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"Schreiben was hier war" Beyond the Holocaust-Paradigm: (Re)Positionings of Jewish Self-Identity in German-Jewish Narratives Past and Present

Wells, Martina (2015) "Schreiben was hier war" Beyond the Holocaust-Paradigm: (Re)Positionings of Jewish Self-Identity in German-Jewish Narratives Past and Present. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation examines the stakes of self-Orientalizing in literary and cinematographic texts of German-Jewish cultural producers in the context of Jewish emancipation and modernization. Positing Jewish emancipation as a trans-historical and cultural process, my study traces the poetic journey of a particular set of Orientalist tropes from 19th century ghetto stories to contemporary writings and film at the turn of the millennium to address a twofold question: what could this problematic method of representation accomplish for Germany’s Jewish minority in the past, and how do we understand its re-appropriation by Germany’s “new Jewry” today. To explore this nexus, I employ an analytical framework that draws on Orientalist discourse theory and postcolonial theories of cultural and ethnic identity. While the works under consideration execute the Orientalist aesthetic in distinctly different ways and under different historical conditions, they tap into the same representational archive when functionalizing the polarized East/West geography and inherited cultural stereotypes about Jews such as the “Oriental Jew”, the “ghetto”, and the “Oriental cult.” I argue that these tropes not only come with a long history in articulating Jewishness, but that they are reanimated by Jews themselves to write the Jewish narrative of the present. Their reintroduction into the realm of fiction after decades of absence signals a paradigm shift in representations of Jews in Germany, where the Holocaust has been the uncontested framing element in the discourse of Jews and the ultimate reference point for
German-Jewish identity since the 1940s. As the shift accompanies generational and compositional change within Germany’s Jewish community, it comes with emancipatory consequences. Rather than having a trimming effect on the menu of identifications, I contend that strategies of self-Orientalizing are a resource to make newly meaningful the Jewish historical experience and challenge the constraints of a Holocaust-based identity for Jews living in Germany today. The changes in Jewish self-identity this dissertation expounds also provide a model for analyzing the struggle against normative ascriptions of identity of other minorities in contemporary Europe whether self-imposed or by others.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Wells, Martinamaw79@pitt.eduMAW79
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairVonDirke, Sabine
Committee MemberInsana, Lina
Committee MemberHalle, Randall
Committee MemberLyon, John
Date: 23 June 2015
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 31 March 2015
Approval Date: 23 June 2015
Submission Date: 14 April 2015
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 263
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Germanic Languages and Literatures
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: New German Jewry, Oriental Jew, German-Jewish Film, Self-Orientalizing, Holocaust discourse, ghetto fiction
Date Deposited: 23 Jun 2015 15:15
Last Modified: 23 Jun 2020 05:15


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