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The Image of Paris in Post-War Jewish Literary Memory

Sun, December 17, 3:00 to 4:30pm, Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, Marquis Salon 2

Session Submission Type: Panel Session

Abstract

Each of the panelists will explore ways in which Paris, as configured in post-war Jewish literary memory, functions as a fulcrum by which to engage complex questions about topography, survival, ambivalence, absence, and citizenship – issues that, in contemporary Paris and elsewhere, have ongoing and broad resonance. There is a long, rich, and complicated history of Jews in France. In modernity, the French Revolution and its ideal of egalitarianism provided the climate and ideology for a secular civic arena where religion would pose no barrier to citizenship. France was the first country in Europe to grant Jews the full rights of citizenship, although not without extended debate and ongoing ambivalence. While Jewish life, culture, and thought both thrived and struggled in other areas of France, the city of Paris holds a special place in the Jewish imagination. During the tumultuous years in turn of the century Europe, Paris was a beacon and a magnet for the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe, who flocked there, fleeing social, economic, and political hardship. Those very immigrants and their decedents were the most vulnerable of French Jews under Nazism, deported with the help of French police and bureaucrats, but also sheltered by fellow Frenchman, in Paris and other areas of France. After the war, Jews from Poland, Russia, and elsewhere gravitated to Paris, some living there temporarily and others settling there, shaped by - and helping to reshape - the Parisian literary, cultural and philosophical citiscape. The panel will focus closely on the place of Paris in the literary writing of authors in whose poetry, fiction or literary non-fiction Paris appears not merely as backdrop or setting, but as dynamic space that is both particular and microcosmic. The panel will examine the place of Paris in French Jewish literary memory, a memory that, of necessity, grapples with the aftermath of the Shoah, but also other post-war conflicts. Further, that very description – “French Jewish” – itself opens up on a complicated and fraught discussion of what constitutes Frenchness and Jewishness – and nationality and ethnicity more broadly – in modern France.

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