Exile and Foreignness in Life and Art
The hybrid German term »verwandert« from Else Lasker-Schüler’s poem »The Song of my Life«, which closes the prose volume The Nights of Tino from Baghdad (1907), mirrors essential elements in the life and art of the poet. »Verwandert« combines in one lexeme the ideas of migration (wandern), transformation (verwandeln), affinities (Verwandtschaften), and perplexity (verwundert) on the metaphorical, aesthetic, and experiential planes. While other sections on this platform stress the aesthetic and metaphoric transgressions in Lasker-Schüler’s oeuvre, this section reveals an enduring engagement with the ideas and experiences of migration and exile. From a repertoire of Biblical, Arabic, Greek, and other Middle Eastern mythological figures, Lasker-Schüler’s prevailing focus on and adoption of »Jussuf« are based on the Biblical figure of an outcast and exile who was abandoned by his own family and found refuge in Egypt. More than twenty years prior to her own exile from Germany after 1933, Lasker-Schüler integrated Jussuf and other emigré figures into her own writings and drawings, pondering in part the foreignness of the artist within society and her own status as a Jewish woman within German and German-Jewish society.
After 1933, at the very latest, exile had taken on an urgent, immediate form as Lasker-Schüler was violently persecuted on the streets of Berlin, her works were banned, and she fled to Zurich, where everyday life in artistic and material terms became precarious. Late works from the exile period in Jerusalem from the years 1939 to 1945, such as the play IchundIch (»I and I« 1941) or the painting »Die verscheuchte Dichterin« (»The banished Poet«), express her double persecution and exile as a Jewish woman and as an artist. »Verwandert« may also point to the ways in which the encounter with Alexandria and Jerusalem from 1934 onwards affected her writing and art on the Orient: Lasker-Schüler’s diversified relationship to Jerusalem, for example, which started as a poetic-mythical longing and lament in the early poems »Sulamith« (»Shulamite«) and »Das Lied des Gesalbten« (»Song of the Blessed«, 1901), developed into unique travel literature in Das Hebräerland (»The Land of the Hebrews«) after her first visit to Palestine in 1934, and finally became an everyday experience after her forced settlement in Jerusalem, when her return to Zurich was denied by the Swiss Authorities in 1939.
Liora Bing-Heidecker, »Epilogue«, in Else Lasker-Schüler, The Nights of Tino of Baghdad & The Prince of Thebes, translated by Liora Bing-Heidecker (Jerusalem: Carmel 2018), 119-137 [Hebrew].
Else Lasker-Schüler, Star in my Forehead. Selected Poems by Else Lasker-Schüler, translated by Janine Canan, 2000.