Is there such a thing as a distinctive Jewish literature? While
definitions have been offered, none has been universally accepted.
Modern Jewish literature lacks the basic markers of national
literatures: it has neither a common geography nor a shared
language-though works in Hebrew or Yiddish are almost certainly
included-and the field is so diverse that it cannot be contained
within the bounds of one literary category.
Each of the fifteen essays collected in Modern Jewish
Literatures takes on the above question by describing a
movement across boundaries-between languages, cultures, genres, or
spaces. Works in Hebrew and Yiddish are amply represented, but
works in English, French, German, Italian, Ladino, and Russian are
also considered. Topics range from the poetry of the Israeli
nationalist Natan Alterman to the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam;
from turn-of-the-century Ottoman Jewish journalism to wire-recorded
Holocaust testimonies; from the intellectual salons of late
eighteenth-century Berlin to the shelves of a Jewish bookstore in
twentieth-century Los Angeles.
The literary world described in Modern Jewish Literatures
is demarcated chronologically by the Enlightenment, the Haskalah,
and the French Revolution, on one end, and the fiftieth anniversary
of the State of Israel on the other. The particular terms of the
encounter between a Jewish past and present for modern Jews has
varied greatly, by continent, country, or village, by language, and
by social standing, among other things. What unites the subjects of
these studies is not a common ethnic, religious, or cultural
history but rather a shared endeavor to use literary production and
writing in general as the laboratory in which to explore and
represent Jewish experience in the modern world.
Subjects: Language & Literature
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