Conference on Jewish Women's Writing of the 1990s and Beyond
Carmen Birkle (Mainz University)
In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois made his famous statement that the "problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line" (Souls 54). While this has indeed become true, this problem has developed in ways unforseeable for Du Bois. At the turn into the third millennium, Du Bois's line between black and white has metamorphosed into a crossroads of multiple ethnicities and cultures with increasingly blurred boundaries. The early biological crossing of ethnic boundaries through miscegenation has been supplemented by cultural miscegenation and subsequent transculturation. The either/or and neither/nor dichotomies are extended by Werner Sollors's "yet both" and deconstructive concepts such as David Hollinger's "postethnicity," Wolfgang Welsch's and Diana Taylor's "transculturality," and Edward Soja's and Homi Bhabha's "Third Space." In her autobiography Black, White, and Jewish (2001), Rebecca Walker, daughter of the African-American feminist writer Alice Walker and a white Jewish father, describes her triple heritage of being black, white, and Jewish as a process of coming to terms with conflicting identities in the context of an American society going global and local or transcultural and ethnic at the same time. Although by definition Rebecca Walker is not Jewish because her mother is not, she argues that the Jewish cultural context has nevertheless influenced her upbringing and her socialization. Thus, she feels she is marked by Judaism even if the law says she is not. Similar to the creation of new musical styles through cross-fertilization such as in jazz and, more recently, in rap, Walker thematizes cultural interrelations as a way toward newly emerging identities. In my paper, I propose to read Walker's testimony in the light of changing concepts of ethnicity, ethnicities in dialogue with each other, and ultimately from the point of view of the dissolution of the need for a segregation into black, white, and Jewish as well as the dissolution of these categories as essentializing ethnic markers. Rebecca Walker is at the crossroads of all.
David Brauner (University of Reading)
Focusing on three novels by Bernice Rubens – Madame Souzatska, The Elected Member and Spring Sonata – and three short stories by Rebecca Goldstein – 'Mindel Gittel', 'The Geometry of Soap Bubbles and Impossible Love' and 'Rabbinical Eyes' - this paper will explore the ways in which conventional stereotypes of Jewish family life are reinforced or subverted through the representation of the child prodigy. In Rubens' fiction the linguistic and musical precocity of brilliant Jewish boys is overseen by domineering mother figures; in Goldstein's fiction gifted Jewish girls pay a heavy price for transcending the traditional subordinate position of the Jewish daughter: the alienation or absence of parents and/or the birth of a 'damaged' child. In both Rubens and Goldstein the child prodigy is, more often than not, represented as a destructive and self-destructive phenomenon, leading to the perversion, corruption or dissolution of family ties, and yet at the same time as a source of great pride, both to the parents and to the boy or girl genius. Moreover, this ambiguity is intimately related to the ambiguous Jewishness of these children: intellectual brilliance in these stories is, paradoxically, both a product and a rejection of Jewish identity, something both facilitated and imprisoned by the traditional structure of the Jewish family.
Ezra Cappell (University of Texas, El Paso)
In 1987, Sarah Blacher Cohen, a Professor of English at the State University of New York, went from writing serious analyses of humor in Jewish American literature to creating her own irreverent comedy of character, ideas, situation, and language. Her autobiographical play, The Ladies Locker Room, comically explores the connections among the elderly, the disabled, and the young able-bodied women of different nationalities and religions. Through diverse, accented dialogue and varied levels of discourse, the play illustrates the intricate workings of the locker room as a miniature United Nations, with its power plays, strained attempts at negotiation, inevitable compromises and capitulations.
From a Jewish point of view, the locker room companions are, in the words of one reviewer, "a microcosm of Diaspora Jewry, East European, Central European and American. Dr. Susan's handicaps place her in a doubly 'marginal' status. Jewish and disabled, she finds kinship as one who 'walks funny' with immigrant Sophie, who 'talks funny,' but who 'didn't have no accent' until she moved to America."
