Jeremiah – Prophet of Doom. Memory Traces in the Works of Stefan Zweig and Franz Werfel

This project explores the modern »afterlife«(Nachleben) of the biblical prophet of doom Jeremiah and by extension the catastrophic destruction of Jerusalem (6th century BCE). In the presentation of the 40 years preceding the city’s downfall, the figure of Jeremiah stands in strong contrast to the ensuing religious, social, and political devastation.

When the afterlife of a figure such as the prophet Jeremiah takes on a certain legibility, a literary study of history becomes particularly worth-while. The Book of Jeremiah not only intricately weaves together religious, medial and literary references of its time, it also exposes a cult of critique at its center that lends the biblical text a relevance to 20th century with its numerous catastrophes connected with the World Wars. Aside from the Old Testament book of the prophet, this project also investigates the dramatization by Stefan Zweig (Jeremias, 1917) written at the outset of modernism, and the vast novel by Franz Werfel (Hearken unto the Voice, 1937). These literary works have thus far only been attributed marginal significance in literary history. In this context of crisis that surrounds the figure of Jeremiah two questions come to the fore: What potential does literature possess to give warning before and during the outbreak of war (1917 to 1937), and to what extent do modern renditions of a prophetic text and figure present a counter-history or even a »history against the grain«.

The study understands the relationship between the past and present more in a symbolic than chronological sense, in which »the past and the present meet« (Benjamin). Adopting an approach based on literary and cultural studies, this project sets out to provide a detailed philological overview of the play (Stefan Zweig) and the novel (Franz Werfel), as well as how they deal with their common biblical pretext. The analyses of the literary texts also engage with cultural studies perspectives that touch upon such diverse issues as intertextuality, voice, lamentation, memory, and place.

2014–2016
Head researcher(s): Lukas Pallitsch

Media Response

30 Dec 2014
Zukunft der Wissenschaft: Der Literaturwissenschaftler Lukas Pallitsch

Radioportrait von Hanna Metzen, in: RBB Kulturradio, Sendung: Kulturradio am Vormittag vom 30.12.2014 (4:28 min), anhören (verfügbar bis 06.01.2015)