The conference Jewish Modernity in the Feminine will explore how 20th and 21st century women intellectuals and authors from Else Lasker-Schüler to Helène Cixous more or less explicitly redefined their own identity as Jewish women intellectuals. Aiming at an exploration of how gender and origins defined the lives, and particularly the wartime and/or post-war fates, of these outstanding female figures, the conference focuses on the impact these factors had on their various intellectual journeys and their oeuvre as a whole. It invites international scholars to reflect on the variety of multifaceted and singular philosophical and artistic paths; the literary journeys and autobiographical narratives; and political, historical, and existential writings in which these women reflect on the nexus of Judaism/Jewishness, Femininity/Womanhood and Modernity.
The female figures whose lives and works will be discussed include prominent and highly acclaimed philosophers such as Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil, less well-known thinkers such as Margarete Susman, Rachel Bespaloff and Sarah Kofman, and present-day figures such as Hélène Cixous; eminent German poets such as Else Lasker-Schüler and Ilse Aichinger, and American writers and poets such as Grace Paley, Adrienne Rich and Cynthia Ozick; women who played a special role in the history of ideas and political thought such as Emma Goldman; more marginal but pioneering figures who played a significant role in the world of Jewish learning such as Nechama Leibowitz, or in the relationship between Judaism and Christianity such as Edith Stein; and widely acknowledged intellectuals such as Eliane Amado Lévy-Valensi and Susan Sontag. All these Jewish women were compelled, if sometimes only indirectly and sometimes involuntarily, to confront their belonging to a community, a religion, a gender, while reinventing these categories and themselves. Above all, they have had to rethink, reformulate, restate, but also renounce, disclaim and deconstruct pre-established roles and stereotypical models associated with Judaism and womanhood. This intellectual, aesthetic and existential challenge in turn contributed greatly to the lasting importance of their work, their thinking and their writing.
Conference conceptualized by Vivian Liska (University of Antwerp) and Orietta Ombrosi (Sapienza, Università di Roma), with the financial support of the Literature Department and the University and Community Department of the University of Antwerp.