Bohemian Jews as Bohemian Jews - Literary Strategies between the Imperial and the Local


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  • Speaker: Jindrich Toman, Frankel Fellow
  • Host Department: Judaic Studies, Frankel Center for
  • Date: 12/11/2014
  • Time: 12:15 PM

  • Location: 202 S. Thayer St., Room 2022, Ann Arbor

  • Description:

    While Prague Jewish literature is mostly associated with early twentieth-century masters such as Max Brod, Franz Kafka, and Franz Werfel, the century preceding them has in fact also had a strong, but now largely forgotten presence of Jewish authors. It is especially in view of their position in the Habsburg empire that they merit our attention. Two of them, the poets L. A. Frankl and Siegfried Kapper, active in the 1830s-1840, will be discussed. Their works reveal attempts to reconcile tensions and conflicts resulting from multiple loyalties in the complex political and ethnic fabric of the Habsburg Monarchy. On the one hand, these authors respected the imperial situation by seeking visibility in Vienna and asserting the imperial language, German; on the other hand, they increasingly paid more attention to the local than to the imperial—instead of always looking up to Vienna, they often looked at their immediate neighbors, the Czechs. (In fact, Kapper also wrote in Czech.) And at the same time, they consciously asserted their Jewish identity. The presentation surveys Frankl’s and Kapper’s poetry, laying out tropes that reveal their origin in Bohemia and showing strategies that made them Bohemian Jews. Kapper’s poetry is especially instructive regarding the question of what it means to be a Bohemian Jew. We end with a rejection of this “local gesture” by K. H. Borovsky, a Czech radical of the 1840s and a representative of Czech nationalism.

    Trained in Czechoslovakia, Germany and USA, Jindrich Toman follows an academic path defined by languages and cultures of Central Europe. Among his past projects was Slavic and German linguistics, as well as the history of linguistics (The Magic of a Common Language: Mathesius, Jakobson, Trubetzkoy and the Prague Linguistic Circle, 1995). His more recent research has been situated at the interfaces of cultural history and visual culture, with topics including modernist book design (Czech Cubism and the Book, 2004; Photo/Montage in Print, 2009). He has co-curated several exhibitions, including Jindrich Heisler: Surrealism Under Pressure (Art Institute of Chicago, 2012). Among his research foci has also been the history of Jews in Bohemia. He is currently working on a monograph that analyzes the work of Jewish authors from Bohemia in the first part of the nineteenth century,

    Sponsored by: The Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies

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