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Robert Cowan


Robert Cowan has taught at the City University of New York since 1998, at Kingsborough since 2008, and at Vassar College. He is the author of The Indo-German Identification: Reconciling South Asian Origins and European Destinies, 1765-1885 (Camden House, 2010), which was nominated for the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst/German Studies Association Book Prize, and is continuing his work on intellectual history and identity politics in a book project entitled Negative Ethics. His essays, poetry, and fiction have appeared in publications as diverse as Bayou, The Chronicle Review, Clio, Commonweal, The Comparatist, German Studies Review, Mayday, Monatshefte für deutschsprachige Literatur und Kultur, and Word Riot, among others. His work has been supported by the American Comparative Literature Association, Columbia University, the Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and various units of CUNY.

Selected Administrative Duties
Assistant Coordinator, Coordinated Undergraduate Education Program
Coordinator, Study Abroad
Editor, Distinctions: Kingsborough Honors Journal
Writing Fellows Coordinator, Writing Across the Curriculum Program


ENG 12: Freshman Composition I
ENG 24: Freshman Composition II
ENG 30: Introduction to Literature
ENG 35: Modern European Literature
ENG 40: Short Fiction
ENG 42: Poetry
ENG 65: Literature & Film
ENG 92: Developing Competence in Reading & Writing


Ph.D. Comparative Literature, The Graduate Center, CUNY, 2006
M.A. Comparative Literature, The Graduate Center, CUNY, 2004
B.A. Comparative Literature, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, 1994

College Teaching
2008-15 Kingsborough Community College, CUNY
2010, 12-13   Vassar College
2006-08 Hunter College, CUNY
2002-03 Queensborough Community College, CUNY
2000-01 Queens College, CUNY

Baruch College, CUNY

Selected Publications and/or Other Resources


Negative Ethics: How the Disenfranchised Identify with the Literature of Dissent (in progress)

1985: speculative memoirs (under consideration)

Sense Will Pass Away: a novel, with suicide notes (under consideration)

The Indo-German Identification: Reconciling South Asian Origins and European Destinies, 1765-1885. Studies in German Literature, Linguistics, & Culture. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2010

Essays on Literature & Philosophy

“Schopenhauer Lead Me to a Retarded Enlightenment.” Für eine neue Aufklärung. Camden House (forthcoming).

“Boys Will Not Be Boys: Idolizing the Inhuman in Musil’s Törless.” Clio: A Journal of Literature, History, and the Philosophy of History 44.1 (Spring 2015)

“The Fatality of Romanticism vs. The Metaphysics of Sexual Love: Wagner’s Love Letter to Schopenhauer and the Break-Up with Nietzsche.” Monatshefte für deutschsprachige Literatur und Kultur 106.1 (Jan 2014)

“New Models for Indo-German Scholarship within the Critical Reappraisal of Orientalism.” The Comparatist 34 (Jun 2010)

“Fear of Infinity: Friedrich Schlegel’s Indictment of Indian Philosophy in Über die Sprache und die Weisheit der Indier.” The German Quarterly 81.3 (Sum 2008)

“Nietzsche’s Attempted Escape from Schopenhauer’s South Asian Sources in The Birth of Tragedy.” German Studies Review 30.3 (Oct 2007)

Essays on Education

“ACDC Agency: Literature, Food, and Politics with Community-College Students at Vassar.” Radical Teacher (under consideration)

“Kill All Your Darlings: What College is For.” Teaching Literature in Community College Classrooms, Volume II. Margaret Barrow and Manya Steinkoler, eds. Cambridge Scholars Press (forthcoming).

“Honors vs. Dishonors: Who Goes on to Columbia and Who Goes back to Sing Sing.” Commonweal (6 Mar 2015)

“My Brokedown English is Secondhand Nature.” The Chronicle Review (17 Oct 2014)

“Unsentimental Education.” The Chronicle of Higher Education (27 Mar 2014),

“Out of Ignorance: Using Child Slave Narratives to Combat Human Trafficking in New York City.” Teaching Literature in Community College Classrooms: Traversing Practices. New York: McGraw-Hill (Nov 2012)

Poetry, Short Fiction, & Creative Nonfiction

“Close Call with Siberian Kick-boxers: How Lao-Tzu and Joyce Understand Fate.” Mayday 11 (Summer 2014),

“Return to Elements,” “Replacement for Words,” and “A Visit to the Raccoons.” Skidrow Penthouse 15 (Spring 2013)

“Attack Shirt Phone Refuge,” “Paratroopers in Space,” and “Vapors.” Word Riot 12.11 (Nov 2012),

“Cheshire Cat (Cuento de Ada IV).” Bayou 50 (2008)

Events and/or Key Dates

Recent Selected Presentations

2015 “As Persons: Literature and Real Power.” ACLA annual convention, U of Washington, Seattle, WA (26-29 Mar)

“Teaching Democratic Literature as Negative Ethics.” American Democracy Project/The Democracy Commitment National Meeting. Louisville, KY (5-7 Jun)

“ACDC Agency: Food and Politics with Community-College Students at Vassar.” Transitions and Transactions II: Literature and Creative Writing Pedagogies in Community Colleges. Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY, New York, NY (25-27 Apr)

“Bursting Our Bubbles: Sloterdijk and Our Ethical Future.” ACLA annual convention, New York University, New York, NY (20-23 Mar)


“Schopenhauer Lead Me to a Retarded Enlightenment,” “Für eine neue Aufklärung” Special Seminar: Strategies for Developing New Concepts of Enlightenment. GSA annual convention, Denver, CO (3-6 Oct)

“Valences of History,” Invited Moderator. GSA annual convention, Denver, CO (3-6 Oct)

“Inspired by Pessimism: Why We Need Negative Thinking.” International Comparative Literature Association (ICLA) triennial congress. Université Paris-Sorbonne, France (18-24 Jul)

“I Contradict You Because I Care: Negation as Ethical Response.” ACLA annual convention, University of Toronto, Canada (4-7 Apr)

Research Interests

The relationships among identity, inequality, and ethics in post-Enlightenment Continental European literature, philosophy, and intellectual history, in particular, German Orientalism, Counter-Enlightenment thought, contemporary critical theory; Critical Pedagogy

Awards Recognition, Distinctions and Grants
Recent Honors
2013-14  Research Award (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France), Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York (PSC-CUNY)
2010-11 Faculty Fellowship Publications Program, CUNY

Research Award (Richard-Wagner-Museum & Nationalarchiv, Bayreuth, Germany), PSC-CUNY

President’s Faculty Innovation Award, Kingsborough CC, CUNY


Seminar Associate, South Asia Seminar, Columbia University

William Stewart Travel Award, CUNY Academy for the Humanities & Sciences

Institutional Affiliations / Professional Societies

American Comparative Literature Association
German Studies Association
International Comparative Literature Association
Modern Language Association

Personal Interests

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