However, the play is not only a portrayal of the disabled protagonist, it is an expression of the twin poles of her own identity: her academic self and the vibrant Yiddish woman inside her, embodied in the eighty-two-year-old Sophie Gold from Bialystok who functions as the tutor in the play. Amazingly agile and gregarious for her age, she motivates the disabled Jewish American professor to help an able-bodied Gentile woman give birth to her first child. Thus, Sophie, the Yiddish woman in the play is not the know-nothing awkward greenhorn. She is the Yiddish life force, whom Cynthia Ozick describes as the "deus ex machina and mentor and historian and explainer and continuer and sardonic merry angel," who enables Dr. Susan to experience "the victories of an imagination courageous enough for happiness," which "hint or teach . . . that happiness is hard and muscular labor. (Like laughter!)" Though Dr. Susan obsesses about the tragic parts of her life, Sophie employs the humor of verbal retrieval. Through her comic formulations of the tearful, she succeeds in salvaging the antic from the anguished. In her own way, Sophie is the Yiddish midwife who contributes to the symbolic rebirth and empowerment of the disabled.
In my paper, I not only explore the ways in which Sarah Blacher Cohen has brilliantly and hilariously broken the silence that often accompanies the trauma of disability, but I also analyze her dual themes of Jewish identity and feminism that are most clearly expressed in her plays Henrietta Szold: Woman of Valor, and Danny Kaye: Supreme Court Jester.
Susanne Greenhalgh (University of Surrey, Roehampton)
This paper will examine Julia Pascal's three plays on the Holocaust in relation to Omer Bartov's concept of the Holocaust as a crisis in identity. The work will be further contextualised in relation to contemporary critical debates concerning memory and memorialisation of the Holocaust, and the modes of theatricality to which this gives rise. The plays will also be situated as part of the new 'internationalism'and 'bilingualism' that Susan Bassnett has identified as newly emergent in British women's theatre and performance in recent years, foregrounding questions of territorial, national and cultural identification.(1) In particular the paper will delineate Pascal's theatrical exploration of what she terms 'the fractured world of exile',(2) through her experimentation with physical theatre techniques (especially in her collaborations with Ruth Posner - herself a holocaust survivor- and Thomas Kampe, son of a Wehrmacht veteran), and her interrogation of post-Holocaust language, through dramatic figures (for instance the interpreter Sophia in A Dead Woman On Holiday), the prevalence of multilingualism in her texts, and the creation of diverse 'soundscapes'. Finally, by examining the extent to which the plays can be considered to constitute a tragic trilogy in the classical sense, the paper will argue that Pascal's plays engage in forms of memorial reconstruction on both the narrative and metatheatrical levels, celebrating the survival of Jewish culture and language, whilst also responding to the emerging understanding of the Holocaust as focal point of a new European moral 'shared memory' and as an evolving global icon.
(1) Susan Bassnett,'The Politics of Location', in Elaine Aston and Janelle Reinelt eds. The Cambridge Companion to Modern British Women Playwrights (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
(2)Julia Pascal, 'Introduction', (The Holocaust Trilogy, London: Oberon, 2000), p.6
Karen Grumberg (University of California)
Place is a particularly tricky topic for Jewish writers because of the domination in Jewish thought of the liminal dream-place, Zion. The status of that place became more complicated with the establishment of Israel, since it physicalized a place that had for centuries been spiritual. Jewish-American literature of the 1990s confronts the complex dynamics between place and spirituality and pushes beyond the examination of sisterly ties to Israel or a sense of social belonging in America. There is a concentrated effort, for example, in the work of Allegra Goodman, to philosophize the experience of place as a spiritual one that transcends the rules and regulations of rabbinic Judaism (especially those restricting women to certain roles and duties) while maintaining a distinctly Jewish identity. Her books Paradise Park and Kaaterskill Falls emphasize the difference between the limited, enclosed civilized place and its uncivilized, spiritually rich counterpart. The female characters find happiness within the traditional Jewish experience, but not contentment. They yearn to attain within Judaism the freedom of the place beyond the synagogue and the kitchen: the wilderness, whether a patch of rainforest in Hawaii or the grand falls at Kaaterskill. Both places provide life-changing inspiration for the heroines. Israel, the Holocaust, and pre-War Europe loom constantly in the background, but the uncivilized place is central. In Kaaterskill Falls, Goodman elaborates this notion through several female characters, particularly Elizabeth's six daughters, for whom Kaaterskill serves as a catalyst in shaping Jewish identity. The experience of place in Goodman's fiction is spiritual, but the place itself is passive. It is the women who actively pursue it in their search for fulfillment within Judaism.
