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Laurie Ruth Johnson

Acting Head of Germanic Languages and Literatures
Comparative and World Literature
Criticism and Interpretive Theory
European Union Center
Center for Global Studies

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Ph.D. Washington University , M.A. Washington University, B.A. Northwestern University, Study at the Universities of Tübingen, Regensburg, Cologne

Specializations / Research Interests

Romanticism, visual studies, literature and philosophy, literature and psychoanalysis, memory studies

Distinctions / Awards

  • DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Faculty Research Visit Grant, Berlin, 2015
  • Visiting Professor, Department of Literary Studies, University of Ghent, 2014-2015
  • Campus Workshop Facilitator and Faculty Coach, National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity
  • Elected to the Executive Committee on 18th- and Early 19th-Century German Literature, Modern Language Association, 2015-2020 term
  • Mid-Career Faculty Release-Time Program Award, 2014
  • Dean's Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Illinois, 2009
  • Helen Corley Petit Scholar, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Illinois, 2007-2008
  • James A. Hagan Teaching Fellow, LAS Teaching Academy, University of Illinois, 2006-2007
  • Dean's Teaching Fellow, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Illinois, 2006-2007
  • Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Research Fellowship (nine months), awarded 2003
  • Fellow, Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, Vanderbilt University, 1999-2000


My latest book, Forgotten Dreams, will be out in early 2016 with Camden House Press. More information about this book is below.

Currently I am focusing on two major new projects: 1) a project on ethics and aesthetics in contemporary documentary films treating the veracity (or unreliability) of testimonies of war and armed conflict; 2) a project on the aesthetics of psychoanalysis (going back to Friedrich Schelling, an important influence on Freud). Publications and papers related to these new projects include a forthcoming article on the Studies on Hysteria  (Freud/Breuer; forthcoming in 2015), and a talk on Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing  (2012) at the conference "Ethics of Storytelling: Historical Imagination in Contemporary Literature, Media, and Visual Arts" in Turku, Finland in 2015. I was named a finalist and alternate for a Fulbright Scholar grant in 2015 based on work toward both of these new projects.

More broadly, I work on eighteenth- through twenty-first-century intellectual history, literature, philosophy, film, and culture, with particular emphasis on Romanticism and its afterlife. I earned the B.A. from Northwestern University and the M.A. and Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis. While completing the Ph.D. I taught at St. Louis Community College and at the College of Wooster. I have done research at the universities of Cologne, Regensburg, and Tübingen as well as at the Deutsches Literaturarchiv (Marbach), and at the Deutsche Kinemathek (Berlin). I am a recipient of Fulbright, Humboldt, and German Academic Exchange Service grants. I have been a member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University as well as at the University of Illinois, where I joined the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures in 2001. In 2014-2015, I was Visiting Professor at the University of Ghent, Belgium.

I have published in English and in German, on a wide variety of topics and time periods, from the middle ages to the present. My publications, including three books and over twenty articles and essays, address topics including the aesthetics of empirical psychology, the mind-body problem in early German romanticism and idealism, music composed during the Holocaust, Freud's nineteenth-century heritage, memory and literature, the epistemological function of psychosomata in literature and culture, and the vexed relation between romanticism, empathy, and alterity. My work engages intellectual history in order to make connections across eras and disciplines: what are the continuities and discontinuities between, say, Romanticism and our present? between philosophy and film? between discursiveness and experience? My primarily socio-historical methodology illuminates said connections while remaining anchored in close reading and careful attention to discrete historical contexts.

