When Paul Celan was charged with plagiarism in 1960, the ensuing public debate in West Germany threw the poet into a major personal crisis even though most German critics immediately came to his defense. This crisis coincided with a transformative moment in the history of Holocaust remembrance, its first generational reimagining in the wake of a number of highly publicized criminal trials. Words from Abroad takes its lead from this disjunction between public ritual and private crisis to chart the emergence of a new literary diaspora, examining German Jewish writers who were dislocated in the course of World War II and began rewriting their own displacement more than a decade after the war. The idea of diaspora had ceased to be a constructive element of Jewish culture in Germany during the nineteenth-century process of emancipation and assimilation, though this book argues that it becomes crucial in articulating the possibility of German Jewish identity after the Holocaust.
Along with the works of Paul Celan, Words from Abroad examines selected German Jewish writers such as Peter Weiss and Nelly Sachs. The study of these authors is framed by theoretical reflections on the play of distance and proximity in German Jewish intellectuals after the Holocaust, including Theodor W. Adorno, Jean Améry, and Günther Anders. Drawing on postcolonial theory, diaspora studies, trauma theory, and psychoanalytical theory, author Katja Garloff offers an original and nuanced reading of the way in which these writers, in the wake of the Holocaust, experienced and variously created a vision of dispersion as both traumatic and productive. Words from Abroad is an important tool in investigating the works of these German Jewish writers and thinkers, but it is also a contribution to the interdisciplinary scholarship on trauma and displacement itself.