Christoph Houswitschka (Bamberg University)
Karen Gershon (1923-1993) was born in Bielefeld, Germany. In 1939 she came to England without her family as a kindertransport child. She was one of the first exiles of the kindertransport who wrote poems and prose about her loss, her alienation, and her inner feelings as a German refugee. In the subtitle, Gershon calls her edition of biographical records, We Came As Children (1966), a “collective autobiography”. She tries to grasp her own individual fate as one of thousands more. She imagines her individual identity always as representation of a collective or social memory as a Jew and a woman, as a refugee and an author, following Koestler's dictum that “Jews are just like other people only more so”.
Gershon tries to see her life as both “not outstanding” and completely changed by the Holocaust. She calls herself “European-minded” and “torn between two worlds”. She knows that “she can never be free of the past”. Therefore she “feels Jewish, yet cannot take an interest in Jewish affairs”. These ambivalences and contradictions have accompanied Karen Gershon in her poetry and prose. Gershon changed her style from the difficult language of “Swiss Morning (Vierwaldstattersee)” to her well-known “I was not there”.
In her translation of Postscript: A Collective Account of the Lives of Jews in West Germany Since the Second World War (1969), she brings the account of a very different group identity to the knowledge of the Jewish and gentile British public. Gershon's allegorical tale of a woman condemned to die from chronic poliomyelitis, Burn Helen (1980), tries once again to compare her unique suffering as a Holocaust refugee with that of another group of people trying to fathom the “normality” of her experiences. In The Bread of Exile (1985), Karen Gershon tells the story of the kindertransport from December 1938 until February 1942 by narrating the fictional biographies of several children at various stages of their exiles. Her last book, A Lesser Child (1993), is her autobiography.
Karen Gershon's writings are reminiscent of other autobiographical prose and poetry on the experiences of the exile and the survival of the second generation like Olga Levy Drucker's Kindertransport (1992), Lotte Kramer's poetry or the writings of refugees who did not share the collective identity of the kindertransport like Michael Hamburger or Anne Karpf. An assessment of Karen Gershon's refugee writings is overdue.
Susan Jacobowitz (The City University of New York)
This paper analyzes modern American fiction by, amongst others, Rebecca Goldstein, Tova Reich, Pearl Abraham and Allegra Goodman. It suggests that both the writers and their Orthodox daughter protagonists can be viewed as the inheritors/continuation of a literary tradition questioning roles, perceptions of and opportunities for Jewish women evident in literature published in America during the first half of the twentieth century by women authors such as Esther Singer Kreitman and Anzia Yezierska.
Peter Lawson (University of Southampton)
Nazi Germany proved a boon to Anglo-Jewish women's poetry. Thanks to Kindertransporte which sent 10,000 children to England from 1938-39, non-Anglophone youths were forced to switch allegiances from German and other continental languages to English. All three poets considered here were keen to normalise their lives in England. Hence, they repressed their experiences of Nazism, and did not start to address them in poetry until the 1960s. Gershon was the first to break the silence with her collective autobiography of the Kindertransporte, 'We Came as Children', and her 'Selected Poems' of 1966. Mayer's initial volume appeared in 1970, and Kramer's as late as 1979. From the sanctuary of what Kramer calls 'the heart's island', all three poets have tried to come to terms with their continental-Jewish and refugee experiences, as well as their ongoing diasporic displacement. Kramer has re-engaged with her birthplace, Mainz, by producing a bilingual volume 'Heimweh-Homesick' (1999) with the help of the city's university. By contrast, Gershon rejected post-war Germany and remained a Zionist (outside of Israel) until her death in 1993. Mayer's case is slightly different, since she hails from the former Czechoslovakia. Her response to tragedy is a humour and reticence in self-conscious contrast to Gershon's display of bleak, courageous grief. Further, Mayer's nursery rhyme verse bears comparison with that of the American poet Sylvia Plath, whose own use of Holocaust imagery is famously controversial. Vitally, I propose discussing the common affiliation of these poets to other Kindertransporte survivors, and its relation to their Anglo-Jewish, diasporic identities.
