Gender and Performance

The Dissolution of Artistic and Gendered Boundaries

Lina Barouch

In 1910, Else Lasker-Schüler planned a staged cabaret reading of »Der Fakir von Theben« (»The Fakir of Thebes«) in which she herself would perform the role of the Egyptian prince. Preparations included contact with an Egyptian editor in Berlin for the sake of Arabic translations, as well as the iconic photograph of the poet with an Egyptian flute, ancient Egyptian traditional male bob, and the typical left profile of ancient Egyptian portraits. In this way, an enduring self-image of the poet was generated, which would accompany her life and art till her death. Lasker-Schüler developed such representations on the basis of mytho-poetic figures, carefully crafting them as »border-walkers« between female and male, between life and its staging. This performative border-walking and boundary-crossing is encapsulated in the constructed figure and signature of »Jussuf von Theben« (»Jussuf of Thebes«), often used from 1911 onwards in letters, telegrams, and other works. This figure in particular symbolizes the transgressions and transformations that define Lasker-Schüler’s oeuvre: through »Jussuf«, she transcends religions, geographies, and epochs, gender and ethnicity. The figure of »Jussuf« accompanied her as idea, artistic principle, leitmotiv, and Spielfigur, as a representation of herself in text, picture, and ›in life‹.

These transgressions are also embedded in Lasker-Schüler’s engagement with dance in the pre-figuration of Jussuf in the figure of Tino from Die Nächte Tino von Bagdads (»The Nights of Tino of Baghdad«, 1907) and the dominant dance motif within the text. The dancer emerges as a constitutive element which generates a phantasmal choreography between the landscapes of real and imagined cities in the Orient. Lasker-Schüler develops this element in the context of German modernist dance, in which this particular art form was perceived as a creative, metamorphic act that counters degeneration in an enduring oscillation between life and death. Dance and dancers are, moreover, allegories of the act of writing, where hieroglyphs inspired Lasker-Schüler to weave pictograms and ideograms into her texts in an enigmatic movement between signifier and signified.


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.

Ricarda Dick, »Else Lasker-Schüler als Künstlerin«, in Else Lasker-Schüler. Die Bilder, edited by Ricarda Dick (Berlin: Jüdischer Verlag, 2010).

Gender and Performance

In defiance of artistic and gender norms, Else Lasker-Schüler wished to see her prose and poetry performed in cabarets or at literary gatherings, while her correspondence became the setting for imagined selves and others.