My third and most recent book, Forgotten Dreams: Revisiting Romanticism in the Cinema of Werner Herzog, engages with my career-long project of exploring and defining alternate trajectories of Romanticism What is the meaning of Romanticism for our present? Forgotten Dreamsengages this question by establishing a feedback loop between (partially forgotten) aspects of Romanticism, German cultural history, and the films of Werner Herzog (throughout his entire career).  I use films as devices for better understanding Romanticism, while at the same time developing a revised understanding of Romanticism as a toolbox for working with cinema. I trace major conceptual threads in both Romanticism and Herzog’s films and note where and how they are interwoven in what I claim is a romantic cinema. The book is thus a contribution to the intellectual and cultural history of Romanticism as well as to film studies and Herzog scholarship. Forgotten Dreams  will appear in the series "Screen Cultures - German Film and the Visual" (eds. Johannes von Moltke/Michigan and Gerd Gemünden/Dartmouth). 

My second book, Aesthetic Anxiety (Rodopi, 2010) argued for the centrality of aesthetics in modern subjectivity by analyzing uncanny repetition in psychology, literature, philosophy, and film. I explored ways in which anxiety illuminates the mind-body problem in German cultural products from the late eighteenth through early twentieth centuries, and emphasize Romanticism’s function as an engine of modernity.

A review of Aesthetic Anxiety  on is available at: review of Aesthetic Anxiety appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of The German Quarterly (85.2), pp. 219-221. 

My first book, The Art of Recollection in Jena Romanticism (Niemeyer, 2002) examines representations of memory and remembering in the 1790s, and argued that Romantic theories of memory reflect the insights not only of eighteenth-century aesthetic theory and critical philosophy, but of contemporary psychology and of natural science.

Recently I edited a special issue of Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies  (50.3/2014) on the theme of "The New German Romanticism." I also am editing a volume of new psychoanalytic readings of folk and fairy tales (Freud and the Fairy Tale: New Approaches to Very Old Stories), inspired in part by my experiences teaching a course on fairy tales at the University of Illinois. Those same experiences informed my recent contribution to a book on the relation between teaching and research at Illinois (Illinois Sampler: Teaching and Research on the Prairie, eds. Antoinette Burton and Mary-Ann Winkelmes with Kyle Mays, University of Illinois Press, 2014). The book was produced with a number of faculty members at Illinois working collaboratively in workshops over the course of the 2012-2013 academic year. Contributing to the workshops and the volume was a highlight of my career, and I am very grateful to the editors for the opportunity.

Links to several papers and publications, ranging from a paper on the history of the German university to an essay on Gibson's Spook Country, are on my page at

I have organized four conferences or symposia at Illinois, and I very much enjoy putting conference panels and discussions together. In Fall 2013, May Mergenthaler (Ohio State University) and I led a seminar at the German Studies Association Conference that was part of a new pilot program for such sessions. Our three-day event was entitled "Recycling Romanticism," and brought 24 scholars together to discuss the very latest work in the field, in addition to exploring new readings and manifestations of older work. Several of the scholars in this seminar contributed articles to the aforementioned special issue of the journal Seminar  in 2014. 

I am very committed to the incredible Midwest Symposium in German Studies, a rigorous, intense scholarly forum that combines the best aspects of humanistic inquiry with a compassionate, engaged atmosphere. It was an honor to organize two meetings of the Midwest Symposium  at Illinois. Each spring, scholars from around the region gather each April for an exciting and productive discussion of current research and developments in the field. Participating institutions include the Ohio State University, Northwestern University, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Illinois-Chicago, Case Western Reserve University, Indiana University, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Michigan, the University of Missouri, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Please see my website at for more information.



  • Johnson, Laurie R. Forgotten Dreams: Revisiting Romanticism in the Cinema of Werner Herzog. Rochester: Camden House, 2016.
  • Johnson, Laurie R. Aesthetic Anxiety: Uncanny Symptoms in German Literature and Culture. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2010.
  • Johnson, Laurie R. The Art of Recollection in Jena Romanticism. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2002.