David Malcolm (University of Gdansk)
Zina Rohan is the daughter of refugees, her father a Jew from Germany, her mother a Russian emigrée born in the former Yugoslavia and from an Eastern Orthodox family. In the 1990s she published two well-received novels of displacement, The Book of Wishes and Complaints (1991) and The Sandbeetle (1994). The Sandbeetle is a first-person account of the experiences of Leo Beck, born into an assimilated German-Jewish family. Sent by his mother in the early 1930s to Britain, Leo sets out to become as indistinguishable as possible from the English that surround him. He acquires the language and voice of the English educated classes and attends Oxford University. In the late 1930s, his identity becomes precarious – he is employed as a translator by the British police in the process of vetting German-speaking aliens, and in the early years of the War he is interned with much more recent German immigrants. He becomes part of a small community of Jewish internees within the larger group of imprisoned aliens. Sent to Australia aboard the infamous refugee transport ship the Dunera, he experiences during the voyage brutal treatment at the hands of his British guards. He returns to Britain towards the end of the War, where he marries a beautiful upper-middle-class English woman and goes into business with a working-class Italian-British friend (who has also been aboard the Dunera). Leo's experiences embody and illustrate many recent non-fictional discussions of identity in general and Jewish identity in particular. Stuart Hall's arguments concerning the fluidity and provisional nature of identity seem to be captured in Leo's various self-identifications and forced identifications with others. In addition, Rohan's novel can be seen clearly to question traditional literary stereotypes of Jewishness and to re-vision British history from the experience of the problematic outsider, aspects of Jewish writing in Britain that are stressed by Bryan Cheyette. The Sandbeetle describes, above all, the complexity of Leo's identity and also the choices he makes of whom to associate and identify himself with. His mentors are not Jewish, nor is his wife and business associate. It also points to Leo's experiences as being in no way limited to Jewish characters. Meyer, whom he admires deeply, is interned with him, is shipped to Australia with him, and experiences the camp there with him. But Meyer is not Jewish. Nor is Giusè, his friend and partner, who is deported on the Dunera along with many other Italians. Rohan is clearly suggesting that the Jewish experiences she depicts in The Sandbeetle have a universal application – a suggestion that neither Bernard Malamud nor Zygmunt Bauman would wholly dissent from. In this respect, it is striking that Rohan's first published novel, The Book of Wishes and Complaints, is not concerned with Jewish experience at all, but rather with the complexities of being out of place experienced by Czech Gentile characters. It is also worth noting that Rohan's recent, widely acclaimed work for the BBC has involved producing programmes on the Balkans, on refugees and on terrorism, programmes that focus on problems of identity, assimilation and displacement in the widest possible context. In The Sandbeetle Meyer argues that “We're all just people, as much as that, or perhaps I should be saying as little as that.” Although she is choosing her historical ground carefully to support such an argument, and strongly presents the particularity of specific experience, Rohan also suggests that we are all – under certain circumstances - in the same boat.
Alexandra Martin (Universität Mainz)"The Romance Reader - a Feminist Novel?"
