When Kafka Says We

When Kafka Says We

Uncommon Communities in German-Jewish Literature
Vivian Liska
Distribution: World
Publication date: 5/22/2009
Format: cloth 256 pages
6.125 x 9.25
ISBN: 978-0-253-35308-5
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Taking as its starting point Franz Kafka's complex relationship to Jews and to communities in general, When Kafka Says We explores the ambivalent responses of major German-Jewish writers to self-enclosed social, religious, ethnic, and ideological groups. Vivian Liska shows that, for Kafka and others, this ambivalence inspired innovative modes of writing which, while unmasking the oppressive cohesion of communal groupings, also configured original and uncommon communities. Interlinked close readings of works by German-Jewish writers such as Kafka, Else Lasker-Schüler, Nelly Sachs, Paul Celan, Ilse Aichinger, and Robert Schindel illuminate the ways in which literature can subvert, extend, or reconfigure established visions of communities. Liska's rich and astute analysis uncovers provocative attitudes and insights on a subject of continuing controversy.

Author Bio

Vivian Liska is Professor of German Literature and Director of the Institute of Jewish Studies at the University of Antwerp, Belgium. She is author of The Night of the Hymns: Paul Celan's Poems, 1938–1944 (in German) and editor (with Thomas Nolden) of Contemporary Jewish Writing in Europe: A Guide (IUP, 2008).


"[T]his is a collection of . . . work dealing with exemplary 20th-century Jewish authors, poets, and thinkers who wrote, or are still writing, in German—including (in addition to Kafka) Theodor Herzl, Else Lasker-Schüler, Paul Celan, Nelly Sachs, Ilse Aichinger, Robert Menasse, Doron Rabinovici, Robert Schindel, and Hannah Arendt. . . . Looking at the sociocultural and political context of the 20th century, Liska . . . proffers nuanced, insightful, often provocative interpretations of selected works of interest to scholars of these particular writers. She explores how these German-Jewish writers' responses to anti-Semitism, along with their ambivalence about their marginal position, inspired 'unconventional literary approaches toward communities and selves and the relationship between them.' Keying on this level of ambivalence, Liska convincingly shows how these particular works . . . can unmask, subvert, but also reconfigure the 'oppressive cohesion of communal groupings' into new 'original and uncommon communities.' . . . Recommended. — Choice" —, November 2009

"This book convincingly demonstrates a fruitful intersection betwen literary analysis and cultural studies to raise important questions about German Jewish identity and literature and would be a valuable read for those interested in German Jewish studies, Holocaust remembrance, and cultural studies as a whole." —
H-Judaic, H-Net Reviews , July, 2010

"Several essays here deserve to become important reference points in literary discussions." —
Journal of Jewish Studies , Spring 2011

"Liska has produced a fascinating volume ..." —
German Studies Review , 34/2 May 2011

"[T]his is a convincing and remarkable study, focused, yet of impressive breadth. . . . [S]hould be a mainstay in every university library offering German Studies or Jewish Studies on the graduate or undergraduate levels." —
Shofar , Vol. 29, No. 3 Spring 2011

"I know of no book quite like Liska's in range, sophisticated analysis, and importance for the appreciation of modern German-Jewish literature in the wake of Kafka." —Geoffrey Hartman, Yale University

"Vivian Liska is remarkable for the precision of her readings. . . . She brings to her project a rich and varied sensibility—a mind at home in many languages and literatures and fields of thought." —Stanley Corngold, Princeton University

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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
Introduction: Uncommon Communities
Part 1. Kafka's Communities
1. When Kafka Says We
2. Shooting at the Audience: Kafka's Speech on the Yiddish Language
3. An Alliance of Foes: Kafka and the Feminine
Part 2. Revisiting the Common Ground
4. A Vision out of Sight: Theodor Herzl's Late "Philosophical Tales"
5. Diverting the Lineage: Biblical Women in Else Lasker-Schüler's Hebrew Ballads
6. Saving Confusions: Else Lasker-Schüler's Poetics of Redemption
Part 3. Communities of Fate
7. A Counter-Prayer: Paul Celan's "In Front of a Candle"
8. Roots against Heaven: A Motif in Paul Celan
9. The Voice of Israel: Nelly Sachs's "Choirs after Midnight"
Part 4. Contentious Commemorations
10. A Broken Ring: The Gruppe 47 and Ilse Aichinger's Poetics of Resistance
11. After the Silence: Holocaust Remembrance in Contemporary Austrian-Jewish Literature
12. Jewish Voices, Human Tone: Robert Menasse's The Expulsion from Hell
Part 5. Kafka's Companions
13. Of Language and Destiny: Paul Celan and Kafka
14. A Permanent Shadow: Ilse Aichinger and Kafka
15. The Gap between Hannah Arendt and Kafka