Simon Dubnow Institute
for Jewish History and Culture at Leipzig University

Workshops 2009

15 to 16 January 2009


Literary Studies and literary knowledge in the ambient of Critical Theory

(Literaturwissenschaft und literarisches Wissen im Umkreis der Kritischen Theorie)


The Simon Dubnow Institute, in cooperation with Prof. Dr. Dieter Burdorf, Department of Germanics, University of Leipzig, was organizing an international conference in January 2009 devoted to examining the relations between literary studies and Critical Theory. Literary scholars, experts on philosophy and historians of art discussed and explored the work of Theodor W. Adorno, Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, Gershom Scholem, Leo Löwenthal, Herbert Marcuse, Hans Mayer, Ernst Bloch, Peter Szondi, Erich Auerbach and Robert Minder (among others).


The aim of the conference was to better understand the fundamental attitude of intellectuals toward literature in the more narrow and broader ambient of Critical Theory as a form of textual erudition. The concept »textual erudition« or »Textgelehrsamkeit« is intended on the one hand to recall the relations surrounding the traditional, pre-modern figure of the scholar of scripture, der Schriftgelehrte; on the other, it is meant to highlight the critical relation of the Frankfurt School to the bourgeois typology of education.


A distinction was proposed between receptive and productive approaches of these scholars to the text and textual forms:


Ways of reading: What texts from cultural heritage and contemporary cultural production did these textual scholars choose for their reading and commentary? Did a certain canon crystallize? What is the relation here between the Bible, classics of the bourgeois educated canon in various languages, and the contemporary texts of literary modernity? What was the attitude of representatives of Critical Theory toward the reading of such texts? In the process, what fundamental questions of hermeneutics – allusion, citation, commentary, Analysis – are rendered visible?


Ways of writing: What different techniques of text production can be discerned among the intellectuals involved? The textual scholars of Critical Theory preferred certain text forms that tended to be viewed as being more marginal in the academic world (especially in connection with career enhancement): they generally rejected the genre of treatise (monograph and scholarly article), giving preference to short forms such as the essay, review, fragment, letter and aphorism. Salient questions are: to what extent this shift was due to the general change in the dominant way of writing in the academic/intellectual world in the German cultural sphere since 1900? Is it possible to connect this with the specific existential situation of the group of intellectuals to be investigated, and their own concepts of text?


In this connection, mention should be made of the position of numerous Jewish textual scholars outside or on the margins of the academic world during the Weimar Republic. The production of text was influenced even more powerfully by the situation of exile into which almost all textual scholars were driven after 1933. For many, that gave rise to an additional problem: in what language could they write so that readers might also be found for the texts they produced? Seen from this vantage, the return of many of these intellectuals after 1945 to one of the German-speaking states can be viewed primarily as a return to the sphere of the German language, a linguistic homecoming.





4 to 5 May 2009

Between Imperiality and Nation-State: Jewish Participation in East-Central European Communal Autonomous Administration, 1918–1939


Research on municipal autonomous administrations in East-central Europe has experienced a kind of renaissance since the 1980s, in contrast with research in the West. Autonomous local administration is situated at an interface between the state and its citizenry, between administration and private interests. In political theory, it has long been accorded a special role in civic education of the informed citizen and in democratic development more generally.


In the interwar period, the theory took on a modernized form specifically in East-Central Europe, experiencing a new development in accordance with the times. That was because the great expectations placed in the autonomous local administrations were congruent with the multiethnic reality on the ground in this macro-region. The questions arising from this are intensified by the fact that simultaneously, the nation-state was elevated to a political ideal, and ethno-nationalism became the general auxiliary ideology of the various national ideologies.


The workshop/conference focused in particular on the large urban areas with their high percentage of Jewish population. Central for inquiry is the question of just how this ethnic diversity was manifested in the bodies of autonomous administration. Did it have a demonstrable impact on communal politics, and if so, how? The plan for the comparative workshop/conference envisioned that through a detailed investigation of the concrete events in everyday politics in the municipal bodies and structures of autonomous local administration, it was possible to analyze and map more clearly the array of problems associated with the urban coexistence of various cultural groups, their integration, lack of integration and degree of inclusion and exclusion.


The workshop was organized as the closing capstone event in the DFG-sponsored research project »Die Juden in der polnischen Selbstverwaltung, 1918-1939: Krakau, Warschau und Posen« (Jews in Polish Autonomous Administration: Cracow, Warsaw and Poznan, 1918-1939). Knowledge gained at the workshop/conference assisted in contextualizing the findings of the project at the Dubnow Institute under the direction of Dr. Hanna Kozinska-Witt, centering on Polish large cities, within a broader East-Central European comparative frame.





11 to 12 June 2009

Kelsen, Schmitt, Arendt and the Possibilities of (International) Law - Workshop I: Constitutionalisation (Simon Dubnow Institute Leipzig )





15 to 16 June 2009 

Workshop of the FMER-Project Communication Spaces in Europe. »Jewish Cultures of Knowledge Beyond National Borders« (Guesthouse of the Leipzig University »Villa Tillmanns«)



10 to 11 September 2009

Kaleidoscopic Knowledge. On Jewish and Other Encyclopedias in Modernity


On September 10 to 11, 2009, the Simon Dubnow Institute in cooperation with the German Historical Institute, Washington D.C., hosted an international workshop on Jewish and general cultures of knowledge. The workshop examined the development of Jewish and supposedly universal encyclopedias in the modern era from a cultural-historical perspective. Looking at the transfer of knowledge, the workshop investigated (a) the actors and agents in encyclopedic undertakings, (b) the concrete conditions shaping the composition of their texts as contexts of a communication also molded by material interests, and (c) cross-section analyses of series of articles and texts. The workshop, organized by Arndt Engelhardt (DI) and Ines Prodöhl (GHI Washington), brought together scholars from Israel, the U.S., and Germany at the research institute in Leipzig.