The Emergence of Early Yiddish Literature: Cultural Translation in Ashkenaz

The Emergence of Early Yiddish Literature: Cultural Translation in Ashkenaz

The Emergence of Early Yiddish Literature: Cultural Translation in Ashkenaz

The Emergence of Early Yiddish Literature: Cultural Translation in Ashkenaz

Synopsis

While much early Yiddish literature belonged to pious genres, quasi-secular genres--epic, drama, and lyric--also developed. Jerold Frakes contends that the historical context of the emergence of Yiddish literature is an essential factor in any understanding of its cultural relevance in a time and place where Jewish life was defined by expulsions, massacres, and discriminatory legislation that profoundly altered European Judaism and shook the very foundations of traditional Jewish society.

Excerpt

The SUB- cultural focus of this book is primarily on those literary borderlands that lie between the primarily Hebrew- Aramaic core of the traditional Ashkenazic textual culture and the vast realm of Gentile literary culture beyond the pale, especially in the textual worlds of Middle High German, Renaissance Italian, and Humanist Latin. the analytical focus of the book is on the period during which Yiddish emerged as a literary language in the interstitial cultural context of those Jewish and Gentile textual worlds. As Benjamin Harshav has astutely remarked, “Hebrew poetry in the past three millennia and Yiddish poetry in the past seven hundred years were situated in the midst of languages not necessarily related, making them ‘comparative’ literatures par excellence.” This book is thus at all times a work of comparative studies, perhaps even in two senses of the slippery but often useful designation “comparative literature”: it “relates” texts of two or more cultural traditions (i.e., the more- or- less conventional pre- Derridean definition of the field) at the same time as it also articulates those texts with discourses of gender, cultural identity, resistance to cultural Otherizing, and prepostcolonialism (i.e., several of the post- Derridean concerns of the field). It is thus not at all—or at least not simply— a book in the field of Yiddish studies, and those expecting such a book are likely to find themselves on unfamiliar, not to say uncomfortable, ground. It is not—to use Robert Bonfil’s tactically employed terminology (in a very different context)— centripetal, inward- facing, exclusionary, but vigorously centrifugal, outward- facing, inclusionary.

The book has had a long gestation period, dating back to 1997. Preliminary versions of parts of several chapters have been presented publicly at a number of conferences and university fora: the Twelfth World Congress of Jewish Studies, the Association for Jewish Studies, the American Comparative Literature Association, the Renaissance Society of America, the Sixteenth Century Studies Conference, the Modern Language Association, the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and . . .

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