Modernity, marginality, and redemption: German and Jewish identity at the fin-de-siècle Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Benson, Richard V.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures
  • Modernity, Marginality, and Redemption: German and Jewish Identity at the Fin-de-Siècle explores the literary, cultural, and historical process of negotiating German-Jewish identity following the radical restructuring of German-Jewish society during the nineteenth century. Modernity, Marginality, and Redemption considers the dynamic cultural roles that writers such as Karl Emil Franzos, Martin Buber, Jakob Wassermann, Theodor Herzl, and others assigned to the image of East European Jewry and of ghetto life, to Chassidic mysticism, and to messianic historical figures. I show that the works of these authors enact a self-conscious reinvention of Jewish tradition, which weds Enlightenment ideals with aspects of Jewish tradition that the Enlightenment had marginalized, while also engaging in dialogue with the most pressing discourses of fin-de-siècle European culture, in order to proffer Jewish identities that are neither strictly national nor simply religious. As I demonstrate, these texts establish Jewish identity as a central coordinate in debates about nationalism, the limits of language, phenomenology, social progress, and cultural degeneration. In my reading of these texts, I seek to uncover the social and cultural spaces where Enlightenment progress and fin-de-siècle decadence intersect—where the ideals of the Enlightenment collide with their dark counterimages—and give way to a fertile ground for negotiating not only Jewish identity, but modern subjectivity more generally. Ultimately, Modernity, Marginality, and Redemption underscores the significance of the transformation of German-Jewish identity for our more general understanding of broader crises of identity in German and Austrian culture during the fin-de-siècle.
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  • Hess, Jonathan
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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