"The annihilation of idiosyncrasy assures the annihilation of culture."  In the 1980s this sentence expressed Cynthia Ozick's fear of an assimilated Jewish-American literature where the stress is put on American to the disadvantage of Jewish aspects. Since she firmly believes that "nothing thought or written in Diaspora has ever been able to last unless it has been centrally Jewish,"  she must have uttered a sigh of relief when in the 1990s several young American Jewish writers returned in their fiction to plots which were "centrally Jewish." One of these young American Jewish writers is Pearl Abraham. Raised in a Hasidic community in upstate New York in the 1970s, she chooses a similar setting for her autobiographical first novel The Romance Reader.  The adolescent protagonist, Rachel Benjamin, is the oldest of seven brothers and sisters. Like any average teenager she is overwhelmed by the discovery of her own sexuality and preoccupied with the development of her identity as woman and Jewess. Due to her Orthodox Jewish upbringing, she is confronted with a number of traditional female gender roles. Already her position as the family's oldest daughter gives her the responsibility of a substitute mother and housewife. The life of a Jewish woman is strictly organized according to numerous rules and regulations based on halakhah, and from an early age Rachel is trained to obey and fulfill these laws. Discontented with her own rigorous Hasidic life and disconnected from the secular world outside - her family neither owns a radio nor a TV - Rachel becomes obsessed with reading. Against her parents' will and knowledge, she secretly reads English or "goyishe" and "trafe" books (39, 118) which provide her with information about love and sexuality. From a Hasidic perspective, Rachel is considered a descendent of Eve, the sinner (85). That is why she is supposed to be ashamed of her sexuality and has to cover her female body with modest clothing. Rachel has nobody in whom to confide concerning her questions about ongoing changes within herself and about relationships between women and the other sex. When she grows hair under her arms and on her legs, she believes a "dybbuk possessed [her] body" (48). Left alone with her unanswered questions, the forbidden books remain her only source of knowledge. On the basis of these books, Rachel gradually gains mental independence and distances herself from the traditional female role models in her community. She quickly learns to act inconspicuously in public, otherwise she would be taken from school or locked away in an asylum. She creates her own future plans: "One day, I will have my own bookcase" (39). "I'll do and wear what I want. I'll be who I am" (204). She imagines to live by herself as a working woman. If she got married at all it would have to be a love-match and not an arranged marriage. Since she has baby-sat all her life, children are not number one on Rachel's wish list either. These ideas, however, contradict the life style her parents have chosen for her. They have decided to marry her off to a young Hasidic man whose last name "Mittelman" already suggests that he turns out to be a man of mediocre abilities. His surname also alludes to the fact that Rachel eventually ends up abusing her husband as a means to leave her old Hasidic life to take off for what she calls "regular life" (35). Her husband's name describes the short period of time she spends with him. It refers to a condition in-between two worlds, physically still present within the exclusively sacred community but mentally already departed for a more secular surrounding. Rachel, whom I consider a prototype of a Jewish feminist, eventually gains control over her own destiny by leaving her husband and thus the restrictions imposed on her as a woman by her Hasidic background. On the one hand, I will read The Romance Reader as a regular feminist novel because of the "absolute centrality given to the experience of adolescence and young adulthood. . . [T]he experiences of this period have come to be almost synonymous with sexual experience. . . [T]his preoccupation with the confession of sexual experience is one of the most characteristic features of contemporary feminist writing."  Furthermore, the female protagonists' sexual experiences usually "radically affect their lives or transform their attitudes."  In The Romance Reader Rachel's expectations of love and sexuality and her dream of emancipation lead to her decision to get a divorce - despite the difficulties a divorce might cause for an agunah, a Jewish divorcee. On the other hand, I would like to read The Romance Reader as a Jewish feminist novel. Jewish feminism has gained increasing importance during the last two decades. "Tradition discouraged most Jewish women from complete participation in their religious heritage, and the Jewish culture itself was robbed of creative minds and hearts that would surely have enriched it immeasurably."  Cynthia Ozick puts the failing of traditional Judaism to involve women in Jewish life even more insistently: Jewish women have been omitted . . . . A loss numerically greater than a hundred pogroms; yet Jewish literature and history report not one wail, not one tear. A loss culturally and intellectually more debilitating than a century of autos-da-fé; than a thousand evil bonfires of holy books - because books can be duplicated and replaced when there are minds to duplicate and replace them, and minds cannot be duplicated and replaced; yet Jewish literature and history report not one wail, not one tear.  In The Romance Reader, Rachel is looking for a compromise between the sacred and the secular. It is, however, not Judaism against which Rachel rebels but it is the inequalities between men and women in Jewish Orthodoxy she is no longer ready to bear. She longs for both, a secular education and career (she wants to teach English literature) and a greater involvement of women in sacred Jewish life.
