Talk: German, Jews, and the Theatre, Jonathan Hess

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Germans, Jews, and the Theatre
“What good actor today is not a Jew?” Friedrich Nietzsche asked in 1882, posing a question that drew on a long tradition of regarding the Jews’ efforts at integration into the modern world as a mode of dissimulation. In his lecture, Jonathan Hess will explore the real and symbolic roles that the theatre played in shaping Jewish identity and the relations between Germans and Jews in the centuries before the Holocaust. Hess will examine antisemitic conceptions of Jews as actors and mimics while also considering the positive role that the theatre played in promoting idealized conceptions of Jews and creating a liberal culture of sympathy with Jewish suffering.

Jonathan M. Hess is the Moses M. and Hannah L. Malkin Distinguished Professor of Jewish History and Culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he is professor of Germanic and Slavic languages and literatures and adjunct professor of religious studies. From 2003 to 2013 Hess served as the founding director of the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies. He is currently chair of the Department of Germanic and Slavic languages and literatures.

An expert in German and German-Jewish literary, cultural, and intellectual history, Hess is the author of four monographs: Reconstituting the Body Politic: Enlightenment, Public Culture and the Invention of Aesthetic Autonomy (Wayne State University Press, 1999);Germans, Jews and the Claims of Modernity (Yale University Press, 2002); Middlebrow Literature and the Making of German-Jewish Identity (Stanford University Press, 2010); and Deborah and Her Sisters:  How One Nineteenth-Century Melodrama and a Host of Celebrated Actresses Put Judaism on the World Stage (University of Pennsylvania press, forthcoming). Both Germans, Jews, and the Claims of Modernity and Middlebrow Literature and the Making of German-Jewish Identity were selected by Choice magazine as outstanding academic titles, and Germans, Jews and the Claims of Modernity won honorable mention in the Modern Languages Association’s Scaglione Prize in Germanic Languages and Literatures for books published in 2002 and 2003.

Hess is also the coeditor, with Eric Downing and Richard Benson, of Literary Studies and the Pursuits of Reading (Camden House, 2012) and the coeditor, with Maurice Samuels and Nadia Valman, of Nineteenth-Century Jewish Literature: A Reader (Stanford University Press, 2013).

Hess holds a B.A. in German from Yale (1987), a M.A. in German from the Johns Hopkins University (1989), and an M.A. (1990) and Ph.D. (1993) in comparative literature and literary theory from the University of Pennsylvania. A faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since 1993, he has held grants from the National Humanities Center, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Leo Baeck Institute, and the German Academic Exchange Service.