Portrait of Dr Ian Cooper

Dr Ian Cooper

Lecturer in German


Dr Ian Cooper read Modern Languages at Cambridge and took his PhD there in 2007. He came to the University of Kent in 2012 following fellowships in Cambridge and Germany. In 2014-16 he was Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study (Lichtenberg-Kolleg) at the University of Göttingen.

Research interests

Ian's main research interests lie in the intersection between literature in German and English (primarily poetry) and philosophy in the aftermath of German post-Kantian thought up to and including Heidegger. 

He published The Near and Distant God: Poetry, Idealism and Religious Thought from Hölderlin to Eliot with Legenda in 2008, and Poetry and the Question of Modernity from Heidegger to the Present is currently under contract with Routledge. 

In addition to publishing numerous journal articles on topics in literature, philosophy and art, Ian was co-editor of volume three (on Aesthetics and Literature) of Cambridge University Press' series The Impact of Idealism: The Legacy of Post-Kantian German Thought (2013). More recently he has co-edited Literature and Religion in the German-Speaking World: 1200 to the Present (forthcoming with Cambridge University Press).


Ian teaches German literature and culture from 1750 the present, as well as German language at all levels. He has supervised doctoral work on nineteenth and twentieth-century German literature and philosophy. 



  • Cooper, I. (2017). Winterabende: A Romantic and Post-Romantic Motif in Friedrich, Büchner and Stifter. Publications of the English Goethe Society [Online] 86:42-54. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/09593683.2017.1282006.
    This article traces the motif of winter evening in a painting by Caspar David Friedrich, in Georg Büchner’s Lenz and in Adalbert Stifter’s Bergkristall, showing how it is used to convey Romantic convictions about death and transcendence, and how it is subsequently a vehicle of post-Romantic explorations of finitude. The article argues that winter ‘Abenddämmerung’ is in Friedrich a central element of the Romantic subject’s relation to landscape and is related to Schleiermacher’s thoughts on religion; that in Lenz it is associated with the subject’s dislocation; and that in Bergkristall it is a moment in which a form of historical life fades and changes.
  • Cooper, I. (2015). Theodor Storm and Disenchantment. German Life and Letters [Online] 68:584-597. Available at: http://doi.org/10.1111/glal.12101.
  • Cooper, I. and Holmes, D. (2015). Kurze Rede, langer Sinn: the nineteenth-century German short prose narrative Cooper, I. and Holmes, D. eds. German Life and Letters [Online] 68:497-503. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/glal.12094.
  • Cooper, I. (2012). Law, Tragedy, Spirit: Hölderlin contra Agamben. Journal of Literary Theory [Online] 6:195-212. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/jlt-2011-0007.
    This article takes references to Friedrich Hölderlin in the work of Giorgio Agamben as a basis for proposing a broader view of their philosophical relationship, particularly in respect of the themes treated by Agamben in The Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans. Hölderlin is a frequent but elusive and ambiguous point of reference in Agamben’s work, and the essay begins by examining Agamben’s invocation, in Homo Sacer, of Hölderlin’s translation of, and commentary on, a Pindaric fragment (›Das Höchste‹) in the context of the ›inclusive exclusion‹ and the dynamics of so-called ›bare life‹. This establishes Hölderlin’s suggestive place in Agamben’s account of law. In a further reference to Hölderlin (this time to his commentaries on Greek tragedy), Agamben implies Hölderlin’s significance for his understanding of poetry (as put forward in The End of the Poem). Furthermore, here Agamben suggests that the Hölderlinian concept of caesura bears on his own thought, and thereby connects Hölderlin to the terms of the political theology, derived from Paul, developed in The Time that Remains.

