Herbert Lindenberger, 1929-2018

Tributes paid to founder of Stanford University’s department of comparative literature

December 6, 2018
Herbert Lindenberger
Source: Kevin Ng Photography

A highly versatile scholar who founded Stanford University’s department of comparative literature has died.

Herbert Lindenberger was born in 1929 and grew up in Seattle. He studied literature at Antioch College (1951) and went on to do a PhD in comparative literature at the University of Washington, Seattle (1955). He had teaching positions at the University of California, Riverside and at Washington University in St Louis but spent the bulk of his career at Stanford. He arrived there in 1969 to set up a graduate programme in comparative literature, which became a separate department in 1987, and he eventually retired as emeritus professor of English and of comparative literature in 2001. He was also closely involved in the creation of the Stanford Humanities Center, where he served as interim director from 1991 to 1992.

In launching Stanford’s comparative literature programme, Professor Lindenberger made it a distinctive condition (which still applies today) that students must know at least three languages besides their own. He was himself an expert in English, French and German literature of the 19th and 20th centuries, and throughout his career he published books in these fields such as On Wordsworth’s “Prelude” (1963), Georg Büchner (1964), Historical Drama: The Relation of Literature and Reality (1978) and The History in Literature: On Value, Genre, Institutions (1990). He had a passion for opera and an almost perfect recall for all the productions he had ever seen, which was reflected in three further books.

Yet even this does not capture the full range of Professor Lindenberger’s output, which also included more personal writing such as Dogstory: A Memoir in Hypertext (1999) and, after retirement, One Family’s Shoah: Victimization, Resistance, Survival in Nazi Europe (2013). His final work, co-authored with Frederick Luis Aldama, was Aesthetics of Discomfort: Conversations on Disquieting Art (2016).

“He was a maverick figure in his field because he wrote unconventional books that didn’t resemble each other,” said Roland Greene, the current director of Stanford’s department of comparative literature. He also described Professor Lindenberger as “a force of nature” who “threw himself into things and was fearless about it. He really knew how to make decisions that could affect a lot of people for the better in the long run.” Examples included his involvement in reforming the university’s policy on faculty housing and actively opening up the literature curriculum in the 1980s to a more diverse range of authors.

Professor Lindenberger died of multiple myeloma cancer and is survived by his wife Claire, a son, a daughter and two grandchildren.


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