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Jewish literature — by which we understand literature by Jewish authors on Jewish topics— has struck a powerful chord in post WWII global culture. At a time when European Jewish culture had been all but destructed, it paradoxically obtained an unprecedented urgency among mostly non-Jewish audiences. At the same time, the history of the holocaust gained a central place in the intellectual and moral restoration of the Western world.

Event details of The Politics of Jewish Literature and the Making of the post-WWII World
Start date 8 February 2023
End date 9 February 2023

This volume aims to investigate this postwar fascination for Jewish literature and look for its explanation by researching the role it played in articulations of, and promoting various political and cultural agendas, such as the cultural regeneration of Europe, the alignment of Europe and the Americas, the emergence of an Anglophone transnational literary culture, the cultural battles of the Cold War, the rise of nationalism after the end of communism, and the polemics on multiculturalism and post colonialism. It will investigate to what extent Jewish literature thus served as a moral compass, directing debates on political and ideological connections divisions.

We are especially interested in how expressions of Jewishness – testimonial literature, novels, poems, cinematic adaptations – have facilitated or embodied cross-border connections, and so established transnational webs of shared themes and renewed senses of tradition. By cross-border we mean both intra-continental (as in the East-West border in Europe) or transcontinental (Europe and the Americas, also including ‘stops’ on the way, such as Istanbul in the case of German-Jewish intelligentsia, or Rome in the case of Soviet-Jewish emigres). These cross-border movements can point in multiple directions over time (involving various senses of ‘return’, sometimes across generations).

The authors will therefore address the following questions:

  1. How did Jewish literature play a part in debates on local (national) identities, and their relation to supra- and transnational forms of collaboration, such as European integration?
  2. How did the interest in Jewish literature relate to the significant eras in postwar political history (immediate postwar reconstruction, the era of student revolts, the end of the Cold War, the era of globalization characterized by immigration and various refugee crises)?
  3. How do new trends and divisions (populism, the rise of the far right, anti-Islam discourses, recent European trauma’s like the Yugoslav Wars, racism and decolonization, the growing rift between rich and poor) in the societies of Europe affect the status of Jewish literature?
  4. How is the urgency and popularity of Jewish literature related to the need to come to terms with the Holocaust in an increasingly secular, multicultural, unified and divided world?
  5. What political overtones can be found in the conceptualization of Jewish Literature as a non-territorial, connective and transnational mode of expression. 

Moderates

  • Dr Guido Snel (senior lecturer European Studies, UvA, ARTES, Amsterdam school for Regional and Transnational Studies) 
  • Dr David Wertheim (director Menasseh ben Israel Institute for Jewish Studies)