How to be understood: German and Jewish Shibboleth in Modernist Literary Grotesques


Mon, 04/18/2016 - 16:00

In Oskar Panizza's novella "The Operated Jew" (1983), a 19th century Jewish stock figure undergoes a grotesque program of transformations in order to assimilate to bourgeois German society. The text has been almost exclusively read as an anti-Semitic parable of assimilation based on its representation of 'the Jewish body' (Geller, Gilman, Zipes), yet a closer look at the diverse languages and dialects in the make-up of the text yields a more complex understanding. What appears initially as a hybrid mixing of languages (French, Yiddish, Palatinate and Hanoverian German, etc.) that is in need of 'correction', just like the protagonist's body, turns out to subversively undermine the ideal of assimilation throughout the text. The depiction of a complicated process of language learning in the story shows that the linguistic standard of standard German (Hochdeutsch) cannot be found anywhere in German society and is hence exposed as an artificial construct. Hochdeutsch turns out to be a hybrid conglomerate of linguistic parts instead, and with this discovery, the German identity that had been the goal of assimilation and is embodied in the text's narrator falls apart as an equally exaggerated stereotype. Panizza, a writer of grotesque short prose who lived most of the wild language mix that his protagonist masters in the text, renounced both his German citizenship and purposefully stopped speaking German altogether later in life. His satire of the German nationalist project was taken up with uncanny foresight in Salomo Friedlaender's literary response  "The Operated Goy" in 1922, which turns the assimilatory situation of the original story on its head. The two texts are part of a micro-genre of Literary Grotesques about which Gershom Scholem would later write that 'they have become impossible after Hitler.' The re-contextualizing reading of the languages in both texts offered in this talk will show a glimpse of how they were originally understood.

Dr. Joela Jacobs is an Assistant Professor of German Studies at the University of Arizona
Affiliated Faculty at the Institute of the Environment and the Department of Gender and Women's Studies

This event will be held in the Louis Focar Marshall building, 845 N. Park Ave., Tucson, AZ 85721 (SEE MAP BELOW), and is Free and Open to the Public.




Louis Focar Marshall Building
845 N. Park Ave. Suite 490
85721 Tucson , AZ