Book Contributions

  • Johnson, Laurie R. "The Studies on Hysteria and the Haunted Past of Psychoanalysis." Das Unheimliche, Gespenstische und Spukhafte. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2015.
  • Johnson, Laurie R. "Prairie Tales: The Life of the Lecture at Illinois." An Illinois Sampler: Teaching and Research on the Prairie. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014.
  • Johnson, Laurie R. "Recovered Voices: Viktor Ullmann’s Der zerbrochene Krug (1942)." Heinrich von Kleist – Style and Concept: Explorations in Literary Dissonance. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2013.
  • "Werner Herzog’s Romantic Spaces." Companion to Werner Herzog. 2012.
  • "Das 'ewig ringende, nie seyende Sein.' Schelling und das Unheimliche." Phantasmata. Techniken des Unheimlichen. 2011.
  • "The Curse of Enthusiasm: William Lovell and Modern Violence." Violence, Aesthetics, Culture: Germany, 1789-1938. Amsterdam: 2011.
  • "Die Lesbarkeit des romantischen Körpers – Über Psychosomatik und Text in Fallstudien von Karl Philipp Moritz und Friedrich Schlegel." Die Lesbarkeit der Romantik. Material, Medium, Diskurs. 2009.
  • Johnson, Laurie R. "Enlightenment According to Don Alfonso: Perilous Progress in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte." Practicing Progress: The Promise and Limitations of Enlightenment. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007.
  • Johnson, Laurie R. "Geschichte als Erinnerungsfragment in der Philosophie Friedrich Schlegels." Zeitenwende - Die Germanistik auf dem Weg vom 20. ins 21. Jahrhundert. Bern: Peter Lang, 2002.
  • Johnson, Laurie R. "Psychic and Corporeal Displacement in Kleist's Die Familie Schroffenstein." Kleists Erzählungen und Dramen. Neue Studien. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2001.
  • Johnson, Laurie R. "Bringing Chaos Into the System: The Aesthetic Authority of Disorder in Friedrich Schlegel's Philosophical Fragments." Disrupted Patterns: On Chaos and Order in the Enlightenment. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000.

Journal Articles

  • "Uncanny Love: Schelling's Meditations on the Spirit World." Image & Narrative 11.3 (2010): 64-86.
  • Johnson, Laurie R. "The Romantic and Modern Practice of Animal Magnetism." Women in German Yearbook 23 (2007):
  • Johnson, Laurie R. "Dorothea Veit-Schlegel's Florentin and the Early Romantic Model of Alterity." Monatshefte 97.1 (2005):
  • Johnson, Laurie R. "Wenn man selbst Briefe schreiben will, so vergesse man die Exempel: The Construction of Imitation as Originality in C.F. Gellert's Epistolary Theory." Wezel-Jahrbuch 2 (1999):
  • Johnson, Laurie R. "Wozu überhaupt ein Anfang? Memory and History in Heinrich von Ofterdingen." Colloquia Germanica 31.1 (1998):
  • Johnson, Laurie R. "Neophilologus." Reading the Excursus on Women as a Model of 'Modern' Temporality in Gottfried's Tristan 82.2 (1998):


  • Johnson, Laurie R. "The Conquest of Dreams." The Werner Herzog Collection. London: British Film Institute, 2014.

Website Articles

Encyclopedia Entries

  • Johnson, Laurie R. "Germany, Austria, Switzerland: Romanticism and Life Writing." Encyclopedia of Life Writing. London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001.
  • Johnson, Laurie R. "Heinrich Heine." Encyclopedia of Life Writing. London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000.
  • Johnson, Laurie R., and Carl H. Niekerk. "German Poetry 1750-1850." Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Courses Taught

  • Freud, Nietzsche, Kafka
  • Modern Critical Theory: An Advanced Introduction
  • German Cultural History (Middle Ages to the Present)
  • The Dark Side of Modernity
  • The Grimms’ Fairy Tales in Their European Context
  • German Idealism and Romanticism Conversation
  • Introduction to German Literature: Classicism to Postmodernism
  • Advanced German Composition and Conversation