Nexus can be "expected to become a platform for important research"

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Nexus: Essays in German Jewish Studies, vol. 1. Edited by William Collins Donahue and

Martha B. Helfer. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2011. Pp. viii + 246.

This welcome new series responds to the present state of German Jewish studies (dropping the hyphen because of its hierarchical implications) with a combination of theoretical reflections and cultural case studies. By focusing on literary and cultural studies, it complements the long-established Leo Baeck Institute Year Book, which specializes in heavily documented historical essays and gives relatively little space to literature. German Jewish studies today are no longer dominated by the Holocaust and exile; their practitioners include many non-Jews; they increasingly place their subjects in a global, rather than national, context; and they are hospitable to current themes in cultural analysis such as gender, the body and performativity.

The opening essays will stimulate discussion and often disagreement. Todd Samuel Presner draws attention to the new possibilities of presenting and extending scholarship offered by digital technology, suggesting links with the Talmud’s inventive use of the codex to juxtapose text and commentary. Lisa Silverman undertakes to sidestep insoluble questions about Jewish identity by arguing that people can perform Jewish difference without identifying themselves as Jews; but if you can have ‘Jewish difference’ without being a Jew, then not only, as Silverman concedes, can there be Jewish non-Jews, but that anti-Semitic compendium, the Semi-Gotha, is confirmed in its view that Lessing and Thomas Mann, even if not Jews, are essentially Jewish. In the strongest article in this section, Katja Garloff addresses the metaphor of Jews’ unrequited love for German culture, and examines different models of such love formulated by Gershom Scholem, Moritz Goldstein and Hannah Arendt.

Since German Jewish studies owe so much to the creative energies of Sander Gilman, his presence is doubly appropriate. Discussing happiness, he contrasts Freud’s resolute pessimism with the attempts by plastic surgeons to increase their patients’ happiness by trimming their supposedly Jewish-looking noses, and concludes that it is easier to mitigate unhappiness than to produce happiness.

Of the remaining essays, on literary and cultural topics from Berthold Auerbach to contemporary cinema, it can safely be said that all reach a high academic standard and that many could be prescribed to stimulate fruitful debate at graduate seminars. Two stand out. Elisabeth Loentz’s fine, archive-based article presents the Bavarian Jewish writer Clementine Krämer (1873−1942) who had two simultaneous literary careers, one as essayist in the middle-brow German Jewish press, the other, pseudonymously, as author of Heimatliteratur in Bavarian dialect. Loentz describes the latter as ‘passing’, but was it not an obvious mode of expression, since Krämer affirms that in her village Jews and Gentiles alike spoke dialect? I also admired Agnes Mueller’s hard-hitting analysis of the implicit anti-Semitism in Grass’s Im Krebsgang and Walser’s Tod eines Kritikers.

This series can be expected to become a platform for important research and debates on German Jewish literary and cultural studies. Just two caveats. First, the editing needs to be more attentive. Richard Bernstein becomes ‘Richard Bernhard’ (p. 61); Susan Neiman becomes ‘Nieman’ twice (p. 245). Second, and more seriously, the editors, all the contributors and all the editorial board teach at US universities. Not even Canada features. To avoid becoming a parochial branch of US cultural studies, future volumes will need input from abroad, above all from Germany. Despite these gentle warnings, this is a series to which both readers and libraries would be well advised to subscribe.

Ritchie Robertson

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