It was a decade ago that Professor John Noyes first arrived at the University of Toronto from Cape Town, South Africa. Since then, he has built upon and expanded his earlier innovative research on colonialism in German literature, the original focus of his dissertation back in graduate school. He has been gradually shifting his historical focus back to an earlier era, when many Germans felt European imperialism as a ground shaking challenge to received ideas. His research at the University of Toronto started from a general survey of German responses to imperialism in the 18th century, and has gradually narrowed down to a study of Herder and Goethe. While Herder expressed his views on imperialism explicitly, Goethe’s views have to be gathered through literary analysis and study of the contemporaneous cultural and political references of his era. Goethe’s extensive collection of maps, for example, provide insight into his views about the world beyond Europe, notably the Americas and the South Seas.
Noyes is planning to publish a separate book on Goethe’s thought after his current book on Herder is complete. Additionally, he recently co-edited an innovative collection of essays together with Professor Pia Kleber of the U of T Drama Center and Hans Schulte (McMaster University). Goethe’s Faust: Theatre of Modernity focuses on Faust as a lasting icon of Western culture, whose prescient modernity offers seemingly inexhaustible interpretive potential. The essays introduce new scholarly approaches to such motifs as Faust’s blindness, Mephistopheles' queer sensibility, and how the play anticipates modern discourses on science, economics, and even ecology. Renowned directors, critics, and dramaturges have also contributed, including a major interview with Peter Stein.
Noyes finds a great inspiration in teaching in the German Department. He enjoys the freedom to design lectures at both undergraduate and graduate levels that link in meaningful ways with his own research. Last year, for example, he taught a course on the Age of Goethe, in which he devoted special attention to travel literature. Discussions with students consistently push him to clarify his reasoning, find accessible language, and in turn, offer him fresh points of views on ideas.
The past year was not without challenges, however, particularly in the face of the Administration’s original proposal to fuse most of the foreign language and literature departments into a single school, a move he feels would have been detrimental to the discipline. Noyes was actively involved in the grassroots initiative to rethink this proposal and is very pleased that the University of Toronto decided to retain its German Department, whose culture of scholarship and dedication to teaching he continues to admire. He also values the wider intellectual community at U of T, as well as the remarkable resources available through the campus libraries.