Introduction to the Online Platform
The literary and artistic archives of Else Lasker-Schüler (1869 in Elberfeld – 1945 in Jerusalem) beautifully refracts the creative tensions of her oeuvre. They lay bare the consciously hybrid forms of her art: the manuscripts, letters, telegrams, and drawings reveal Lasker-Schüler’s dissolution of the boundaries between life and art, script and drawing, between author and narrator, performed selves and imaginary figures, and even between German and Hebrew in sound, script, and illustration. On another level, the archives refract Lasker-Schüler’s actual paths in exile due to its dispersal across several countries, institutions, and private owners.
Exhibited here are items from two essential sections of her collection, which are kept at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem and at the German Literature Archive in Marbach (see separate texts on the history of the respective collections – further significant materials have been preserved by the Institute for Literature and Art, Hombroich, the Municipal Library Wuppertal, the Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, the Central Library Zurich and other institutions). The digital age allows us to bring these two parts of the collection together virtually, although it is not the platform’s intent to conceal the actual dispersion of the materials. Rather, viewing items from both institutions in this (virtual) vicinity accentuates the exilic circumstances under which Lasker-Schüler worked creatively after the Nazi party’s rise to power in 1933; drafts and versions of the same poem are in some cases to be found in both institutions. Moreover, an online platform that provides a glimpse into the increasingly digitized collection exposes the viewer to the importance which Lasker-Schüler attached to the materiality of her poetry, the beauty and allure of which are particularly evident here. Into one letter, Lasker-Schüler wove a green feather; she inserted numerous pictograms into her own manuscripts, and signed mundane telegrams with the biblical name »Jussuf«, whose Jewish and Muslim heritage she also wished to underline. The age of global archives and digitization invites, perhaps surprisingly, a return to the archive and its materiality, for a sighting of a manuscript’s crayon shades or the impassioned handwriting of a poet who, at the same time, worried about every single cedilla of her text.
The dispersal of the materials (see separate texts on the history of the respective collections) involves the partly scattered and fragmentary state of single works and of the entire collection, and also calls upon the reader to ponder the complex provenance paths in question. Archival and academic reconstruction attempts have been complemented by an oral history, especially of materials kept in Jerusalem, which has fed the imagination of poets, writers, and visual artists. In combination, fact and myth have maintained the legendary aura surrounding important materials found after Lasker-Schüler’s death in Jerusalem in 1945. Israeli writer and bibliophile Haim Be’er tells us in a short sketch, for example, that while part of the materials were found neatly arranged in a suitcase kept in a wardrobe in her last abode in Ha-ma’alot Street in Jerusalem, a further pack of leather suitcases with manuscripts, letters, and drawings was intermittently shipped from Zurich – the poet’s interim refuge after 1933 – to Jerusalem in the decades after 1945, and most recently in 1996. When the last suitcase arrived at Ben-Gurion airport it was said, according to Be’er, that »at long last, one of the feathers plucked from the black swan of Israel has finally landed in Jerusalem«.
Intriguingly, Lasker-Schüler’s archives demystify the artist’s working habits, yet at the same time contribute to the lingering mystification of her persona and her legacy: on the one hand, the archive material exposes her meticulous manner of writing through numerous layers of revisions and corrections. On the other, the tangible and philological elements of the archival materials underpin an avant-garde thrust, the unique fusion of text, picture, and performance, which draws us into the web of her oeuvre, into the maze of the archive.
The materials presented on the platform can be viewed under different thematic headings, although one object is sometimes shown in more than one category, in order to reflect the platform’s heuristic character: an object may mirror the poet’s movement between text and drawing, and at the same time exemplify the gender transgressions which characterize her prose, poetry, and her performative experimentations. Most objects are accompanied by attentive prefatory texts written by Lasker-Schüler experts, which draw attention to particular aspects of the archival items and at the same time identify them within the broader creative scope of Lasker-Schüler’s literary and artisticoeuvre.
Haim Be’er, »Else Lasker-Schüler Returned to Jerusalem«, in This is the Place: People, Places and Stories of Jerusalem, edited by Giddon Ticotsky (Tel Aviv: Am Oved Publishers, 2017), 316-321.