Tracy Mishkin (Indianapolis)
The Garden of Eden's fascinating cast of characters appears frequently in the poetry of Linda Pastan. Pastan is a non-observant Jew who educated herself about her religion as an adult after being raised on the beliefs of her atheist parents. She is comfortable with the imagery of both Judaism and Christianity, and her work often returns to the story of Adam and Eve, which is shared by both faiths. In this essay, I will explore the various ways in which Pastan uses the Garden of Eden in her poems and discuss her ability to move between religions. Eve is central to Pastan's interest in the Garden of Eden, and several of the poems rewrite Eve sympathetically, as in “Fruit of the Tree,” in which Eve is the mother of scientists Newton and Bohr. A number of poems also evoke the loss of innocence that occurred with the Fall, often looking beyond the ending of the story. In “Fresco,” Eve covers her breasts not only out of newfound shame but also to ward off the knowledge of Cain and Abel nursing at them. Several of Pastan's poems focus on the act of naming; for example, in “The Way the Leaves Keep Falling,” Adam tags all the plants and trees, which Eve dislikes, but the orderly speaker can appreciate. Finally, Eve (and occasionally Adam) functions as a metaphor in a number of poems. In “Getting Down to Work,” for instance, the speaker compares herself at the beginning of the day to Eve with “the whole wide world / to choose from.” The characters of the Garden, including the serpent, are familiar faces to whom her thoughts often turn. In these poems, Pastan draws on her Jewish heritage, Christian art such as Masaccio's fresco “The Expulsion from the Garden,” and experiences as mundane as making a list or visiting the zoo. As she moves between religions and from the sacred to the profane, she reflects a comfort with crossing borders characteristic of much late twentieth and early twenty-first century literature.
Peter Müller (Mainz University)
We live in an era that is conspicuously aware of time, of its influence on our knowledge of reality and our sense of identity. The problems of how the past determines the present and the future and whether human beings have any power over their lives and histories or are simply the victims of forces beyond their authority have been pre-eminently discussed since the beginning of modernity by philosophers, historians, scientists, and artists. Time is something that human beings can cope with only very selectively, and their selections are strongly influenced by memory and imagination. Against the backdrop of recent investigations and findings in cognitivism and constructionism, I will investigate how contemporary novelists describe the complex process of finding, creating, or not being able to get rid of one's identity. Can there be a sense of identity in a postmodern world? And in which way is Jewish identity reflected in novels by British writers? How are history and mythology connected to each other in these novels? These and related questions will be dealt with. I have consciously selected four novelists with intriguing similarities and differences, in order to find out whether they have anything in common at all and how these fascinating and highly significant contemporary topics are dealt with by women of different generations, origins, and backgrounds.