    The thrust of the essay consists in an interrogation of Agamben’s concepts of ›remnant‹ and ›divided division‹, which underlie his messianic political theology. Hölderlin, it is argued, is important for the conceptual structure developed by Agamben in his reading of Paul, and also offers a decisive alternative to the assumptions of Agamben’s project. Questions of law and representation – central themes of The Time that Remains – are treated in Hölderlin’s essay Über Religion (On Religion), which also links these to the violence which Agamben says law inevitably generates. Yet, the article argues, Über Religion suggests a clear difference from Agamben’s political theology, and so a problem for any attempt to co-opt him for the broader terms of Agamben’s philosophy. Where Hölderlin develops a view of law and representation as opening to a sphere of determinate, relational existence in which law and representation are not dispensed with but rather articulate – in their fulfilment and limit – an experience of freedom in love, Agamben takes the messianic division of representation and law to signal a potential overcoming of relation (and so freedom from the sovereign ban explored in Homo Sacer). Hölderlin, it is argued, is both closer to the complexity of Pauline messianic vocation in its relation to law than Agamben, and a powerful corrective to the paradoxes of Agamben’s political theology, defined by the minimal conditions of relation which it needs to admit in order to proceed beyond relation. This is discussed with reference to Agamben’s notion of vocation as a revocation or ›nullifying‹ of determinacy, and the Christological implications of Hölderlin’s analysis of law and desire as it develops from the essay Urtheil und Seyn (Judgement and Being). Dieter Henrich’s analyses of Hölderlin’s thought are employed here.

    In its final section, the essay returns to that area of Hölderlin’s work mentioned by Agamben in his account of poetry – the theory of tragic drama. Antigone can at first sight be seen as exemplifying some of Agamben’s claims about the ›production‹ of bare life: the play demonstrates how what Hölderlin calls the ›lawful calculus‹ of tragedy turns its heroes over to lawlessness while keeping them subject to law – placing them outside the polis but maintaining them in a coercive relation to it. At the same time, Hölderlin’s conception of tragic caesura introduces the idea of a remnant to representation which brings it close to The Time that Remains.However, the Hölderlinian tragic remnant is explicitly named as Spirit, in which representation is not abolished but transfigured, or brought closer to what the essay on religion termed the (spiritual) perfection of law. While Agamben seems to find in Hölderlin a confirmation of that ›messianic‹ time in which law and relations are rendered inoperative and a utopian potential emerges, Hölderlin’s conception of the tragic in fact proposes a reconstitution of law and relational existence under the aegis of (Pauline) love. The essay concludes that Hölderlin thereby offers a powerful (and more properly tragic) alternative to Agamben’s political messianism and its disdain for determinacy.
  • Cooper, I. (2009). Direction, Disruption, Voice: Durs Grünbein's "Historien" and "Neue Historien". The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory [Online] 84:99-121. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3200/GERR.84.2.99-121.
    Focusing on Durs Grünbein's presentation of different "histories" ("Historien"), the author offers an approach to his poetry based on voice—the ways in which Grünbein's voice is constituted by the presence of other voices from the German poetic and philosophical tradition. He begins by discussing the pervasive importance of Celan's voice for Grünbein's attempts to explore different layers of place and time, then uses this as a basis for close readings of several poems. He concludes with an account of Grünbein as post-"Wende" poet that develops a concept of the "aporetic" drawn from Celan, Hölderlin, and Derrida.
  • Cooper, I. (2009). 'Equanimity': Les Murray, Levinas and the Breath of God. Literature and Theology [Online] 23:192-206. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/litthe/frp019.
    This article provides a close reading of Les Murray's poem ‘Equanimity’ in the context of Emmanuel Lévinas’ ethical thought. It argues that Murray's poem can be located in relation to Paul Celan's concept of the ‘turn of breath’, a hermeneutics of voice and address that points to Lévinas' understanding of the face of the other. ‘Equanimity’ both works out a conception of encounter with the other that has strong parallels in Lévinas (particularly concerning the themes of speaking and seeing), and seeks to move beyond an ethics based in difference by incorporating speech and vision into a theology of grace.
  • Cooper, I. (2008). Reading Beyond Community: D.F. Strauss's Das Leben Jesu and Nietzsche's Also sprach Zarathustra. Modern Language Review 103:456-470.
    While Nietzsche's relationship to D. F. Strauss has generally been approached in terms of Nietzsche's attack on Strauss, this article presents a wider intellectual-historical perspective to show that both are part of the philosophical and theological crisis of post-Hegelianism. A study of their major works Das Leben Jesu and Also sprach Zarathustra reveals striking similarities in the problems of language and representation faced by both thinkers.


