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The Problem of Pleasure: Disciplining the German Jewish Reading Revolution, 1770-1870


Focusing on learned men and women from traditional Jewish societies in Germany, between 1770 and 1870, my dissertation examines the emergence of an intellectual practice critical to the process of becoming modern: reading for pleasure. Unlike the written word that is its stimulus and object, the experience of reading in general is thought to be transitory and accessible only to individuals. But for Jewish intellectuals who were becoming modern by elaborating new selves outside the confines of traditional culture, pleasure reading, like writing, played a central role in their formations as modern individuals. Pleasure reading and the habit of sharing impressions of that reading in written correspondences, diaries, and memoirs, which were then re-read with equal pleasure, amounted to a revolution of traditional Jewish culture. In their discoveries of pleasure reading, Jewish men and women followed their feelings and imagination inside new interior spaces of individuality carved out by themselves. My dissertation traces this process by pursuing the discoveries of pleasure reading by three connected figures: the salonnière Henriette Herz (1764-1847), the founder of the critical study of Judaic literature Leopold Zunz (1794-1886), and the great historian of the Jews Heinrich Graetz (1817-1891).

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