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Wesleyan University | Center for the Humanities


Dialogism and the Prophecy of Destruction: Martin Buber, Stefan Zweig, and Franz Werfel

Dialogism and the Prophecy of Destruction: Martin Buber, Stefan Zweig, and Franz Werfel

NITZAN LEBOVIC • Lehigh University

NOVEMBER 7 @ 6 P.M. | Daniel Family Commons, Usdan University Center

The correspondence between the philosopher Martin Buber and the authors Stefan Zweig and Franz Werfel lasted between the mid-1910s and Zweig's suicide in 1942, followed by Werfel's death in 1945. Much of it revolves around the collapse of the Habsburg empire and the crisis in Germany after World War I. Curiously, the philosopher and the two authors chose to consider their present from the perspective of an ancient prophetic past: When Zweig wrote about the prophecy of destruction in his play Jeremias (1917), he sent a copy to Buber, asking him to share it with Werfel. Werfel did the same when he wrote his own hopeful play Paul among the Jews (1926) and the novels The Song of Bernadette (1939) and Jeremiah (1941). Buber brought Paul and Jeremiah together in his Prophets (1942) offering, de facto, an alternative German-Jewish political-theology. This paper will address the theme of hope and hopelessness from the perspective of a deep political crisis, but one that could utilize the knowledge of the past for the benefit of a functional future. In contrast to Carl Schmitt and other conservative interpreters, these German-Jewish thinkers regarded a Judeo-Christian dialogue—which Buber would extend into an open dialogue with Islam and Buddhism—as a key for political reform.

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