"The Jewess Pallas Athena"--a line from a poem by Paul Celan. It is a provocative phrase, cutting across cultures and traditions. But it poses questions: How to reconstruct a culture that has been destroyed? How to conceive of history after the catastrophes of the twentieth century?
This book begins in the mid-eighteenth century with the first Jewish women to raise their voices in German. It ends two hundred years later, with another group of Jewish women looking back at a country from which they had been expelled and to which they would never want to return. Among the many prominent female intellectuals and literary figures Barbara Hahn discusses are Hannah Arendt, Gertrud Kantorowicz, Rosa Luxemburg, Else Lasker-Schuler, Margarete Susman, and Rahel Levin Varnhagen. In examining their writing, she reflects upon the question of how German culture was constructed--with its inherent patterns of exclusion. This is a book about hope and despair, possibilities and preventions. We see attempts at dialogue between Christians and Jews, men and women, "Germans" and "Jews," attempts initiated by these women that, for the most part, remained unanswered. Finally, the book reconstructs the changing notions of the "Jewess," a key word in modern German history with its connotations of "salons," "beauty," and "esprit." And yet a word that is also disastrous, in which there culminated everything the dominant culture condemned as dangerous.
"Professor Hahn has masterfully assembled a representative collection of prominent German Jewish women who joined in, and contributed to, [the] exciting and productive period in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries or who lamented its passing in the twentieth... The Jewess Pallas Athena is an important contribution to the growing body of scholarly works evaluating German Jewish life as well as studies concerning theories of modernity."--Jewish Book World "This work is a major contribution to cultural history and is appropriate for graduate level students and above, as well as the widely read general reader."--James LaForest, Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter