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A fresh examination of the role of the East in the German literary imagination, ranging from the Middle Ages to the present


Todd Kontje's German Orientalisms offers a fresh examination of the role of the East in the "Kontje has pulled off the amazing feat of a grand narrative: from the epic literature of the Middle Ages to very recent texts on the emerging multicultural Germany. Kontje's grand narrative, it should be noted, is not at all simplistic or reductionistic. He gets at the individual texts in complex ways, and he can tease out multidimensional features of the German texts' treatments of the 'East.' Nonetheless, he displays an enviable erudition and scholarship, tracing lines through centuries when most scholars today limit themselves to narrow specialties."
-Russell Berman, Stanford University

"Intellectually rigorous and conceptually nuanced, Todd Kontje's German Orientalisms is a valuable contribution to the debate on identity politics in German cultural history. Through an erudite and insightful analysis of the German fictions of a broadly defined 'Orient' from the Middle Ages to the present, Kontje illustrates how German literature situated itself within a 'symbolic geography,' whose coordinates are defined by both its representations of the Orient and its affiliation with the Occident. German Orientalisms offers not only an admirable synthesis of the scholarship on German linguistic and cultural nationalism but also sophisticated interpretive strategies for a better understanding of our perceptions and misconceptions of alterity."
-Azade Seyhan, Bryn Mawr College

"This is a fascinating topic, and the book opens new scholarly vistas. In an age of increased specialization, Kontje takes a macro view, looking at German literature almost
from its beginnings to the present, from Wolfram to Özdamar. He also has the courage to link his well-researched work to topics like globalization, the culture wars, and canon formation. He doesn't merely proclaim literature's importance, he shows by example how the literary imagination-creative as it is, dodging dogmatism, and able to confound ideologies-can thrive in an era of cultural studies."
-Sara Friedrichsmeyer, University of Cincinnati

Todd Kontje's German Orientalisms offers a fresh examination of the role of the East in German literary imagination, ranging from the Middle Ages to the present. In its wide historical sweep, this book offers important new insights into many of the most famous writers in the German language, from Goethe to Thomas Mann to Günter Grass.

Building on Edward Said's Orientalism-which defined Orientalism as a form of Western knowledge directly linked to imperial power-Kontje offers a more nuanced version as seen through the lens of German literature of the last thousand years.

Said's focus was on British and French Orientalists-two nations with colonial interests in the East. Germany was different in that it had no stake in the Orient. Far from diminishing an Orientalist perspective, however, the absence of a German empire in the East produced a peculiarly German brand of Orientalism, one in which German writers alternated between identification with the rest of Europe and allying themselves with parts of the East against the West.

Above all, Kontje asks how German writers conceived of their place in "the land of the center" (das Land der Mitte) and how their literary works help to create the imagined community of the German nation.

Todd Kontje is Professor of German and Comparative Literature at the University of California, San Diego.