Gellen leads discussion on ‘Exploring the Solitude of Others’


Ich habe den Bau eingerichtet und er scheint wohlgelungen.
“I have completed the construction of my burrow and it seems to be successful.”

The first line of Franz Kafka’s 1923 story “The Burrow” feels so final – especially in the original German. So what kind of a story begins at the ending? And who is this protagonist that is so fixated on security and safety?

German Studies Associate Professor and Kafka scholar Kata Gellen led a group of Duke undergraduates in a discussion of these and other elements of the text as part of a new discussion series, Exploring Self and Community in Dark Times. The sessions for first- and second-year students center on topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and involve examining the world through a humanities lens.

“A year before the pandemic started, I taught an upper-level German seminar called Stories of Entrapment,” Gellen said. “As soon as we went into lockdown last spring, I found myself returning to that class and wondering what the literature and film of isolation could teach us about our present circumstance.

“I was intrigued to revisit Kafka’s story with a new group of students, six months into the pandemic, to see what insights they had into the text and what the text might illuminate about their personal experiences.”

Though much of the discussion about COVID-19 has focused on health care and policy, these times also highlight the relevance of rigorous, critical humanistic thinking. It’s an opportunity to better understand ourselves in relationship to each other and to the world, noted German Studies Chair Stefani Engelstein, who served on the working group that created the discussion series.

All sessions are hosted on Zoom and attendance is capped at 16 participants. Register for an upcoming session or learn more about Exploring Self and Community in Dark Times: