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Back to the Future

Tradition and Innovation in German Studies


Edited By Marc Silberman

In the course of the 1970s, interdisciplinary German studies emerged in North America, breaking with what many in the field saw as a suffocating and politically tainted tradition of canon-based philology by broadening both the corpus of texts and the framing concept of culture. In the meantime the innovative impulses that characterized this response to the legacy of Germanistik have themselves become traditions. The essays in this volume critically examine a selection of those past attempts at renewal to gauge where we are now and how we move into the future: exile and forced migration, race and identity, humanism and utopian thought, solidarity and global inequality. A younger generation of scholars demonstrates how reviving and refining the questions of yore leads to new insights into literary and theatrical texts, fundamental philosophical and political ideas, and the structure of memory in ethnographic performance and photography. Looking back into the future is a self-reflexive gesture that asks how tradition inspires innovation, and it displays compelling evidence for the importance of historically informed cultural research in the field of German studies.

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3 Pass pro toto: European-Jewish Responses to State Narratives of Personhood (Mona Körte)


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3 Pass pro toto: European-Jewish Responses to State Narratives of Personhood


What trace does the passport, as pars pro toto of the person, leave behind in European-Jewish literature? This essay examines literary passport narratives in light of the two World Wars and the newly introduced measures such as passport photos after 1914 or compulsory identification cards after 1938, as well as practices in the Soviet Union. In order to investigate the tensions and divide between papers and biographies, name and self, passport photo and claims to resemblance, I draw on journalistic miniatures by Joseph Roth, novels by Erich Maria Remarque and Jean Malaquais, and more recent works by Vladimir Vertlib and Katja Petrowskaja, showing how through the detour of (missing) identity papers texts speak about forced mobility, about obstacles and unpassable boundary limits. Such narratives gauge the gap yawning between the person and the paper double by detailing the paradoxes that arise in the intrinsic self-referentiality of ID papers.

Flight and migration have a long and fragmented history in which legal, political, and historical issues intersect and interfere with one another. Accordingly the archetypal figure of the refugee, expellee, and stateless person offers some thoughtful possibilities to historical scholarship and political theory, memory studies and European-Jewish literature of the twentieth century – and this was the case even long before so many refugees and migrants placed their hopes in Europe as a sanctuary. In the chapter...

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