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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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4 Strategies of Exile Photography: Helmar Lerski and Hans Casparius in Palestine (Ofer Ashkenazi)


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4 Strategies of Exile Photography: Helmar Lerski and Hans Casparius in Palestine


The two German-Jewish photographers and veterans of the Weimar film industry, Helmar Lerski and Hans Casparius, went into exile to Mandate Palestine in the mid-1930s and produced photographs that propagated the Zionist enterprise. This essay suggests that the apparent “Zionist” works should be analyzed as models or experiments with different strategies of exile photography. Informed by the major trends in the visual arts of the late Weimar years, they sought to develop a new aesthetics to correspond with their new experiences in exile. Their efforts resulted in two different approaches to photography, and each negotiated the emotional and ideological dispositions of the exiled observer in different terms. The differences notwithstanding, I argue that in these images they sought to identify with and criticize the social reality in both Weimar Germany and in Jewish Palestine. As a result, their works integrated criticism and doubts into mainstream Zionist culture.

Born in 1871, Helmar Lerski was 60 years old when he left Germany and settled in British Mandate Palestine. By that time, he enjoyed the international reputation of an innovative cinematographer and photographer due to his pioneering utilization of light sources, mirrors, and careful staging of objects.1 Born in Berlin in 1900, Hans Casparius left Germany in his early thirties, shortly after the National Socialists seized power. Following a brief career as film actor, he started to...

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