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The Word Unheard

Legacies of Anti-Semitism in German Literature and Culture

Martha B. Helfer

Publication Year: 2011

Martha B. Helfer is Associate Professor and Chair of the German Department at Rutgers University.

Published by: Northwestern University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-x

This project began many years ago, “vor grauen Jahren,” to speak with Lessing’s Nathan, and it began with Lessing’s Nathan, with an unsettled feeling that I had as an undergraduate that I did not fully understand this text. At the time I ascribed this unsettled feeling to insufficient linguistic...

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Introduction: The Language of Anti-Semitism

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pp. xi-xxiii

This is a book about language, about how to recognize and interpret the rhetoric of anti-Semitism in its literary articulations. It focuses on latent anti-Semitism in mainstream German and Austrian literature written during the early phases of the Jewish emancipation debate, the years 1749...

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Chapter One: Lessing and the Limits of Enlightenment

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pp. 3-21

This book begins with a necessary provocation: Lessing and latent anti-Semitism. The great Enlightenment playwright and critic Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was unequivocally a pro-Jewish author and political activist. Lessing was very likely the sponsor of the first published document calling...

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Chapter Two: Questioning Origins: Friedrich von Schiller’s The Legation of Moses

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pp. 23-55

In The Legation of Moses (Die Sendung Moses, 1790), Schiller the historian presents a remarkable revisionist thesis: Moses used reason to invent the Jewish faith, and he did so for expressly political purposes—to establish himself as the legitimate leader of his people. In effect, Schiller...

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Chapter Three: Germany Under the Sign of the Jew: Achim von Arnim’s Isabella of Egypt

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pp. 57-77

Achim von Arnim’s Isabella of Egypt (Isabella von Ägypten, 1811) stages the Exodus of the Jews from Europe. In effect, Arnim pushes Schiller’s political theory to an extreme. Whereas Schiller’s Moses leads the Hebrews out of Egypt and converts them to Jews who are fundamentally...

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Chapter Four: Reading Blood: Annette von Droste-Hülshoff’s The Jews’ Beech Tree

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pp. 79-111

The preceding chapters have traced the development of an increasingly sophisticated theory of literary anti-Semitism from Lessing’s pro-Jewish writings, which undercut themselves in a self-reflexive, self-critical Enlightenment gesture, through Schiller’s poetic and political rewriting...

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Chapter Five: Natural Anti-Semitism: Adalbert Stifter’s Abdias

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pp. 113-141

The question of reading, of how to read “the Jew” and “the Jewish”— so central to Droste-Hülshoff’s The Jews’ Beech Tree—is posed in a different form in Adalbert Stifter’s Abdias. The explict focus of this contemporaneous novella is on interpretation: the text presents a hermeneutic...

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Chapter Six: Framing the Jew: Franz Grillparzer’s The Jewess of Toledo

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pp. 143-169

Franz Grillparzer’s grand “historical tragedy” The Jewess of Toledo (Die Jüdin von Toledo, 1851/1872) takes as its premise a lie: the fabrication that Alfonso VIII’s humiliating defeat at the Battle of Alarcos in 1195 was divine retribution for his amorous involvement with a Jewish woman,...

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Conclusion: The Word Unheard

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pp. 171-172

“The Jew” is not, and cannot be, just another “other” in German discourse: the very fact of the Holocaust makes “the Jew” a privileged signifier, and lends urgency to the study of the genealogy of anti-Semitism in German letters. This is not to argue that all German literature is anti- Semitic...


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pp. 173-211


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pp. 213-224


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pp. 225-233

About the Author

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pp. 235-260

E-ISBN-13: 9780810165717
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810127944

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: New
Volume Title: 1

OCLC Number: 867786001
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Word Unheard

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Subject Headings

  • German literature -- 18th century -- History and criticism
  • German literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism
  • Antisemitism -- Germany -- History -- 18th century.
  • Antisemitism -- Germany -- History -- 19th century.
  • Jews -- Germany -- Social conditions -- 18th century.
  • Jews -- Germany -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Antisemitism in literature.
  • Jews in literature.
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