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 regularly learn ecu languages (English, French, German) as examples of this marginality. Chana Kronfeld counters those dominant versions of marginality by means 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 might be welcomed through scholars of modernism normally and Hebrew and Yiddish literatures particularly.

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Nor is it accidental that the theoretical and ideological roots of these models lead back to Russian formalist poetics, which in turn was intimately affiliated with and was responding to the needs of its contemporary early modernists, the Russian futurist poets.  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.

8 What critics present as a set of distinctive features is actually always only a selective modeling of modernism, determined by the critic's special purposes and perspectives.  It does end up including everything one would want to include but preserves little explanatory power since it cannot tell us what makes all these ­isms part of one heterogeneous yet oddly distinctive international movement.  In the process, I also examine and call into question the poetics and politics of canon formation in general.

It is therefore possible for me to argue, in Chapter 2, against any essentialist view of modernism and, at the same time, to advocate the prototype model as a functional construct which allows people to zero in on relevant segments of a heterogeneous category.  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).

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