Academic journal article German Quarterly

Review essay: On the matter of method in modernist German-Jewish studies1

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Review essay: On the matter of method in modernist German-Jewish studies1

Article excerpt

(ProQuest Information and Learning: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)


Felman, Linda E., and Diane Orendi, eds. Evolving Jewish Identities in German Culture: Borders and Crossings. Westport: Praeger, 2000. 232 pp. $62.95 hardcover.

Fuchs, Anne. A Space of Anxiety: Dislocation and Abjection in Modern German-Jewish Literature. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999. 200 pp. $42.00 paperback.

Isenberg, Noah. Between Redemption and Doom: the Strains of German-Jewish Modernism. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999. 232 pp. $40.00 hardcover.

Lang, Berel. The Future of the Holocaust: Between History and Memory. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999. 198 pp. $46.50 hardcover; $18.95 paperback. Mosse, George L. Confronting History: A Memoir. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000.236 pp. $27.95 hardcover.

Schruffj Helene. Wechselwirkungen. Deutsch-Judische Identitat in erzahlender Prosa der "Zweiten Generation." Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 2000. 262 pp. DM 78.00 paperback.


My working hypothesis in what follows is that both modernist anti-Semitism (e.g., in Wagner) and Jewish renewal (e.g., in Buber) are generally based on the ideological (and more specifically political-theological) misconstrual of the modern rise of materiality as a resurgence of Judaism. This misconstrual is in turn historically rooted in the traditional Christian (typo-logical) association of Jews and Judaism with the materiality of the "dead letter."2 Because following this tradition pre-modern gentile Europe constructs the Jews as lacking in appropriate spirituality, and so as mired in materiality, when the modernist epoch arrives-with its various materialist doctrines, its ever-intensifying scientific assault on traditional ideals, and its industrial massiveness and urban masses-it is not surprising that the features of modern life tend to be brought into connection with the Jews. While the materiality associated with advanced modernity is sometimes linked to the Jews in an affirmative mode, the sacrificial desire to make the Jews responsible for the negative aspects of this materiality is central to what may well have been the twentieth century's most globally destructive historical paroxysm.

It is with a particular interest in this anxiety about materiality in all of its forms-which I take to comprise the center of the modernist "Jewish question"-that I approach the scholarly studies under review here. In order to organize these contributions so as to be able moreover to indicate how the different methods they adopt always both give them limited access to, and partially exclude them from, the topic of materiality which is so important for German-Jewish modernities and modernisms, I will consider them under the rubrics of historicist, psychological (which is represented here more narrowly by the psychoanalytic), and moral (or ethical) studies. As I will show, historicist studies tend to engage with, but also domesticate, materiality by positing the radical objectivity-as opposed to, or as dominating, the subjectivity-of their inquiry, by privileging amongst the various psychic agencies the standpoint of the ego, and by limiting their temporal concern to the dimension of the past. Psychoanalytic studies approach materiality-in an equally partial way-by the opposite path: they posit that their object is essentially a subjective one, and they privilege more specifically the psychic agency of the id, while focusing in temporal terms on the present, for example as the eternal present of the ostensibly timeless unconscious, which would include the present of unconscious mem-ory and desire. Finally, ethical studies attempt to maintain their coherence by applying their attention neither to objects nor to subjects per se but above all to the logic governing decisions, speaking for and of only the superego, and looking to the future, rather than to the present or the past. Having illustrated the strengths and weaknesses of these ways of dealing with things human in their materiality, I will close with a summary remark concerning the degree to which the studies examined here explicitly thematize the modernists' ways of linking materiality to the Jews. …

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