Martin Woessner

Associate Professor

Areas of Expertise/Research

  • American Studies
  • Contemporary Philosophy
  • Film and Literary Studies
  • Human Rights
  • Modern Intellectual and Cultural History


25 Broadway





Martin Woessner


Martin Woessner is Associate Professor of History & Society at The City College of New York's Center for Worker Education (CUNY).  He teaches interdisciplinary, transnational courses in twentieth-century intellectual and cultural history at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.  Martin has received fellowships from the Center for Humanities as well as the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics—both at the CUNY Graduate Center. In 2004 he was the recipient of a Charlotte W. Newcombe Dissertation Fellowship, and in May 2011 he received the Feliks Gross Endowment Award for Outstanding Scholarly Achievement from the CUNY Academy for the Humanities and Sciences.  Martin also received a CCNY Scholar Incentive Award in 2013.  From 2020-2021 he was the director of CWE's interdisciplinary M.A. Program in the Study of the Americas.

Martin's first book, Heidegger in America (Cambridge UP, 2011), examines the American reception of the work of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger.   His second book, Terrence Malick and the Examined Life (Penn Press, 2024), looks into the career of the philosopher-turned-filmmaker responsible for films such as Badlands, The Thin Red Line, and The Tree of Life Publishers Weekly has called it "essential reading" and Library Journal says it is "an exceptional and intriguing look" at Malick's career.  Future projects include a monograph on the Nobel Prize-winning novelist J. M. Coetzee and a study of Thomas Pynchon and the philosophy of history.  You can also find many of Martin's essays and reviews--on subjects ranging from the human rights advocate Charles Malik to philosophers such as Richard Rorty and Jürgen Habermas--in La Maleta de Portbou, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Raritan, among other publications.


BA History and Philosophy, University of San Francisco.

PhD Modern Intellectual History, City University of New York.

Courses Taught

  • IAS 31408: The History of Utopian and Dystopian Thought
  • PHIL 31404: Philosophy and Film
  • IAS 31181: Existentialism Then and Now
  • IAS 60400: Religion in the Americas (MA course)
  • IAS 24200: Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies
  • IAS A7010: Weimar in America (MA course)
  • IAS 31102: Capitalism and Anti-Capitalism from Adam Smith to Slavoj Zizek
  • HIST 31224: History of Women, War, and Peace
  • IAS 5000: Inventing the Americas (MA course)
  • HIST 34804: Genocide in the Twentieth Century
  • HIST 31824: History of Human Rights
  • HIST 31644: The Age of Extremes—European and American Intellectual and Cultural History between Calamity and Prosperity
  • HIST 32904: The Urban Experience—Europe in the Twentieth Century
  • HIST 32034: The Nazi Holocaust
  • HIST 31744: Resistance and Collaboration in the Second World War
  • IAS 10800: Doing Social Research

Research Interests

Martin is an intellectual and cultural historian.  He is particularly interested in how philosophy travels beyond the seminar room, appearing in contemporary art, politics, and culture.  His latest book examines the films of philosopher-turned-filmmaker Terrence Malick.  Exploring the intersection of film, philosophy, and recent U.S. history, Terrence Malick and the Examined Life (Penn Press, 2024) offers a novel, archive-based account of one of the most celebrated directors working today.  Martin is also at work on three other interdisciplinary projects.  The first, The Literary Turn: The Moral Imaginations of Stanley Cavell, Martha Nussbaum, and Richard Rorty, examines how and why philosophers interested in questions of moral or ethical importance have turned to literary examples in their work.  The second project investigates similar themes, but from the perspective of literature rather than philosophy.  The Claim of Fiction: J.M. Coetzee and Ethical Life, will be a companion to The Literary Turn--a view from the other side of the disciplinary exchange, as it were.  The third is a study of Thomas Pynchon and the philosophy of history.

Upcoming Events

Book event, Terrence Malick and the Examined Life, in conversation with writer/director Courtney Stephens, Now Instant Image Hall, Los Angeles (June 27, 2024).

