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Reviewed by:
  • Esther Dischereit
  • Barbara Breysach
Esther Dischereit, edited by Katharina Hall. Contemporary German Writers Series. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2007. 181 pp. $55.00.

Katharina Hall's volume, with contributions by Annette Seidl Arpaci, Cathy S. Gelbin, Karen Remmler, and others, closes a research gap in the field of German-Jewish Studies. Hall's book on Esther Dischereit is the first one to be devoted to her work, since in German-speaking countries scholarship about Dischereit has only appeared in journal articles or as book reviews. Dischereit recently won the Erich Fried prize, which was presented to her in Vienna at the end of November 2009. Hall is lecturer in German at Swansea University in Wales, where Dischereit was invited as a Visiting Writer at the Centre for Contemporary German Literature in 2003.

Born in 1952, living in Berlin, child of a mother who survived the Holocaust in hiding, and herself the mother of two daughters, Dischereit is one of the most outstanding contemporary German writers. In making this statement, the problem and the fascination in speaking about her work are already evident. On the one hand, Dischereit insists on being "unique," not a representative of "Jews in Germany." On the other hand, with reference to her poetry, Dischereit wants to be interpreted in the context of German poets. But no less important for her is to be considered in the context of German-Jewish writers such as Paul Celan and Nelly Sachs or Else Lasker-Schüler. Last but not least, Dischereit confronted the German public with the fact that to write as a Jew in Germany means to be not only in a minority position, but rather in a completely improbable position, one that nobody could have foreseen. Why should any survivor or the children of a survivor continue living in Germany? In her essay "Vom Verschwinden der Worte" (About words that are disappearing) the author states that Jewish writing in Germany has the character of [End Page 192] prostitution, a very public uncovering of privacy, as the German-Jewish consensus and above all the Jewish-German consensus has been destroyed. In her radio-play "Anschriften" (Addresses) a German asks her Jewish girlfriend: "Will you join me in visiting the museum?" She answers: "No, I am already inside." Being Jewish in the German context is a permanent self-exposition.

The book now edited by Katharina Hall starts with Dischereit's previously unpublished text, "Mama, darf ich das Deutschlandlied singen" (Mom, may I sing the German national hymn?). Here the author comes back to the German-Jewish case, quoting again her essay "Vom Verschwinden der Worte": "I am, therefore I am speaking. I am not able to speak, therefore I am writing. If there were words, I would not write"(p. 9). While Franz Kafka speaks of the four impossibilities of writing as a cultural paradox with existential meaning, Dischereit refers to a traumatic constellation in the life of her family and her personal life, which is mostly understood as the German-Jewish cataclysm but has an individual meaning as well. She underlines the lack of privacy in her life and in her writing. In her case, writing means always publishing, and publishing means publishing something that has been considered up to this moment as a sort of taboo. Dischereit quotes a 17-year-old German girl, asking a Jewish German, maybe the author: " Tell me, do you have to be Jewish all the time?" The answer: "It is getting more easy while having breakfast" (p. 2). A famous collection of her essays is titled "Übungen, Jüdisch zu sein" (Exercises in Jewishness): Being, speaking, writing Jewish in the German context is not a matter of course, and doing so suggests that one always has an urgent message, which is not possible or even probable. Writing, therefore, ends up being a sublime prostitution.

Dischereit's text is followed by a biographical sketch of the author and Hall's conversation with Dischereit, both of which point out how closely Dischereit's biography is connected with (West-) German history, especially with the left-wing "cultural revolution" in the 1960s. Remmler examines the "The Sounds and Spaces of Memory" and...


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