On the Margins of Modernism: Decentering Literary Dynamics by Chana Kronfeld

By Chana Kronfeld

Modernism valorizes the marginal, the exile, the "other"—yet we have a tendency to use writing from the main in general learn eu languages (English, French, German) as examples of this marginality. Chana Kronfeld counters those dominant versions of marginality by way of having a look as an alternative at modernist poetry written in decentered languages, Hebrew and Yiddish. What effects is a daring new version of literary dynamics, one much less tied to canonical norms, much less restricted geographically, and no more at risk of universalizing the adventure of minority writers.

Kronfeld examines the interpenetrations of modernist groupings via examples of Hebrew and Yiddish poetry in Europe, the united states, and Israel. Her discussions of Amichai, Fogel, Raab, Halpern, Markish, Hofshteyn, and Sutskever could be welcomed via scholars of modernism normally and Hebrew and Yiddish literatures in particular.

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Extra resources for On the Margins of Modernism: Decentering Literary Dynamics (Contraversions: Critical Studies in Jewish Literature, Culture, and Society)

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Typology In the absence of a tradition of theorizing about the literary trend as a distinct type of literary grouping, critics have tended to subsume the concept of trend under one of the more established categories forming the two poles of a critical continuum that traditionally has dealt with literary classifications: (1) the general problem of periodization, considered central to literary history; and (2) the problem of literary typology, modeled on conventional classifications of genres, modes, and styles, and considered central to literary theory.

When, as Wittgenstein has already pointed out, the category itself has unclear boundaries (unlike birds but like red or tall things), we can distinguish not just a centrality gradience within the category but also a membership gradience marking degrees of membership in that category (Lakoff, 1987:12–13).  It seems to me that modernism presents so many difficulties for the literary theorist partly because in its different constructions it involves both centrality and membership gradience.  And yet they tend to (misleadingly and at times subversively) stand for the whole.

Here then in a nutshell is the “empirical” motivation “from the field” for adding such a third system­dynamic component to the analysis of the category modernism.  Focusing on these modernist prototypes tends to foreground one or two highly salient poetic features which fulfill or match some particular (artistic, linguistic, ideological, or social) need.  Thus, as in the Russian formalist model, a literary son rebels against the father by embracing the poetics of an (adopted) uncle. 17 Nevertheless, Fogel's poetry became most instrumental two generations after its original publication, as a retrospective prototype used to discredit the extroverted maximalism and high centrality gradience of the second modernist wave, which immediately followed Fogel's (and, one may add, of the Page 33 similarly maximalist premodernist national romanticism of Chaim Nachman Bialik's generation, which immediately preceded it).

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