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Catastrophe, Theory, History: Thinking German-Jewish after the Holocaust

Mon, December 17, 10:30am to 12:00pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Federal 2 Complex

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


“Catastrophe, Theory, History: Thinking German-Jewish after the Holocaust” seeks to decipher the legacy of German-Jewish thought, with a focus on new modes of historical consciousness expressed across literary genres. The three papers on this panel are animated by a shared question: how did German-Jewish philosophers, poets, historians, and political thinkers negotiate both a debit to pre-War thought and the necessity for independence. In bringing otherwise isolated texts in dialogue with one another, our panel will exhibit the vitality of a confrontation founded on the need to reinterpret precursors and reshape the dual inheritances of German thought and the Holocaust.

In the opening paper, Eugene Sheppard seeks to understand Jacob Taubes’ relationship with Carl Schmitt and his encounter with political theology. In order to trace the fateful consequences of this liaison, “Rediscovering Political Theology” returns to Jerusalem in 1949 to unpack the origins of Jewish political theology in the post-war period, and thereby offers a unique re-contextualization of Israel’s stillborn constitution. In rereading the post-War discourse surrounding “meaning in history” found in the works of Karl Löwith, Jacob Taubes, and Amos Funkenstein, Moses Lapin shows the ways in which they sought to confront the “theological presuppositions of the philosophy of history”, challenging common beliefs about progress and notions of the secular. Each made a return to Germany, both physically and intellectually, and each turned to history as a means to engage with the legacy of German philosophy. In her paper “Poetry, History, and the True Word: Paul Celan and Franz Kafka”, Vivian Liska uncovers the core of Celan’s literary endeavor: the search for words that would indelibly engrave the
catastrophe into the language of poetry. Kafka is among the fellow authors Celan invokes in this search, as he reflects upon a sense of history as catastrophe and of poetry as its ultimate witness. Samuel Spinner will act as chair, highlighting the common contexts and shared focus of the panel: asking what it meant to think German-Jewish after the Holocaust.

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