Under what guises do the German-Jewish past and German-Jewish thought and literature appear in the Middle East today? How might they operate as a productive reference point in understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the broader cultural and political context that surrounds the conflict in the Middle East? And how does the context of the Middle East allow us to better understand German-Jewish literature and thought and to rethink the enduring legacy of the German-Jewish encounter, in both its productive and its catastrophic moments? These are some of the broader questions that will be broached at this conference, which brings scholars from the Middle East, Europe and the United States to the University of Chicago for two days in May 2012.
The conference builds on the interest generated by a previous conference, on “German and Hebrew: Histories of a Conversation,” which took place at the University of Chicago in April 2010. That event focused on different forms of literary and cultural interactions between the two languages, especially after the Second World War. It drew an audience of faculty and graduate students from several departments in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Participants shared a sense that the conference served to establish an emerging conversation on the German-Hebrew contact zone as a scholarly subfield in its own right. One intention of this follow-up event, then, is to explore more systematically the place of this subfield within existing scholarly contexts and specifically to illuminate the stakes of bringing into conversation the fields of German-Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies. The conference is jointly sponsored by the Center for Jewish Studies and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and brings together intellectual-historians, literary scholars and translators.
By inviting participants to focus on literary and philosophic texts and on their translation and circulation, the conference aims to eschew the zero-sum, either-or logic of politics in favor of the challenges of complexity and multivalence.