Marton Dornbach

Visiting Assistant Professor in German
Director of Undergraduate Studies for German

Program: German
Gilman 481
Tuesday 3:30-5:30 p.m. and by appointment
Curriculum Vitae

Marton Dornbach came to Johns Hopkins in 2016. His research and teaching interests include literature, philosophy, aesthetics, and philosophical anthropology from the Enlightenment to the present, with a side interest in Central European culture.

His first book, titled Receptive Spirit: German Idealism and the Dynamics of Cultural Transmission (Fordham University Press, 2016), demonstrates that the notion of spontaneous mental activity at the heart of German idealism, far from underwriting a call for a clean slate, prompted a radical rethinking of humans’ receptivity toward culturally transmitted models of thought, evaluation, and creativity. By examining the relevant innovations of Kant, Fichte, Friedrich Schlegel, and Hegel in view of more recent arguments developed by Gadamer and McDowell, the book underscores the enduring vitality of the German idealist paradigm.

A second book, titled The Saving Line: Benjamin, Adorno, and the Caesuras of Hope (Northwestern University Press, forthcoming), reconstructs a hidden dialogue between Walter Benjamin’s major essay on Goethe’s Elective Affinities and Adorno’s meditation on the Odyssey, two seminal works of the Frankfurt School that establish a diagnosis of the derailment of the Enlightenment project via philosophical reflection on literary narration. Equally attentive to philosophical concerns, literary form, and critical strategies, the book develops a novel account of the relationship between Benjamin and Adorno, the problematic conjunction of secular reason and theology in their works, and their responses to ancient and modern legacies against the backdrop of 20th-century historical experience.

A third book project deals with a family of philosophical frameworks–developed by F. W. J. Schelling, Arthur Schopenhauer, Helmuth Plessner, Martin Heidegger, and Hans Jonas–that purport to specify the distinctiveness of the human being against the foil of non-human forms of life. Beside helping us clarify the role that analogical thinking, and in particular anthropomorphism, must inevitably play in any non-reductionist understanding of nature, this body of work strengthens the case for a humanism that is not narrowly anthropocentric.

Undergraduate courses taught at Johns Hopkins

  • Short Forms in German Literature
  • Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain
  • Panorama of German Thought: Humanity and Its Limits
  • Unheimlicher Realismus
  • Die Erfindung der Moderne
  • Outsiders, Outlaws, Outcasts
  • Freshman Seminar: Friedrich Nietzsche
  • German Idealist Aesthetics

Graduate courses taught at Johns Hopkins

  • Humanity in Question: Plessner, Heidegger, Jonas
  • Nietzsche
  • Hölderlin and His Readers
  • Music, Poetry, Voice (co-taught with Prof. Rochelle Tobias)
  • The Frankfurt School

The Saving Line: Benjamin, Adorno, and the Caesuras of Hope (Northwestern University Press, forthcoming)

“Hölderlin’s Local Abstraction: The Natural-Historical Sublime in ‘Voice of the People’,” forthcoming in ed. Rochelle Tobias, Hölderlin’s Philosophy of Nature (Edinburgh University Press, 2020)

Receptive Spirit: German Idealism and the Dynamics of Cultural Transmission (Fordham University Press, 2016)

“Hungary’s Autocratic Turn: Local, Regional, and Global Lessons,” ISEEES Newsletter (Institute of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, Spring/Summer 2015) 6-10, web:

“F. W. J. Schelling,” “Kunstreligion,” “Georg Gottfried Gervinus” in Cambridge Wagner Encyclopedia, ed. Nicholas Vázsonyi (Cambridge University Press, 2013)

“Remains of the Picnic: Post-Transition Hungary and Its Austro-Hungarian Past,” Austrian History Yearbook (Cambridge University Press, 2013) 255-291.

“Renouncing Divinity: The Philadelphia Story Viewed in a Wagnerian Mirror,” Search: Journal for New Music and Culture (2011/8) 1-39.

“The Point Well Missed: Kant’s Punctual I and Schopenhauer’s Optics of Philosophical Writing,” Modern Language Notes 124.3 (April 2009) 614-637.

Review of The Theory of Inspiration: Composition as a Crisis of Subjectivity in Romantic and Post-Romantic writing by Timothy Clark, Studies in Romanticism 42.2 (2003) 289-294.