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Gender and Genre: Power and Proscriptivism of Form in Modern Jewish Poetry and Prose

Sun, December 16, 12:30 to 2:00pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Skyline Room

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


In scholarship and in popular conceptions, literary genres are often understood to be gendered. Recent and forthcoming scholarly works in modern Jewish literary studies seek to unsettle conventions of gender-genre relations by considering the political, critical, and methodological implications of highlighting female prose writers within modern Jewish literature. This panel brings together scholarship on modern Hebrew, Yiddish and English Jewish literature across genres with particular attention to the relationship between authors and the genres in which they write. How do authors relate intimate, confessional, emotional self-knowledge to scientific, rational, authoritative concepts, and what is the role of creativity within genres in negotiating gendered hierarchies of knowledge and authority? How might gender play into the way texts claim authority?

This panel seeks to contribute to the conversation about genre and gender in Jewish literature by exploring early twentieth century works whose forms have often been coded as “female.” Shoshana Olidort explores how poets Celia Dropkin and Esther Raab play with the strictures of poetic form. Dory Fox examines autobiography as a genre constructed around and within the logic of evolutionism, and considers how gender intersects with the conventions of the bildungsroman in Abraham Cahan’s The Rise of David Levinsky and Mary Antin’s The Promised Land. Jessica Kirzane examines popular literature’s relationship to popular science in the issue of free love in D. M. Hermalin’s Fraye Libe and considers how the diary genre centers emotional knowledge and unseats scientific knowledge in Miriam Karpilov’s Togbukh fun an Elende Meydl. Looking at diaries, poetry and autobiography, these papers demonstrate how gendered assumptions about style, intimacy, knowledge, and the body impact these works’ construction and reception.

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