- The Translated Jew: German Jewish Culture Outside the Margins by Leslie Morris
It need hardly be said that the question of German, Jewish, and German-Jewish identities after the Holocaust has been the subject of a great deal of scholarship, much of it focused on the issues of victimhood on the one hand and on the other hand on being one of, or descended from, the perpetrators. Leslie Morris's book The Translated Jew: German Jewish Culture Outside the Margins takes a very different angle, exploring a broad range of works ranging from poetry, fictional and non-fictional prose to the visual arts—not traditional forms such as painting and sculpture, but public art in urban spaces and performance art, including tattoos. Even more provocatively, the artists she examined are not primarily German-Jewish in the conventional sense—they include American writers and artists (including Alfred Kazin), non-Jewish German emigres, and others whose status and identity are fluid.
In the first chapter, Morris examines the dynamics of post-Holocaust aesthetics through public art, beginning in Berlin with primarily non-Jewish artists, then comparing them to sites in New York and Los Angeles. She evokes the Talmudic concept of "eruv," which by privatizing public spaces exempts Jews from the restrictions of carrying objects on the Sabbath. The underlying theme is the fictionalization of spaces—what we instinctively regard as concrete reality can be seen as imagined.
In the second chapter, Morris turns to the "circulation of Jewishness between America and Europe." The first section focuses on "German Jewish Writing in the Age of Authorial Disintegration," and the main topic is the non-Jewish German writer W.G. Sebald, best known for his 2001 novel Austerlitz. The decision to eliminate the hyphen (German-Jewish) signals the attempt to view Sebald as a "translated Jew," related to Roland Barthes's view of the literary text as an "oblique space where our subject slips away" (69). This relates also to the slippage between fiction and autobiography, [End Page 167] as expressed in the concept of "heteronym" and the question as to who is the speaker in a novel. More important, given the theme of this study, is the discussion of "national literature," i.e., a classification of literary texts based on the national or ethnic identity of the author. The chapter continues with a discussion of the American Jewish author Alfred Kazin, whose work is seen as evidence of the connection between American Jewish and European identities. The discussion then turns to the German-Jewish visual artist Daniel Blaufuks, whose work, like Sebald's, is influenced by the writing of the Holocaust survivor H.G. Adler, who is cited by Blaufuks but not by Sebald; Morris demonstrates that Sebald draws on Adler's work but does not acknowledge this.
In the third chapter, Morris examines the work of "conceptual poets and artists" in a variety of literary and visual genres, with particular focus on the British Jewish poet Anne Blonstein, whose translation into English of Celan's German Shakespeare translations leads Morris to reflect that "the work of Anne Blonstein illustrates the breakdown between religious and secular text, and the breakdown between genre, national borders and canonical poets […] as it exposes the foundational role of translation in enacting these textual dispersals" (126).
In the fourth chapter, Morris focusses on the city of Czernowitz, once a part of the Habsburg Empire and home to a large and thriving Jewish community and now a part of Ukraine with virtually no Jewish presence, and in particular the work of Rose Ausländer, who like Paul Celan grew up in the city. Unlike Celan, who makes little reference to his home city in his poetry, Ausländer's work focuses on it, but also on her Jewish identity, "although much of the time this assertion of Jewishness is presented as indeterminate, provisional, and forever shifting" (170). The fluidity of identity is connected once more to the process of translation.