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Joshua Shelly

Writing a Future State: Spatial Imaginiaries of German Jewish Literature, 1847–1932

Joshua Shelly is a doctoral candidate in the Carolina-Duke German Studies Program, a joint program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University. He holds a BA in German and History from Wayne State University (2011), and an MLS (2013) and MA in Religious Studies (2015) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

His dissertation, entitled Writing a Future State: Spatial Imaginaries of German Jewish Literature, 1847-1932, explores German-language Zionist utopias and related literary texts written at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. These include George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (1876), a translation of which was later abridged and published by a German Zionist press, Theodor Herzl’s Altneuland (1902), Franz Kafka’s Der Verschollene (1927) and Arnold Zweig’s De Vriendt kehrt heim (1932).

 In this project, Shelly explores how these different literary works inspired, motivated, and sometimes expressed skepticism about the modern Zionist project. In particular, he interrogates the relationship between literary fantasy and political reality by drawing attention to the manner in which the authors used their respective novels to talk about space and place Ottoman (later British) Palestine. He argues that these works engage in a rewriting of conventional, religious perceptions of “The Land” (Ha-Eretz) by introducing differentiated, more secularized notions of the land that challenged those that had long held sway over Jewish (religious) imagination. This secularization of space and place, he concludes, while never fully embraced, was nonetheless an important part of the emergence of the modern Jewish State.