  • Cooper, I. (2008). The Near and Distant God: Poetry, Idealism and Religious Thought from Hölderlin to Eliot. [Online]. Oxford, UK: Legenda. Available at: http://www.legendabooks.com/titles/isbn/9781906540005.html.
    Poetry and philosophy from the time of Kant to the mid-twentieth century are centrally concerned with the question of how the Spirit — or the Holy Spirit — is present in the world. Cooper argues that a major strand in the development of modern poetry in German and English can be seen as a protracted response to the religious crises of post-Idealist thought. The German tradition develops through poets such as Hölderlin as much as through philosophers such as Hegel and Nietzsche, and in England German ideas profoundly influenced the British Idealist school. This compelling study makes parallel readings of German and English writers, showing that their affinities are deeper and more historically-based than has previously been realised. Eduard Mörike and Gerard Manley Hopkins, both churchmen, each encountered Idealism as students in their respective countries: each responded to it in his spiritual verse. And we find similar parallels in two of the defining works of twentieth-century poetry: Rilke’s Duino Elegies and Eliot’s Four Quartets.

Book section

  • Cooper, I. (2013). Grünbein and Anglo-American Poetry: Dickinson, Pound, Larkin. in: Eskin, M., Leeder, K. and Young, C. eds. Durs Grünbein: A Companion. Berlin, Germany: de Gruyter, pp. 39-66. Available at: http://www.degruyter.com/view/product/43643.
  • Cooper, I. (2013). Idealism in Nineteenth-Century German Literature. in: Boyle, N. and Disley, E. eds. The Impact of Idealism: The Legacy of Post-Kantian German Thought. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 92-120.
  • Cooper, I. (2013). "Short of History": Les Murray and the Communion of Saints. in: Walker, J. ed. The Present Word: Culture, Society and the Site of Literature - Essays in Honour of Nicholas Boyle. Oxford, UK: Legenda, pp. 80-91.
  • Cooper, I. (2008). Nietzsche, Money and Bildung. in: Siemens, H. and Roodt, V. eds. Nietzsche, Power and Politics: Rethinking Nietzsche's Legacy for Political Thought. Berlin, Germany: De Gruyter, pp. 605-629.

Edited book

  • Cooper, I. (2013). The Impact of Idealism: The Legacy of Post-Kantian German Thought: Volume 3: Aesthetics and Literature. [Online]. Jamme, C. and Cooper, I. eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Available at: http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/history/history-ideas-and-intellectual-history/impact-idealism-legacy-post-kantian-german-thought-volume-3.
    The first study of its kind, The Impact of Idealism assesses the impact of classical German philosophy on science, religion and culture. This third volume explores German Idealism's impact on the literature, art and aesthetics of the last two centuries. Each essay focuses on the legacy of an idea or concept from the high point of German philosophy around 1800, tracing out its influence on the intervening period and its importance for contemporary discussions. As well as a broad geographical and historical range, including Greek tragedy, George Eliot, Thomas Mann and Samuel Beckett, and key musicians and artists such as Wagner, Andy Warhol and Frank Lloyd Wright, the volume's thematic focus is broad. Engaging closely with the key aesthetic texts of German Idealism, this collection uses examples from literature, music, art, architecture and museum studies to demonstrate Idealism's continuing influence.
  • Cooper, I. and Malkmus, B.F. eds. (2013). Dialectic and Paradox: Configurations of the Third in Modernity. Oxford, UK: Peter Lang.
  • Cooper, I., Knörer, E. and Malkmus, B. eds. (2008). Third Agents: Secret Protagonists of the Modern Imagination. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press.
    "Third Agents: Secret Protagonists of the Modern Imagination" brings together a varied and fascinating range of contributions to explore the role of third agents in the post-Enlightenment literary imagination, including modern narratives such as film. It centres on the figure of 'the third' - conceived imaginatively as a liminal agent transgressing social, cultural and spatio-temporal boundaries, and conceptually as the vital yet often problematic element in theories of discourse that seek to operate beyond binary codes of meaning. This figure is revealed to be a 'secret protagonist' of modernity, neglected by, and eluding the scope of, existing intellectual and literary histories. Contributors to this volume are drawn from diverse theoretical backgrounds, encompassing work in dialectics, psychoanalysis and systems theory. Through their focus on literature and media, they seek to understand how those conceptions of the third relate to imaginative figurations.This volume offers the first comprehensive account of third agency in modern literature and its intellectual and imaginative pre-history. It provides an accessible combination of close readings and theoretical reflection, presenting figures who inhabit in-between territories such as the adventurer, the bastard, the priest, the angel, the adulterer, the poet and the outcast. These figures are read as protagonists in a genealogy of modernity that has not yet been written. The essays here also provide fascinating answers as to why these secret protagonists often became major figures in modern philosophy and literary theory, and give new insights into such writers as Benjamin, Barthes and Derrida.
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