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CFP: Text and Image in Jewish Literature (Zurich, 21-28 Nov 18)

In cooperation with the Chair for Literature and Cultural Studies of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) the Association for European-Jewish Literary Studies (EJLS) is organising a conference on the topic of "Text and Image in Jewish Literature". The conference will take place at the ETH Zurich from 26th to 28th of November 2018 with Prof. Dr. Andreas B. Kilcher as the conference host. It is the seventh conference of the EJLS.

It is generally accepted that Jewish culture is fundamentally scriptural in nature, a culture anchored in the written word. It gives primacy to writing and to the letter, while visual images play only a secondary or even a negative role. On one hand, this view is based on the Biblical prohibition against image making, archetypically a prohibition against Egyptian idolatry. In Judaism, God is conceived as not being conducive to artistic representation. On the other hand, Jewish culture developed over centuries into a literary culture owing partially to ever new historical diasporic experiences. Its true homeland was portable (Heine) —the book. However, one may ask whether this theologically or historically based view of the tension between word and image in Judaism and Jewish Culture is not premature or too much of a generalization, which requires revision and qualification. One question which may be asked is whether or not the visual image, as such, may in truth have a larger and more positive meaning in Jewish culture, with dignity in its own right alongside writing. Another perhaps more important question is whether or not the generally accepted dichotomy between the written word and the visual image is fundamentally askew. Perhaps word and image are much more closely bound together or even intertwined in Jewish culture.

These and other questions will be posed at this conference not only in a general, cultural and aesthetic-theoretical sense, but also more specifically in historical contexts of modern Jewish literature and culture. This has less to do with the historical thesis that in the modern period the theological justification of the prohibition against visual images has lost its credibility, or for example that it was reinterpreted during the Enlightenment as a philosophical critique of idolatry. It is much more likely that it has to do with a fundamental systematical openness of literature for the image and, vice versa, of the image for the word. The fact that Jewish literature –going back to prototypical Biblical examples — sometimes attributed to Solomon— evidences images described in language or passages of abstract text linked to visual imagery may serve as a point of departure. However, the discussion need not be restricted to specific parables and metaphors, but rather include the constellation of material media, word and image, literature and art.

the relationship between writing and photography should be taken into account, which extends this complex texture within the framework of a new technical medium. Examples include the montage techniques of Moishe Vorobeichic, e.g. in Ghetto von Wilma or by Sasha Stone, e.g. Benjamin's Einbahnstrassse, which transfer the text-image-montage technique (as in the work of Alfred Döblin) into a medium. Regarding photography as medium, the possibility of multiplication in print, allows for new ways in which writing and image may be brought together.

Following an interdisciplinary approach, we invite scholars from the fields of Jewish Studies, Literary Studies, Art History and Art Theory to submit their paper proposals (300-500 words) with a short biographical note and/or your questions by the 31th of May 2018 to the following email address: The languages of the conference are German and English. Papers should not exceed a length of 25 minutes. It is intended that accommodation costs will be covered; travel expenses will be reimbursed if possible.


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