Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

The Poetics of Schadenfreude: N. B. Minkov on the Edge of Yiddish Diction

Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

The Poetics of Schadenfreude: N. B. Minkov on the Edge of Yiddish Diction

Article excerpt


BENJAMIN HARSHAV MAINTAINS that "Yiddish always was an open language, moving in and out of its component languages and absorbing more or less of their vocabularies, depending on the group of speakers, genre of discourse, and circumstances. l This essay is an examination of one facet of component-consciousness (koinponentn-visikeyt)2-that is, the consciousness among Yiddish speakers and writers of the particular linguistic provenance (Romance, Germanic, Hebraic, Slavic, international) of the specific words they choose and use. This consciousness is brought into sharper focus when examined through the lens of writer, genre, and circumstance. I will concentrate on the Introspectivist poets (Inzikhists) who were particularly concerned with the resonances of these strata, focusing on the poetry of one member of that group - N. B. Minkov; one particular genre of discourse - modernist Yiddish poetry in New York; and ultimately one particular set of circumstances -poetic responses to the Holocaust. Minkov maintained a fairly consistent affikation with certain poetic principles, but the intrusion of history altered some of the categories under which those principles, when applied, were apprehended. Many Yiddish poets felt that history demanded a reaction to the German language that Minkov was ultimately not willing categorically to accept. Through this analysis I hope to outline the shifting boundaries of one sociolinguistic category in the shadow of history and the light of poetry.

This analysis pursues three broader goals. The first is a preliminary step in a recovery project of Minkov, a unique voice of Inzikhist poetry and theory whose work is unfortunately kttle mentioned and even less examined in English-language scholarship.3 The second is to enhance a more nuanced picture of the Inzikhist movement. As Inzikhism was easily a match for any of the contemporaneous modernist movements in theoretical subtlety and complexity and in poetic vibrancy, understanding Minkov and his employment of component-consciousness and politics means understanding better Inzikhism s status as a dynamic and thoroughly American movement in letters. The third is to add to the portrait of the heterogeneity of the responses to the Holocaust within American Yiddish modernism. For Yiddish poets in America, language was a sensitive site of cultural participation, action, and reaction to historical events across the sea. This is one reason why the debate surrounding germanisms (daytshmerish) becomes an important gauge for assessing differing responses to the Holocaust, as typified by Jacob Glatstein (a fellow Inzikhist) and Minkov. As Anita Norich has pointed out,

[t]he history of Yiddish literature at this period must tell the story of modernist Yiddish poet after poet transforming his or her poetic form and content in response to the unfolding events, eschewing the modernist, individualist tones they had once heralded and expressing the need to write a poetry of consolation and mourning, and giving voice to the millions who could no longer speak, in a language they would themselves have used.4

Glatstein drifted away from the Inzikhist philosophy and ideology of language; Minkov remained more faithful, averring that ideology's ability to say something meaningful and offering a different set of possible literary responses than Glatstein s, which became the regnant response in Yiddish literature. In tracing a poetic word-biography of shodnfreyd and the concept of Schadenfreude behind it in Minkov's poetry, I am looking to examine what is at stake in his response.


Nokhum Borukh Minkov (1893-1958) was not only a talented poet, authoring five books of poetry, much of it accomplished and some of it of a quality disguised only by its complexity (as Jacob Glatstein noted, his talkative verses possess a visionary pathos and they sit well on the tongue, even if they resist interpretation"). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.