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A Diasporic Reading of Nathan the Wise

A Diasporic Reading of Nathan the Wise a diasporic reading of NATHAN THE WISE Ned Curthoys In this essay I analyze the continuing controversy surrounding Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's famous 1779 drama Nathan der Weise (Nathan the Wise), an emblematic Enlightenment-era play whose evaluation has been drastically affected by the appalling history of the twentieth century. I argue that the Nazizeit and the Holocaust have produced a caesura in Nathan criticism, a dramatic reversal of the play's critical fortunes. A play that was once celebrated as a harbinger of German-Jewish emancipation, promising the creative participation of Jews in German society, is now harshly criticized and repudiated for the failure of that promise. Recent interpreters of Nathan the Wise, both scholars and playwrights, have been lugubriously mindful of the Nazi assault on the German-Jewish community that was launched in the early 1930s and of the subsequent European Jewish genocide.1 They read the play through the prism of the anachronistic stigma that attaches to German intellectual history, a stigma that has long encouraged post-Holocaust criticism to discuss German literature and culture in teleological ways, mining eighteenth and nineteenth century texts and discourses for attitudes and mentalities that prefigure the disaster of Nazi Germany. As I argue, this reversal http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Comparative Literature Studies Penn State University Press

A Diasporic Reading of Nathan the Wise

Comparative Literature Studies , Volume 47 (1) – Mar 31, 2010

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Publisher
Penn State University Press
Copyright
Copyright © Penn State University Press
ISSN
1528-4212
Publisher site
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Abstract

a diasporic reading of NATHAN THE WISE Ned Curthoys In this essay I analyze the continuing controversy surrounding Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's famous 1779 drama Nathan der Weise (Nathan the Wise), an emblematic Enlightenment-era play whose evaluation has been drastically affected by the appalling history of the twentieth century. I argue that the Nazizeit and the Holocaust have produced a caesura in Nathan criticism, a dramatic reversal of the play's critical fortunes. A play that was once celebrated as a harbinger of German-Jewish emancipation, promising the creative participation of Jews in German society, is now harshly criticized and repudiated for the failure of that promise. Recent interpreters of Nathan the Wise, both scholars and playwrights, have been lugubriously mindful of the Nazi assault on the German-Jewish community that was launched in the early 1930s and of the subsequent European Jewish genocide.1 They read the play through the prism of the anachronistic stigma that attaches to German intellectual history, a stigma that has long encouraged post-Holocaust criticism to discuss German literature and culture in teleological ways, mining eighteenth and nineteenth century texts and discourses for attitudes and mentalities that prefigure the disaster of Nazi Germany. As I argue, this reversal

Journal

Comparative Literature StudiesPenn State University Press

Published: Mar 31, 2010

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