November 6th - 7th, 2006
International Conference organized by the Universities of Antwerp and Ghent, in cooperation with:
the Department of General and Comparative Literature & the Department of English Literature at Ghent University
Papers are invited for a two-day comparative literature conference on postwar Jewish writing in North America and Western Europe.
Perhaps more than any other ethnic or religious group in the US, Jewish authors have shaped the face of 20th century American literature. The rich tradition of Jewish American writing ranges from the more peripheral immigrant novels written by Abraham Cahan, Mary Antin, Anzia Yezierska, and Henry Roth to the postwar novels by Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, and Philip Roth which catapulted Jewish writing into the center of the American literary system. By the late 1970s, however, Irving Howe famously predicted the demise of the Jewish American novel due to a depletion of the cultural material and the memories from which it originally sprang. While the recent deaths of Arthur Miller and Saul Bellow have indeed ended an era, new generations of gifted and promising Jewish novelists are clearly proving Howe wrong. The thematic diversity in the work of writers such as Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss, Pearl Abraham, Michael Chabon, David Mamet, Art Spiegelman, Allegra Goodman, Thane Rosenbaum, Melvin Jules Bukiet, and many others, makes these authors perhaps less easily identifiable as a literary group, but it does suggest that the Jewish novel in America is not likely to suffer from anemia anytime in the near future.
Similarly, and more surprisingly, the revitalization of Jewish culture in Europe is one of its more remarkable cultural developments in recent years. In the first years after the end of World War II, no one could foresee that European Jewry would recover so rapidly and vigorously from the trauma and the losses caused by the Shoah. And yet, just a quarter century later, Jewish culture in countries such as France, Germany, Austria, Italy, England, Hungary, and even Poland began to prosper again. Since 1980, an ever-growing number of Jewish writers have been contributing to the reemergence of an extremely lively and heterogeneous Jewish literary culture in the New Europe. This literature captures the main challenges confronting the post-Shoah generations of Europe: the desire to commemorate the lives of those who were killed in the camps; the need to address the ruptures in Jewish life and culture; and the determination to face the attractions and limitations of reclaiming a Jewish identity impervious to assimilation and to threats of anti-Semitism. European contributors to Jewish writing include, for example, Jessica Durlacher, Arnon Grunberg, Marcel Möring, Robert Schindel,Doron Rabinovici, Robert Menasse, Henry Raczymow, Patrick Modiano, Myrian Anissimov, Jonathan Wilson, Julia Pascal, William Sutcliffe, Clara Sereni, and Angela Bianchini.
The present conference seeks to initiate a transcontinental dialogue between these Western European and North American Jewish literatures. We invite contributions to any of the four following sessions on Jewish literature after the Second World War:
1. Literature, Language, and Memory
Memory has always been an essential part in the construction of Jewish identity. Which historical events are remembered / commemorated in Jewish literature and how are they represented linguistically? Which genres ([graphic] novels, plays, poetry, [fake] memoirs, ...) or modes of writing (realist, postmodernist, ...) are used for this representation? Do Jewish literatures arising within different political, social, cultural contexts deal differently with the Shoah? What are the assets or dangers / liabilities of literary representation when compared to historiography? To what extent is Jewish literature an act of testimony and witnessing? What, if any, is the relation between literary remembrance and Jewish identity? What is the position of Jewish literature from a specific country in the context of that country's established literary canon? Is it central or is it produced in the margins of the literary environment?
2. Gender and Sexuality
To what extent are alternative social and sexual identities thematized in postwar Jewish literature? How are women authors positioning themselves towards a rather phallocentric Jewish tradition in the wake of feminism? How has the emergence of so many Jewish women writers changed the nature of Jewish literature? Has men's writing changed too from the age of bellowmalamudroth? Are there elements suggesting that a 'queering' of Jewish literature has taken place?
3. Religion and Ethics
Religion has traditionally played a considerable role in Jewish writing. Is this still the case today or do authors seek alternative sources for ethics and morality? In other words, is Judaism still an issue in these contemporary literatures or is Jewishness largely redefined in secular terms? If so, which philosophers or philosophical systems are/have been influential for postwar Jewish literature? In how far does a specifically Jewish ethics appear in the different Jewish literatures today? Are there signs of a fairly recent religious revival in Jewish literature? How do writers present religious and ethnic elements in their fiction? For example, do they address themselves to the reader and provide explanations for the outsider, or do they consider the reader to be familiar with things Jewish?
4. Representations of Israel, Zionism, and Anti-Semitism
What are the North American and Western European literary responses to Israel and Zionism? Does contemporary Jewish literature present the tensions between a Zionist and a Diasporic position? Is Israel in any way related to Jewish identity in literary representations? Is anti-Semitism still (or again) a significant thematic issue in Jewish literature? Is anti-Semitism in European Jewish literatures represented differently than it is in Jewish American literature? Is there a discourse about the notions of home, homelessness and exile in contemporary Jewish literature? Is there an opposition between the Jewish minority and the majority of the host country, or are the concepts of minority/majority and insider/outsider questioned?
We particularly encourage contributions that either address a broad section of one national literature, or approaches to Jewish writing that are already comparative and transnational in nature. Papers dealing with only one work or author are discouraged.
Visit the conference website for additional information.