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Semester 1

Reading Antisemitism in Modern German Literature (ELCG08012)


European Languages and Cultures - German





Normal Year Taken


Delivery Session Year



Visiting students should have German language skills at CEFR level B1 or above; entry to this course may be subject to a language test on arrival and is at the discretion of the course organiser. Visiting Students should also take as a co-requisite German 2 Language (ELCG08008).

Course Summary

This course explores the debate around antisemitism in German literature since 1800, asking how antisemitic stereotypes and attitudes are encoded in texts, and how readers are able to identify them. Controversies about identifying, defining and combatting antisemitism have taken on a new intensity in recent years, but public debate often lacks historical awareness of how prejudice against Jews functions, and how it is perpetuated in narratives and images. There is often a clash between perceived intention and actual effect, an unwillingness to think oneself into another person's perspective and understand their self-definition, and an inability to deal constructively with complication, uncertainty and ambiguity. Literature can help us with all of these problems. Students will engage with texts from a specific historical and cultural juncture (the period in which debate about Jewish emancipation develops into conceptions of racial antisemitism) and will explore how persistent images and stereotypes are developed and varied in these texts. We will also explore the specifically literary nature of 'literary antisemitism', asking whether questions of form, narrative perspective and irony complicate judgments about how prejudice is encoded in texts.

Course Description

The aim of the course is to introduce students to some of the ways that antisemitic discourses are encoded in literary texts, and to help them develop ways of reading for them. They will also discuss ways of dealing with the ambiguity of literary texts and the difficulty of judging whether a text with antisemitic content opens up spaces for critical reflection. There will also be discussion of the function of identity-work and difference-work in the texts, in other words, what ideas are being negotiated in the texts through the creation, maintenance and/or questioning of Jewish/non-Jewish difference. Finally, the students will practise reading and evaluating secondary literature as a way of developing their own arguments. In the first half of the course, we will critically evaluate a number of different approaches to literary antisemitism, preparing the ground for detailed work on a small number of key texts. The class will divide into ALGs, each of which puts together a group presentation that is designed to support the other students' learning, and they lead a discussion on their topic. Each ALG-led session is followed by a tutor-led session, enabling further discussion of the topic.

Assessment Information

Written Exam 0%, Coursework 100%, Practical Exam 0%

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