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Words from Abroad

Trauma and Displacement in Postwar German Jewish Writers

Katja Garloff

Publication Year: 2005

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.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: Kritik: German Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: Trauma and Displacement

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pp. 1-20

This study examines the responses of German Jewish writers to the geographical and cultural displacement that is one of the lasting consequences of the Holocaust, or Shoah.1 The project sprang from my observation of a curious discrepancy: several authors who after 1945 lived outside of Germany but continued to write in German paradoxically experienced their favorable reception in West Germany after 1960...

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1. The Inability to Return: German Jewish Intellectuals after the Holocaust

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pp. 21-54

Theodor W. Adorno has figured quite prominently in recent discussions on exile and diaspora. Building on texts from Adorno’s exile in Los Angeles, Edward Said has established him as a paradigm of the émigré intellectual whose critical acumen derives from a sense of separateness from his place of residence, a condition that enables the emigrant...

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2. Peter Weiss’s Skeptical Cosmopolitanism

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pp. 55-94

Written in 1961, these sentences capture a crucial moment in Peter Weiss’s literary career, the moment when he became a German-language author.1 Weiss had, in fact, written in German before, but it was only after the publication of Der Schatten des Körpers des Kutschers [The Shadow of the Coachman’s Body] in 19602 that he gained that public recognition as a “German-language author,” a label to which he refers...

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3. Nelly Sachs and the Myth of the “German-Jewish Symbiosis”

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pp. 95-130

Of the authors discussed in this study, Nelly Sachs is the one who most explicitly and unequivocally drew on Jewish religious concepts as an interpretative frame of her own dislocation. Coming from an assimilated German Jewish background, Sachs was suddenly forced to confront a Jewish label as a result of Nazi persecution. After her last-minute...

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4. Paul Celan’s Revisiting of Eastern Europe

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pp. 131-172

When in 1960 Claire Goll, the widow of the French Jewish poet Yvan Goll, charged Celan in an open letter with plagiarizing her late husband’s poetry, the ensuing debate in West Germany about the validity of this accusation cast Celan into a major crisis during the course of which he was temporarily hospitalized in a psychiatric clinic. Goll’s...

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Conclusion: Toward the Possibility of a Diasporic Community

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pp. 173-186

In my readings I have shown that postwar German Jewish writers experienced their favorable reception in West Germany after 1960 as a return of the historical events of genocide and mass displacement. Yet however traumatic these crises were, bringing back painful memories of exile and expulsion, they did not silence these authors. Rather, the figures...


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pp. 187-220

Works Cited

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pp. 221-236


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pp. 237-252

E-ISBN-13: 9780814335772
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814332450

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Kritik: German Literary Theory and Cultural Studies