Fabienne C. Quennet (Philipps-University Marburg)
Serving as an important, albeit complex, marker of ethnic identity, food habits have come under scrutiny in the last years. Literary usage of eating, foods, and cooking are often employed to characterize ethnic/minority groups. The description of ethnic food habits not only adds towards an authentic setting and atmosphere but also defines the group as such. The prominence of Jewish food and cooking in Tova Mirvis' novel The Ladies Auxiliary, published in 1999, attests to the fact that ethnic food habits and cuisines do construct and constitute identities. In the essay that I am proposing want to analyze the ways in which Tova Mirvis' discourse on food habits and Jewish identity reflects the changing role of Jewish women by the end of the 20th century. The role of women in Judaism has been intensely discussed and become the focus of scholarly attention over the last decades. Whereas the status of Jewish women has largely and for a long time been defined by a male-centered religion, recent studies have shown how the role of women has changed and how women have begun to establish their own space and place within Jewish communities and life. The elaborate rules of kashrut distinguishes Jewish life from gentile and other lifestyles, imposing special demands on Jewish women in particular. The special cooking customs as part of Judaism's religious rituals serve also to mark the concept of "women's centrality in maintaining the home as primary site of Jewish sensibility and in transmitting Jewish culture and identity" (Hyman 27). Tova Mirvis questions many of these rituals on various different levels, foremost by introducing a rather free-spirited woman and liberal Jew into the closed society of Orthodox Jews living in Memphis, yet the thematic preoccupation of cooking and food gains special importance throughout the novel because although food remains a constant reminder of one's identity, it is also a way of escaping and transcending the limits of the same identity. By transgressing in culinary ways, the younger generation in Mirvis' novel rather visits McDonald's than eating gefillte fish at home, female traditional female Jewish identity (as provider of Jewish cuisine and culture) is at stake.
Miriam Sivan (Haifa University)
Hester Lilt in The Cannibal Galaxy, like nearly all of Cynthia Ozick's female protagonists, is unmarried. She is also a passionate mother who sees no contradiction in living both the life of the body, and the life of the mind. Joseph Brill, on the other hand, the principal of the school in which Lilt's daughter is enrolled, cannot consider this duality possible (though the school he founded is based emphatically on the idea of merging Western and Judaic traditions, what he calls the Dual Curriculum). Brill insists that Hester be like the putatively chaste and purely mental Shekhina (the female emanation of God in Kabbalistic literature), and when she refuses to conform, he considers that she is more like Lilith, the she-demon out to steal men's sperm and defy their authority (according to Jewish legend). In fact, Lilith is the anti-thesis of the Madonna/whore split. She embodies the synthesis of motherhood and sexuality, of sexuality and self-empowerment. Hester Lilt, a brilliant philosopher, remains unapologetic to the end, insisting that her daughter is “everything. She's my life,” writing her books on language and culture, and remaining silent, as if to de-prioritize, the role of paternity and husbandry in the highly charged world in which she orbits.
Axel Stähler (Universität Bonn)
In recent years the confrontation with the State of Israel and Israeli-Jewish identities has become increasingly important for the formation of diaspora-Jewish identities in the works of Jewish writers of the Anglo-American diaspora. Varying notions of Eretz Yisrael as a place (both real and imagined) and as an ideological concept (political, cultural and religious) often inform the quest for an authentic (Jewish) identity. Applying methods of gender studies and of cultural studies - especially with regard to notions of alterity and xenophobia - and concentrating on works by Anne Roiphe, Tova Reich and Linda Grant I propose to analyse and interpret in my paper the ways in which Jewish women writers from different cultural contexts of the Anglo-American diaspora deal with the idea of Israel in their search for female (Jewish) identities.
Thomas Stein (Mainz University)
Taking into account Rüdiger Imhof's definition of the Neo-Gothic Novel (“Neo-Gotische Tendenzen im zeitgenössischen Roman”, 1993), Eva Figes's The Tenancy has been classified as a “modern Gothic novel” which depicts an “ever-intensifying atmosphere of suspicion, disintegration, violence, and victimisation” (Stuby, 1997; 2001). However, the full meaning of this sinister novel only reveals itself if one registers the changes between the Gothic Novel proper, about which Figes writes revealingly from a scholarly perspective in Sex and Subterfuge (1982), and its contemporary adaptation. Also, it is essential to assess the significance of the Holocaust about which Martha and Frederick Wolf (“the ghosts”) inform the female protagonist of The Tenancy, Edith Johnson, in heart-wrenching terms. The Holocaust together with two substantial intertextual relationships, Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own (1929) and Franz Kafka's The Castle (1926), requires a thoroughgoing investigation.