Book talk, Terrence Malick and the Examined Life, CUNY Academy for the Humanities and Sciences (September 18, 2024).

Recent Presentations

Book event, Terrence Malick and the Examined Life, Clio's Books, Oakland (April 30, 2024).

"Terrence Malick's Search for Meaning," Environmental Humanities Initiative, University of Notre Dame (April 17, 2024).

Terrence Malick and the Examined Life, in conversation with Daniel Morgan (University of Chicago), Seminary Co-op Bookstore, Chicago (April 16, 2024).

"Terrence Malick: The Making of a Filmmaker," The John Patrick Diggins Memorial Conference, CUNY Graduate Center (April 4-5, 2024).

Terrence Malick and the Examined Life, Philosophy Department Colloquium, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles (March 22, 2024).

Discussing Terrence Malick's A Hidden Life, with Elijah Davidson (Fuller Seminary) and Michael Postl (Austrian Consul General), First German United Methodist Church, Glendale, CA (March 20, 2024).

"Bringing the Wars Home: Vets and Violence in the Cinema of Paul Schrader," Society for United States Intellectual History, Denver (November 9-11, 2023).

"Ways of Worldmaking: Beginnings and Endings in Terrence Malick's The New World," Midwest Intellectual History Group, University of Notre Dame (April 21-22, 2022).

"The War of the World: Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line as Cosmic Philosophy," Society for United States Intellectual History, Chicago (November 8-11, 2018).

"Wonders of the Prairie: The World of Days of Heaven," Intellectual and Cultural History Workshop, University of Wisconsin, Madison (November 7, 2018).

"From Burning Books to Dancing Shoes: J. M. Coetzee and Literary Utopianism," Society for Utopian Studies, Berkeley (November 1-3, 2018).

“Terrence Malick’s Texistentialism: Film, Philosophy, and the Search for Meaning,” The Honors College of Texas State University (October 8, 2018).

"The Moviegoer as Philosopher from Walker Percy to Terrence Malick," Organization of American Historians, Sacramento (April 12-14, 2018).

"The Strength of Weakness: Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line as Hermeneutic Cosmology," Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona, Spain (April 6, 2017).

"The Philosopher as Filmmaker: Terrence Malick and the Examined Life," European School of the Humanities, Barcelona, Spain (April 4, 2017).

"Between Golden Earth and Crimson Sky: The “Metaphysical Vision” of Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven," Society for United States Intellectual History, Stanford University (October 13-15, 2016).

"Emergency Aesthetics: A Conversation with Santiago Zabala," Yinchuan Biennale, China (September 10-12, 2016).

“Coetzee’s Theology of the Imagination,” for the “Literature and Philosophy: Responding to J.M. Coetzee” Symposium, St. John’s College, Oxford University, United Kingdom (June 27, 2015).

“In the Heart of the Empire: Coetzee and America,” for the “The Intellectual Landscape in the Works of J.M. Coetzee” Symposium, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia (April 1-2, 2015).

"The Philosopher as Filmmaker: Terrence Malick and the Examined Life," California Institute of the Arts (November 6, 2014).

"'A Position of Sufficient Humility': Martha Nussbaum on Love and Literature," for the "Philosophy, Literature, America" conference at University College Dublin (May 30-31, 2014).

"'The Willingness to Find Yourself Lost': Stanley Cavell on Literature and the Ethical Imagination," Society for United States Intellectual History, UC Irvine (Nov 1-3, 2013).

"On the Secularization of Sin: From Royce to Rawls," Royce, California, and the World Conference, Grass Valley, CA (August 16-18, 2013).

"The Cinema of Solitude: Terrence Malick, Martin Heidegger, and the Meaning of Human Existence," Society for United States Intellectual History, CUNY Graduate Center) November 1-2, 2012.

"The Critique of Historical Reason and Its Political Consequences," Lebanon Valley College, PA (March 29, 2012).



