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  • Gender Constructions in the Debates on German-Jewish Literature
  • Eva Lezzi (bio)

From the early nineteenth century through the present day, the question of what German-Jewish literature actually is has been intensely debated. These debates have always been accompanied by varying gender-specific constructions of authorship and literary form. Even today the strikingly gender-specific connotations therein have hardly—or, at best, selectively—been the object of focus in scholarly analyses of these debates. This article combines a discourse analytical study of the definitions of German-Jewish literature with the methods of analysis, findings, and research objectives of the gender studies approach. This article intends to plot the gender constructions and the cultural implications in the literary theoretical debates on German-Jewish literature; debates which were for a long time exclusively carried out by men. It also traces both the early opinions of Jewish women writers toward their own writings and the programmatic works of women published after the turn of the nineteenth century. In turn, these will also be explored in light of gender norms.

Discourse Analysis and Gender Studies: An Approach

As an approach, discourse analysis has proved a fruitful innovation when approaching the relationship between Jewish studies and literary studies. Among other things, it has either replaced or modified theme-centered research to bring the respective discursive constructedness of images of Jews to the forefront of debate. The following considerations are particularly motivated by Andreas B. Kilcher’s historical discourse analysis, as initially argued in, for example, his 1999 article Was ist ,deutsch-jüdische Literatur`? (What is ‘German-Jewish Literature’?). Kilcher’s concern is to subject the concept of German-Jewish literature to discourse analysis, as it has enjoyed a seemingly unchallenged acceptance in numerous literary critical and literary historical studies. In doing so, he seeks to delve into the historical and methodological conditions under which “the concept of German-Jewish literature has been established as a descriptive category of literary and cultural criticism.”1 [End Page 17] Kilcher’s strictly applied methodology allows him to concisely classify the discourse into various phases and developments, starting with the völkische Germanistik,2 whose beginnings Kilcher established around 1871, continuing through the “literary concept of acculturation,”3 and ending with the countermovement of cultural Zionism that had achieved potency at the onset of the twentieth century. After the Shoah, new discourses emerged to shape the concept of German-Jewish literature. Literary works by Jewish men and women alike have begun to reflect upon, and challenge, these discourses by focusing, for example, on the topics of cultural marginality or extraterritoriality.4

For the purposes of this study, the aforementioned discourse analytical approach will be coupled with a more “traditional” literary critical perspective, one that intensely scrutinizes the medial and literary venues of debate on German-Jewish literature in light of their respective internal workings. For example, the question of what Jewish literature actually is was debated by Jewish thinkers as well as non-Jews. The “anti-Semitic literary criticism”5 that crystallized out of the völkische argumentation in the latter half of the nineteenth century intended to brand Jewish literature or writers as such and thereby create criteria for excluding them from the nascent national canon. Meanwhile, Jewish thinkers primarily discussed what constituted Jewish literature via literary historical studies. One prominent example can be found in the works of Leopold Zunz, one of the founders of the Wissenschaft des Judentums (Science of Judaism). Zunz began his literary historical studies with Rabbinic and Hebraic literature.6 Later, in Die jüdische Literatur (The Jewish Literature) a study published in 1845, he turned to works in other languages or those with secular content.7 In doing so, Zunz gives credence to the fact that Jewish literature emerged in connection to and in exchange with, the surrounding societies and cultures. The project of a Jewish literary historiography was continued by a number of scholars, among them Moritz Steinschneider, David Cassel, Gustav Karpeles, and Meyer Kayserling. Ultimately, though, it was Ludwig Geiger who focused this project specifically on the question of German-Jewish literature.

The literary criticism of the time followed other formal criteria, as formulated, for example, in the...


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