I will pursue the way the house as the site of horror takes from the Gothic to the modern Gothic novel focussing on the fact that the safety valve which signalled “that fictional terror can be highly enjoyable” (Sex and Subterfuge, 1982, 71) in Ann Ratcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) is no longer in operation in Eva Figes's The Tenancy. The “surreal building full of unknown perils” (Sex and Subterfuge, 73) is the locus horribilis in both the classical and the modern Gothic novel, the difference being that in The Tenancy there is no harmonious denouement but unreserved destruction. While in the Gothic Novel 'horror' is made visible as an aesthetic construct, in Figes's The Tenancy the reader is confronted with total despair witnessing the characters' complete disintegration. The major reason for this fundamental redefinition of the parameters of horror is, of course, the Holocaust. In the Gothic Novel, horror has an agent (Montori in The Mysteries of Udolpho), can be personified and individualised. The Wolfs, the Jewish exiles in The Tenancy, can no longer locate horror in the individual but must, looking back, generalise: they speak of Gesindel (23). Events around the life of Edith Johnson, the imprisoned victim, prove to be a nightmare because horror is a brutal force without an agent. It is this absence of a specifiable agent, the horror without agency, that creates claustrophobia and angst: it is omnipresent. Also, horror now is timeless; The Tenancy tellingly withholds any information as to time and locality, with the exception of the house of horror in which the novel is set. Other than the Nazi terror about which the Wolfs relate the de-humanising consequences, present-day horror is revealed, as it is in Kafka, as a phenomenon which defines the human condition.
To substantiate my thesis that Figes inscribes the Holocaust into the modern Gothic novel, I will scrutinise the use of the Wolfs more closely than critics have done so far (in Stuby they are not even mentioned). Their life in the English-speaking diaspora turns out to be but a reprieve. The books they manage to rescue from Germany to establish a library in exile and create, in Rushdie's terms, “a country of the mind” (“a library rather than a living room, with shelves all around, running from floor to ceiling”, 149), fall victim to the flames that eventually destroy the house, thus alluding to the “Bücherverbrennung”. This, I will argue, is conceived of as a device which illustrates that the Nazi Holocaust is but a stage on the road to the utter destruction of Jews.
While Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own suggested a locus for creativity, Figes's The Tenancy reveals such withdrawal as an illusion. A similar cul-de-sac is Edmund Burke's “aesthetics of the sublime”, which insists upon “a sort of delightful horror” (Burke, 1757). With the inscription of the Holocaust into the modern Gothic novel, any kind of aestheticism has lost its redeeming force. What remains is the apocalyptic nightmare with which The Tenancy concludes.
Michelene Wandor (London)
I offer something which is a mixture of reading and paper, with relevance to my own writing, exploring how the different ways in which I am contextualised, situated, by others and by myself. So we have the categories: Jewish, woman, feminist, socialist. The centre of all this is the 'me' which writes, and I am keen to try and avoid the easy modernist(!) descent into fragmentation, relativism - because I see that as an absolving of aesthetic and political responsibility. Nor am I interested in the mystical/romantic notion that 'I' am written by others. I think it is in the nature of my various positions that a constant process of negotiation has to take place, and this is a negotiation which is often painful, frustrating and silencing, and only occasionally freeing and productive. (Some people might say that's life!) So the core of the paper will offer some kind of account of the Centre which I undoubtedly occupy, while also constantly relating to it from its Edges. I think this, to an extent, explains why I am or seem to be (in Britain) harder to compartmentalise than many of my fellow writers, Jewish and not. This probably will involve identifying moments when I am/feel 'centred', especially in performance, and at some moments when I am writing or practising music. This entails, I think, a situation/state of being, when my relationship to language and/or the musical process of reading and sounding are the field in which I operate. There are, of course, many other such moments - walking, for example. I am not approaching some kind of essentialist notion of post-hippie happiness (I don't do happy, as I tell people...), nor am I invoking Art as a Centre in a post-Romantic sense. But since the conference is focussed on the Jewish and the woman, it will be these two which I try and relate to the 'Englishness' of my centre.
Theoretically I will draw on Bakhtin, Goldmann and a bit of Barthes.