This chapter engages with Osip Dymov’s narrative strategies of interlocking Russian and Yiddish cultures. In Dymov’s autobiography Vos ikh gedenk (Zikhroynes), which first appeared in the journal forverts in 1941–1942, this encounter shows first of all in the entanglement of language use and thematic focus: the memoirs were written in Yiddish for a Yiddish-speaking audience, but they deal primarily with Russian culture. The narrator strongly idealizes Russian literature and puts it into a Jewish context by describing it as the most important model and motivation for his own actions. Crucial turns in the narrator’s life are associated with Russian literature. Through a skillful contextualization of singular narrated events even Fyodor Dostoyevsky appears in a philo-Semitic light.
This chapter examines the modernist influences on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s literary strategies and his views on Yiddish literature by looking at the series of the writer’s unpublished lecture notes in English and his literary criticism. It centers on Singer’s formulation of “folk-lore”, the writer’s literary formula that reveals the main inspirations of his unique literary style. These included the turn to the diaspora experience as a source of themes for fiction inspired by the diaspora nationalist Y.L Peretz, the inclusion of repressed subjects, “the Jewish underground”, to Yiddish literature, and the unrestrained way of writing about sexual relations, most likely provoked by S. Freud and Polish modernist writers. The chapter demonstrates that Singer’s fascination with Hasidic culture was fuelled by his engagement with secular modernist writing, which made him to rediscover Hasidic Judaism as an attractive literary trope. The role of Singer’s “adopted city” (Sharpe), Warsaw, in stimulating the direction he was to follow in his creative endeavours is also examined. A closer look at Singer’s secular influences helps us to situate his oeuvre as conceived at the crossroads of Polish, Jewish and European modernisms, a perspective which sheds new light on reading and interpreting the writer’s fiction.
This chapter focuses on how the Danish-Jewish fin-de-siècle intellectual Georg Brandes (1842–1927) reacts with his cosmopolitan ideal of a transnational vision, particularly the figure of the modern Jew, to an otherwise dominant anti-Semitic projection of the bourgeois-influenced “assimilated Jew” as rootless and non-contributive. Brandes’ ideal suggests that the individual acts within a national culture but does not at the same time feel bound to its tradition, thus allowing the individual to create innovation more easily. Brandes projects this cosmopolitan ideal as universal, represented through the topos of exile and the figure of the emigrant. Brandes’ ideal is discussed as a predecessor to the figure of the stranger, which Georg Simmel is considered to have introduced to academic discourse in his essay “Exkurs über den Fremden” (1908). I argue that Brandes’ transnational vision and Simmel’s stranger have to be read as reaction to modern anti-Semitism which accentuates the contributions of the “assimilated Jew” to Western civilization.
This chapter discusses Georges Perec’s exploration of a space for Jewish writing after the Shoah. Perec’s situation as a Jewish writer is read against the matrix of autobiographical essays in which he tries to outline the unique spatial point of departure of his writing. The desire to fill the blank page of Jewish writing appears joined with the desire to locate himself – and with it, Jewish writing – on a map that captures French literary history. The difficulty to revisit the sites of one’s childhood is reflected in the Jewish writer’s attempt at finding precursors for their literary endeavors in literary history. The essay closes with an outlook on Perec’s influence (H. Bloom) on post-Shoah writing.
Folk poetry anthologies were the product of a fruitful cultural exchange between Eastern and Central European Jewish cultures in search of renewed collective identities. The idea of collecting Yiddish folksongs was born in early 20th imperial Russia, i.e. at a time when ethnography was in its heyday, and a new secular culture was on the rise. Soon, cultural Zionists both in Yiddish speaking and in German speaking territories discovered Yiddish folk poetry as one pillar of a new Jewish culture. Two competing definitions of folk poetry were discussed: The first definition was based on the Romantic notion of songs being transmitted orally from generation to generation, while the second one defined the folksong as poetry written in a folk tone and evoking folk themes. While the early Russian collections of Yiddish folksongs used the notion of authenticity to invent a tradition, most German translators invented the future: the utopia of a united Jewry deeply rooted in its own culture.
Originating in different literary traditions and cultural contexts, the European-Christian-Jewish-Muslim figure of ‘Don Quijote’ and the Jewish-European figures of ‘Schlemiel’ and ‘Schelm’ show a relation of both closeness and distance in their interactions. Created especially in times of societal and cultural upheaval, as for instance in the fault zones of modernity, they mark the voice of resistance, of non-conformity, of critical enquiry, the voice of a stranger through irony and ambivalence. Beyond the lingual and cultural “divides” of Yiddish, Spanish, German, Russian or Polish these literary figures, as I will argue in this chapter, design by various processes of reception, be they ideational or translational, a zone of encounter and transformation.