Exile means many things to many people. Still, there are common threads that run through the writings of many German thinkers who have tackled the subject. Johannes Evelein, professor of language and culture studies, discussed these common themes with his colleagues in the Department of Language and Culture Studies during a Common Hour talk titled, “Learning Exile, German Style: Benjamin, Brecht, Bloch et al.”
Evelein examined the recurring themes in German writing about exile, a subject he discusses at length in his upcoming book, Literary Exiles from Nazi Germany: Exemplarity and the Search for Meaning, set for release this summer. One observation Evelein made was the tendency for those in exile to compare themselves to renowned fellow exiles. One example is Bertolt Brecht’s comparison of himself to Homer and Dante.
Another exile who appears frequently in German literature is Ahasverus (also known as Ahasuerus), a figure said to have been cursed by Jesus Christ after taunting Christ on the way to his crucifixion. Ahasverus is also known as “the wandering Jew” or “the eternal Jew” and was co-opted by anti-Semites in propaganda in the years leading up to the Third Reich.
Evelein’s lecture was the final Common Hour of the academic year in a series of talks among faculty members in the Department of Language and Culture Studies that was organized by Thomas Harrington, associate professor of language and culture studies. The series brought together those from various disciplines to present their work and offered opportunities for faculty members to discuss the intersections of their research interests. Evelein’s talk was no exception.
Following his presentation, Evelein’s colleagues weighed in, comparing and contrasting the German portrayals of exile to those in other cultures, including Israel, Latin America, and other parts of the world. Harrington contrasted the German idea of exile, a very individual experience as observed by Evelein, to the more communal experience of Catalonian exiles, one of his areas of research.
Evelein’s book will be available in August from publisher Camden House. In it, he presents a history of the learning process of exile as experienced by German and Austrian writers who left their countries in opposition to National Socialism.