Talk: Stefan Zweig and (World) Literature in Exile

The reception of Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) presents one of the greatest literary conundrums of our time. While in the 1920s, at the height of his career, the Austrian-Jewish novelist was among the most widely read and most-acclaimed German-language writers, his works fell into radical critical disfavor in the second half of the century.

The allegedly poor literary quality and his apolitical nostalgic approach as an exiled Jewish writer during the Holocaust, have become the main targets of his critics in Europe and North America. However, Zweig’s works have enjoyed not only continued admiration but even canonical status in other parts of the world, such as in China.

In this upcoming talk on January 26, 2016 at the University of Hamburg I will take the Chinese reception of Zweig as a case study to introduce a different way of reading the Austrian writer that reveals important political and literary dimensions that have long been overlooked.

According to David Damrosch, literary works enter into world literature when they circulate beyond the culture of origin. Despite the truly global scale of Stefan Zweig’s biography, literary settings, and readership, the concept of world literature has just recently been discussed in research on the writer, for example in the volume Stefan Zweig and World Literature of 2014 edited by Birger Vanwesenbeeck and Mark H. Gelber.

While circulating and thriving around the world, Zweig’s works have been almost completely removed from their original linguistic and cultural context in the course of the twentieth century. This talk therefore argues that Zweig’s works must be considered not only as exile literature but as “literature in exile.” It thus showcases the intricate and problematic interrelations of exile literature and world literature and explores new perspectives for an urgently needed re-conceptualization of these contested concepts.

The talk will be hosted by the Walter A. Berendsohn Forschungsstelle für deutsche Exilliteratur, a research center dedicated to exile literature at the University of Hamburg, which has been re-named in 2001 after one of the pioneers of academic research into literature by exiled German-language writers.

Walter A. Berendsohn (1884-1984) had been a professor of literary studies at the University of Hamburg who escaped the Nazis by fleeing to Denmark and Sweden. Adverse university politics prevented him from returning to Hamburg even after 1945. Only in 1983, almost hundred years old, he was awarded an honorary doctorate.

Berendsohn had already prominently pointed out the close relationship between exile literature and world literature, which is also one of the main research areas of the center. Focusing on historical as well as contemporary experiences of exile, the team around Prof. Doerte Bischoff, who was appointed the research center’s head in 2011, is giving a fresh impetus into a field which, given the current European “refugee crisis,” pertains to one of the most pressing issues of our time.

Talk (in German) by Arnhilt Johanna Hoefle
Stefan Zweig und (Welt-)Literatur im Exil
January 26, 2016
Carl-von-Ossietzky-Lesesaal (Exilbibliothek)
Von-Melle-Park 3, 20146 Hamburg, Germany

Free admission and all welcome!