Terrence Malick and the Examined Life

Heidegger in America

Heidegger in America                            

"Rorty, Richard," in Simonetta Moro, ed., The Vattimo Dictionary (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2023), 172-173.

"The Kid Stays Out of the Picture," Review of Paul W. Williams, Harvard, Hollywood, Hitmen, and Holy Men (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2023), Los Angeles Review of Books, January 22, 2023.

"The Pedagogy of Rage: Teaching Working Students During a Pandemic," Boundary 2 Online, June 18, 2020.

"New Detours in American Intellectual History," American Literary History 32:1 (Spring 2020): 1-11.  Published online 9 December 2019.

"Habermas: Up from Heidegger," Los Angeles Review of Books, August 11, 2019.

"This monograph fights fascists," Review of David Weinstein and Avihu Zakai, Jewish Exiles and European Thought in the Shadow of the Third Reich: Baron, Popper, Strauss, Auerbach (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2017), Patterns of Prejudice 53:4 (September 2019).

Review of Robert E. Lerner, Ernst Kantorowicz: A Life (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2017), American Historical Review 123:5 (December 2018): 1773-1774.

“In the Heart of the Empire: Coetzee and America,” in Tim Mehigan and Christian Moser, eds., The Intellectual Landscape in the Works of J.M. Coetzee (Rochester, New York: Camden House, 2018), 109-130.

"The Will to Deceive," Review of Robert B. Pippin, The Philosophical Hitchcock: Vertigo and the Anxieties of Unknowingness (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), Riot Material, December 18, 2017.

“Beyond Realism: Coetzee’s Post-Secular Imagination,” in Patrick Hayes and Jan Wilm, eds., Beyond the Ancient Quarrel: J.M. Coetzee and Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2017), 143-159.

"The Art of Survival," Review of Santiago Zabala, Why Only Art Can Save Us: Aesthetics and the Absence of Emergency (New York: Columbia UP, 2017), Los Angeles Review of Books, November 1, 2017.

"Truth or Fiction?" Review of Robert Eaglestone, The Broken Voice: Reading Post-Holocaust Literature (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2017), Patterns of Prejudice 51:5 (December 2017), 481-485.

"Hermeneutic Communism: Left Heideggerianism's Last Hope?" in Silvia Mazzini and Owen Glyn-Williams, eds., Making Communism Hermeneutical: Reading Vattimo and Zabala (Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2017), 35-48.

"Rorty and Social Hope," Los Angeles Review of Books, July 22, 2017.

"The Sociologists and the Squirrel," Review of Elizabeth S. Goodstein, Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary (Palo Alto: Stanford UP, 2017), Boundary 2 Online Review, July 19, 2017.

"Cosmic Cinema: On the Philosophical Films of Terrence Malick," Philosophy Today 61:2 (Spring 2017): 389-398.

"When Punk Grows Up," Riot Material, March 12, 2017.

"There Will Be Feelings," Review of George Toles, Paul Thomas Anderson (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2016), Los Angeles Review of Books, December 23, 2016.

“American Arendt,” Review of Richard H. King, Arendt and America (Chicago: Chicago UP, 2015), Raritan XXXVI:1 (Summer 2016): 15-24.

“The Writing of Life,” Review of David Attwell, J.M. Coetzee and the Life of Writing: Face-to-Face with Time (New York: Viking, 2015), Los Angeles Review of Books, April 17, 2016, as well as LARB Quarterly, Spring 2016.

“Cine, television y tiempo” [Film, Television, and Time, trans. Begoña Prat Rojo], La Maleta de Portbou 15 (January-February 2016): 40-45.

“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry System” Review of Ryan White, The Hidden God: Pragmatism and Posthumanism in American Thought (New York: Columbia UP, 2015), Los Angeles Review of Books, October 25, 2015.

“Fail Slow, Fail Hard,” Review of Peter Trawny, Freedom to Fail: Heidegger’s Anarchy (New York: Polity, 2015), Los Angeles Review of Books, August 28, 2015.  [One of LARB’s “Most Read Essays of 2015”]

“Brave New Worlds,” Review of Daniel Yacavone, Film Worlds: A Philosophical Aesthetics of Cinema (New York: Columbia UP, 2015), Los Angeles Review of Books, May 8, 2015.

