Why study German Literature?
1. German Literature is in many ways unique, since it is not only a mirror of German culture, society, history and politics, but also a constant reflection on these issues. This reflection has not only aesthetical and philosophical implications, but it also deeply affects German Jewish Literature. In the German case it is practically impossible to detach the engagement in its literature from the big questions that accompany this culture, a culture which starts with an image of an enlightened utopia of freedom and justice in the 18th century and collapses in the catastrophe of the Third Reich. But Germany after the Second World War in search for reconciliation with its past is still striving for a new cultural identity following the division between West and East Germany during the cold war and the unification between these two Germanies within the new framework of Europe.
2. German literature is at the crossroad of deep tensions between utopia and ideology, between universalism and nationalism, between religion and secularity, between a radical modernism and a romantic yearning for the medieval past, between ideal and catastrophe. These tensions are not only reflected in German literature on all its levels of content, form and genre, in drama, novel and poetry, but in aesthetic theory and especially in philosophy as well which play a unique role in the self-definition of most of the German authors. There is practically no writer or poet from Goethe and Lessing to Heine, from Schiller to Thomas Mann, from Kafka to Paul Celan who would not engage in a philosophical reflection on the very foundations of German culture and history from an artistic and aesthetic point of view. Similarly German philosophy from Kant to Nietzsche, from Hegel to Freud, Rosenzweig and Adorno is engaged in an intensive dialogue with the arts, with literature and theater.
3. The unique situation of German literature finds its special expression in the context of German Jewish literature. Since the enlightenment and throughout the age of emancipation and assimilation until the Holocaust, and also after World War Two, Jewish authors engaged in a permanent reflection on their very place within German culture and its catastrophic potentials. Often Jewish authors were functioning as intercultural transmitters and representatives of this culture outside Germany. From Heinrich Heine to Franz Kafka, from Walter Benjamin to Else Lasker Schüler Jewish writers do reflect on culture from a unique sensitive and critical point of view as minority, outsiders or supposed enemy which often reflects the special Jewish perspective of their situation between acculturation and emancipation, exile and Messianic hope.
4. Obviously German Jewish literature can serve today as paradigm for basic issues concerning inter-culturality, cultural dialogue and conflict between majority and minority cultures. These issues have become especially relevant again in German culture since the 60’s of the previous century with the different waves of Turkish, East-European and today of Arabic immigration which created new challenges of cultural integration and communication as well as possible tensions between religious Islamic culture and secular democracy. From both perspectives, the German Jewish experience and the present drama of cultural integration, German literature and culture can become of a new special interest with their origins in Lessing's and Goethe's vision of a cultural dialogue between West and East, between Christian, Jewish and Islamic cultures and a world literature, which transcends established norms, religious borders and life forms. Is not Jerusalem itself with its unique fabric of cultures, languages, religions and their inherent tensions, conflicts and immanent potentials for peace the ideal place for this adventure of a cultural and literary experience in German studies?