Soma Morgenstern—Von Galizien ins amerikanische Exil | Soma Morgenstern—De la Galicie à l'éxil américain ed. by Jacques Lajarrige
The inaugural volume of Frank & Timme's series Forum: Österreich stays true to its title in publishing symposium proceedings from 2013 given in Toulouse at the Centre de Recherches et d'Études Germaniques. Together with Helga Mitterbauer, Jacques Lajarrige carefully edits the papers and assembles a compilation of academic genres and languages. In addition, an account from Morgenstern's son, Dan, recalls his father's relationship to music and the personal and professional connection music created between them. Lastly, the volume concludes with the correspondence between Soma Morgenstern and Theodor W. Adorno, spanning almost four decades and ending, as the subtitle suggests, in American exile.
Arranged in six sections, the eighteen papers initially begin in chronological fashion. Victoria Lunzer-Talos opens with an in-depth, fifty-page biography of Morgenstern's early life followed by Marc Sagnol's account of the Galician villages of Soma's childhood. Reflecting on the autobiographical writings of Morgenstern's Jugendjahre, Marie Lehmann transitions to his writings, on which Larissa Cybenko theoretically elaborates when she argues for Ostgalizien as a natural, cultural, and social space in his narrative prose. Cybenko's paper pivots the volume's chronological structure toward the thematic. While the second section hones in on his feuilletonistic work, the latter sections address Morgenstern's lifelong interest in music, the motif of seeing in his work, and his relationship to the Jewish tradition. The final section of papers bring Morgenstern in context with his friends and contemporaries—Appelfeld, Roth, Sperber—as well as the literature of the Shoah in Walter Schmitz's analysis of Die Blutsäule. Coming to a close, the volume ends with the Briefwechsel between Morgenstern and Adorno thanks to the publication of their individual letters as a correspondence.
What the regrett ably brief letter exchange brings to the fore is the specific contribution to scholarship this publication of conference proceedings seeks to make—not only in the transformation of presentations into publications but also in the new availability of a helpful primary resource for scholars on a lesser-known figure. Furthermore, part of the correspondence echoes the [End Page 175] sentiment of the endeavor. On behalf of his friend, "a shy and humble person, absolutely incapable of playing himself up and of putting his merits into the limelight," Adorno addresses the National Relief Service in 1941 and stresses his "conviction that Dr. Morgenstern is really an outstanding novelist with an exceptional epic gift and a most concrete imagination which makes his fictional characters into real living beings" (483). Continuing, he adds, "[T]he contribution Dr. Morgenstern can make to the understanding of Jewish problems as well as to the whole level of Jewish working is so considerable that the justification for supporting him strongly cannot be overemphasized" (483).
Adorno's emphasis points to the key takeaway of the volume: The underlying theme stretching from Galician to American exile (and the stations in between, including Toulouse) is precisely Morgenstern's relationship to and depiction of Jewish problems and Jewish workings in various contexts. Even though his relationship to the Jewish tradition is specifically addressed, perhaps best by Langer on Morgenstern's citation, embedding, and effective reinterpretation of Midrash texts, almost every article acknowledges "Morgensterns Interesse an und Wissen über jüdische Dinge" (162). Over and against Joseph Roth, Barbara Breysach concludes that Morgenstern's narrative logic centers on the religious act itself, whereas Roth translates the religious impulse into a cultural one. Going back to the influence of his father, Abraham, Lunzer-Talos points out Morgenstern's fortunate upbringing, which included positive experiences in secular schooling, while still living a "jüdisches Leben" (68). Yet, as Heinz Lunzer investigates, he went on to face difficult working conditions and discrimination at the Frankfurter Zeitung, ending in his dismissal under the Arier-Bestimmung des Schriftleitergesetes in 1934. Of course, this was only the beginning; as Schmitz hypothesizes, when Morgenstern took up the Shoah in Die Blutsäule, he undertook an experiment—"Prozess einer Suche nach einer neuen Sprache im Rahmen des Deutschen"—in which he succeeded, but not without consequence (397).
Fifteen years after Ingolf Schulte's complete edition of Soma Morgenstern's works, these proceedings continue to build the body of scholarship for this uniquely situated writer. As Gerhard Langer phrases it: "Soma Morgensterns faszinierendes Oeuvre bietet reichhaltigen Stofffür die unterschiedlichsten Wissensgebiete, was sich zum Teil auch in diesem Band spiegelt" (313). And although similar to Robert Weigel's edited conference proceedings entitled "Vier große galizische Erzähler im Exil: H. W. Katz, Soma Morgenstern, [End Page 176] Manès Sperber und Joseph Roth" from 2005, this volume's explicit focus on Morgenstern individually allows for the establishment of rigorous historical and literary-historical contexts and sustains the discussion of Morgenstern's own poetics of exile.