By Leah Garrett
An exam of the way Yiddish writers, from Mendele Moycher Sforim to Der Nister to the famed Sholem Aleichem, used motifs of trip to precise their complex courting with modernization.
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Extra info for Journeys Beyond The Pale: Yiddish Travel Writing In The Modern World
Don Quixote is thus an exemplary model for conveying the historical roots of Jewish cultural stagnation. 4. Don Quixote is set in a premodern rural locale. 37 5. Don Quixote tells the story of a madman. 38 The Road • 41 Although Kitser masoes Binyomin hashlishi is clearly a rewriting of Don Quixote, much of its brilliance lies in the deviations. Foremost are the radically different settings of the two works. Unlike Don Quixote, in which the road is a generally safe terrain (except for occasional robbers) on which a feudal lord can re-create himself, for the Jewish traveler in nineteenth-century Poland the road is a place where he may be exposed to anti-Semitic locals.
And by the time that Der Nister wrote his quest stories, the real world has been completely obliterated, and all that exists are characters caught in endlessly recycling stories. Here the story is the thing, and the world outside and beyond it is spied from a distance, as in “Tsum barg,” but is inaccessible to the main character. This story has no nostalgic shtetl but instead retreats into fantasy, while the real world exists outside the borders of narrative. Where we can see that Abramovitsh uses Mendele as a framing device to break down static hierarchies while focusing on the interconnectedness of the natural world, the world of Der Nister’s The Road • 35 “A mayse mit a lets” is comprised of grotesque connections and self-imploding narratives, not the positive connections drawn by Mendele.
The prose stilts plot development and focuses instead on descriptions. The narrative voice is like a moving camera, endlessly shifting around the same still landscape. In both Der Nister and Bergelson, motion means discursive motion as often as it means physical motion. With the second generation of Yiddish writers we do not have ﬁgures like Mendele and Sholem Aleichem as literary embodiments of narrative mobility. In the second-generation narratives political realities are insistent impediments, and the means of depoliticizing the terrain generally is either a stock literary genre, such as patently ﬁctional romance (Lamed Shapiro), or a reconstruction of the political reality as the multivalent, unreadable symbol that suggests yet resists a singular political interpretation (Der Nister, Bergelson).