Autobiographical Jews

Essays in Jewish Self-Fashioning

Michael Stanislawski

  • Published: 2004
  • Subject Listing: Jewish Studies; Literary Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 224 pp., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Samuel and Althea Stroum Lectures in Jewish Studies
  • Contents

Autobiographical Jews examines the nature of autobiographical writing by Jews from antiquity to the present, and the ways in which such writings can legitimately be used as sources for Jewish history. Drawing on current literary theory, which questions the very nature of autobiographical writing and its relationship to what we normally designate as the truth, and, to a lesser extent, the new cognitive neurosciences, Michael Stanislawski analyzes a number of crucial and complex autobiographical texts written by Jews through the ages.

Stanislawski considers The Life by first-century historian Josephus; compares the early modern autobiographies of Asher of Reichshofen (Book of Memories) and Glikl of Hameln (Memoirs); analyzes the radically different autobiographies of two Russian Jewish writers, the Hebrew Enlightenment author Moshe Leib Lilienblum and the famous Russian poet Osip Mandelstam; and looks at two autobiographies written out of utter despair in the midst and in the wake of World War II, Stefan Zweig's The World of Yesterday and Sarah Kofman's Rue Ordener, Rue Labat.

These writers' attempts to portray their private and public struggles, anxieties, successes, and failures are expressions of a basic drive for selfhood which is both timeless and time-bound, universal and culturally specific. The challenge is to attempt to unravel the conscious from the unconscious distortions in these texts and to regard them as artifacts of individuals' quests to make sense of their lives, first and foremost for themselves and then, if possible, for their readers.
Michael Stanislawski is Nathan J. Miller Professor of History, Columbia University. He is the author of Zionism and the Fin de Siècle, For Whom Do I Toil?, and Psalms for the Tsar.

"Autobiographical Jews is a remarkable example of historical acumen and intellectual passion, a signal achievement of scholarly vision and literary imagination."
-Olga Litvak, Princeton University

"Stanislawski's mastery of the materials of modern Jewish experience is virtuosic, and he ranges easily over primary source materials in their original language from a broad range of Jewish cultures. From the modernization of East European Jewry, the historical experience of the Jews in Germany, the rise of the Zionist movement, and the world wars, Stanislawski manages to construct entire historical panoramas without ever losing sight of his goal: to analyze and expose the nature of autobiographical writing. The book is brilliant in every respect."
-Elisheva Carlebach, Queens College, CUNY

Introduction: Autobiography, the Jews, and Episodic Memory

1. Josephus's Life
2. In the Culture of the Rabbis: Asher of Reichshofen and Glikl of Hameln
3. Two Russian Jews: Moshe Lieb Lelienblum and Osip Mandelstam
4. Autobiography as Farewell I: Stefan Zweig
5. Autobiography as Farewell II: Sarah Kofman


"This slim, brilliant book has yielded a series of cutting edge works by some of the leading scholars in Jewish Studies. . . . A provocative tour de force."
-Slavic Review

"A remarkable, rewarding study . . . Stanislawski presents each of the life stories within the context of social and cultural history, and in so doing displays his erudition and knowledge. This is a challenging, intellectually stimulating work."