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Reed College professor Katja Garloff publishes "Words from Abroad: Trauma and Displacement in Postwar German Jewish Writers"


Katja Garloff, associate professor of German and humanities at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, has released a new book from Wayne State University Press entitled Words from Abroad: Trauma and Displacement in Postwar German Jewish Writers.

"The book is based on archival work and new readings of a number of crucial authors," notes Garloff. "I trace the ways in which German Jewish writers transform their own catastrophic displacement into a meaningful and productive predicament in a post-Holocaust world."

When Paul Celan was charged with plagiarism in 1960, the ensuing public debate in West Germany threw the poet into a major personal crisis, even though most German critics immediately came to his defense. This crisis coincided with a transformative moment in the history of Holocaust remembrance, its first generational reimagining in the wake of a number of highly publicized criminal trials.

Words from Abroad takes its lead from this disjunction between public ritual and private crisis to chart the emergence of a new literary diaspora, examining German Jewish writers who were dislocated in the course of World War II and who began rewriting their own displacement more than a decade after the war. The idea of diaspora had ceased to be a constitutive element of Jewish culture in Germany during the 19th-century process of emancipation and assimilation, though Garloff argues that it becomes crucial in articulating the possibility of German Jewish identity after the Holocaust.

Along with the works of Paul Celan, Words from Abroad examines selected German Jewish writers such as Peter Weiss and Nelly Sachs. The study of these authors is framed by theoretical reflections on the play of distance and proximity in German Jewish intellectuals after the Holocaust, including Theodor W. Adorno,Jean Améry, and Günther Anders.

Drawing on postcolonial theory, diaspora studies, trauma theory, and psychoanalytical theory, Garloff offers an original and nuanced reading of the way in which these writers, in the wake of the Holocaust, experienced and variously created a vision of dispersion as both traumatic and productive.

Garloff concludes the book by suggesting that Weiss's last great work, Aesthetics of Resistance, articulates a vision of how the experience of irredeemable dispersion becomes the very foundation of community in a post-Holocaust world.

Words from Abroad is an important tool in investigating the works of these German Jewish writers and thinkers, but it is also a contribution to the interdisciplinary scholarship on trauma and displacement itself.

The book has already drawn significant critical praise. " Words from Abroad presents a well-honed and documented, theoretically grounded study of how diasporic consciousness is represented in the writing of German Jewish writers, such as Peter Weiss, Nelly Sachs, Paul Celan, and T. W. Adorno," says Karen L. Remmler of Mount Holyoke College."The meticulous research and archival work that went into the writing of the book makes it stand out among a rather fashionable array of works on the meaning of home, of exile, and of cosmopolitan identities."