Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Book Replies to "Virtually Jewish"

I've discovered, thanks to a review in the online "H-Net" Humanities and Social Sciences Online, that a book was published in Austria in 2005 that in a sense can be, as reviewer Deborah Holmes put it "understood as a reply" to my own book "Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe" (University of California Press, 2002).

The new book is called "Der 'virtuelle Jude': Konstruktionen des Jüdischen" (Schriften des Centrums für Jüdische Studien. Innsbruck: Studienverlag, 2005), and is a collection of essays edited by Klaus Hödl.

It is bizarre to me that a whole book could be dedicated to responding to my own work, but I was never contacted and knew nothing about it! From what Holmes writes, I'm not sure that what I was saying in my own book was actually interpreted the way I meant it to be -- and in some cases I apparently was misinterpreted.

Holmes writes:

"The most detailed criticism of Gruber's concept of "virtual Jewishness" comes in Hödl's own essay "Der 'virtuelle Jude'--ein essentialistisches Konzept?" Although Gruber is concerned with the commercialization of Jewishness and Shoah tourism in particular historical constellations, and not at all with theoretical identity discourse, Hödl is naturally justified in questioning her terms. On the other hand, he does seem to misread her at times. She does not set out to prove or discuss the existence of an "authentic" Jewish identity, and often sets this and other potentially problematic notions ("real Jews," "goyish") in quotations, indicating that she is well aware of the minefield she is crossing. It would of course be difficult to discuss the phenomena she sets out to investigate without using some abbreviations, and she defines her idea of "virtually Jewish" at great and satisfying length. Whether or not one concurs with her on the importance of "living" memory to cultural identity is another matter. Hödl is so intent on deconstructing her suggestion that there can be such a thing as an organic cultural legacy that he somewhat loses sight, in his own contribution at least, of the very valid question of what difference it makes that there are now so few Jews (or even "Jews") living in Europe as compared to previous centuries: "Die Annahme, dass vor der Shoah aufgrund des Vorhandenseins eines 'lebendigen jüdischen Milieus' statt Virtualität Authentizität bestimmend gewesen sowie der Geschichtsbezug weniger durch Bedürfnisse motiviert, sondern durch Rückgriffe auf Erinnerung hergestellt worden sei, ist ... zu hinterfragen. Konstruktionen sind immer schon mit historischen Deutungen einhergegangen, sie stellen kein Phänomen allein der Gegenwart dar" (p. 60)."

Anyway, it's interesting to see that my book has "legs," as it were, and that the concepts that I developed have led and are leading to further thought.

Actually, I've just checked back in my email, and this volume seems to collect papers given at a conference in Graz, Austria in 2003 on "Der Virtuelle Jude". I remember seeing a reference to this conference back then -- and I remember trying to get in touch with the organizers, as it seemed clear that already this was a response of some sort to my book. But I never received a reply to my emails....

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