"Plato at the Multiplex," Review of Paul W. Kahn, Finding Ourselves at the Movies: Philosophy for a New Generation (New York: Columbia UP, 2013) and Nathan Andersen, Shadow Philosophy: Plato's Cave and Cinema (New York: Routledge, 2014), Los Angeles Review of Books, October 18th, 2014.

Review of Raffaele Laudani, ed., Secret Reports on Nazi Germany: The Frankfurt School Contribution to the War Effort, with a foreword by Raymond Geuss (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2013), Central European History 47:3 (September 2014): 672-675.

"Peter de Bolla's Human Rights Edifice," Review of Peter de Bolla, The Architecture of Concepts: The Historical Formation of Human Rights (New York: Fordham UP, 2013), Los Angeles Review of Books, June 25th, 2014.

Review of Lawrence J. Friedman, with the assistance of Anke M. Schreiber, The Lives of Erich Fromm: Love's Prophet (New York: Columbia UP, 2013), Journal of American Studies 48:2 (May 2014).  Exclusive online review.

Review of Benjamin Gregg, Human Rights as Social Construction (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2012), Human Rights Review 15:2 (June 2014): 229-231.

Review of Woman-Killing in Juarez: Theodicy at the Border by Rafael Luevano, Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory, special issue on "Decoloniality and Crisis," edited by Jeffrey W. Robbins 13:1 (January 2014).

"Provincializing Human Rights? The Heideggerian Legacy from Charles Malik to Dipesh Chakrabarty" in Jose Manuel Barreto, ed., Human Rights from a Third-World Perspective (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2013), 65-101.

Review of History in the Plural: An Introduction to the Work of Reinhart Koselleck by Niklas Olsen, American Historical Review 118:1 (February 2013)150-151.

"Angst across the Channel: Existentialism in Britain" in Robert Bernasconi and Jonathan Judaken, eds., Situating Existentialism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 145-179.

Review of Theology and the Boundary Discourse of Human Rights, by Ethna Regan, Human Rights Review 13:1 (2012): 131-133.

"What is Heideggerian Cinema?  Film, Philosophy, and Cultural Mobility" New German Critique 113 (Summer 2011): 129-157.

"Reconsidering the Slaughter Bench of History: Genocide, Theodicy, and the Philosophy of History," Journal of Genocide Research 13:1-2 (March-June 2011): 83-102.

Heidegger in America (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011).

"Coetzee's Critique of Reason," in Anton Leist and Peter Singer, eds., J. M. Coetzee and Ethics: Philosophical Perspectives on Literature (New York: Columbia UP, 2010), 223-247.  [Reviewed in TLS 23 February 2011]

"A New Ontology for the Era of the New Economy: On Edward W. Soja's Seeking Spatial Justice," City: Analysis of Urban Trends, Culture, Theory, Policy, Action 14:6 (December 2010): 601-603.

"Rescuing the 'Right to the City'," City: Analysis of Urban Trends, Culture, Theory, Policy, Action 13:4 (December 2009): 474-475.

"American Intellectual and Cultural History in the Age of Globalization," Intellectual News: Review of the international society for intellectual history 15 (Winter 2005): 24-33.

"Daniel Libeskind: From the End of Architecture to the Space of Memory," in Gary Backhaus and John Murungi, eds., Lived Topographies: and their Mediating Forces (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2005), 145-160. 

"J. Glenn Gray: Philosopher, Translator (of Heidegger), and Warrior," Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society: A Quarterly Journal in American Philosophy XL:3 (Summer 2004): 487-512.

"Ethics, Architecture, and Heidegger: "Building Dwelling Thinking" in an American Context," City: Analysis of Urban Trends, Culture, Theory, Policy, Action, 7:1 (April 2003): 23-44.