” said Claudia Schaefer, chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures. “She has always sought out distinctive and unique readings to illuminate long-held canonical works, and entreats us to engage with familiar texts in new ways. This award is an admirable achievement of which the Modern Languages and Cultures department is truly proud.”

A University of Rochester faculty member since 1987, Gustafson teaches courses in comparative literature, German literature and culture, and women’s studies She is also the author of Absent Mothers and Orphaned Fathers: Narcissism and Abjection in Lessing’s Aesthetic and Dramatic Production, a study of the role of the mother in the work of 18th century German critic and dramatist Lessing.

The German Studies Association is the international association of scholars in all fields of German studies. The DAAD Book Prize is presented to scholars working in North American institutions. It is awarded in alternate years for books in the German studies and humanities fields and in the history and social science fields.

Note to Editors: Gustafson is a resident of Rochester.