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Visions of Yiddish: Toward a History of Modernist Yiddish Literature and Art

Sun, December 16, 4:15 to 5:45pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Harborview 3 Ballroom

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


This panel investigates the relation between image and text by examining three cases from Yiddish literature and art. Our work builds on growing interest among Yiddish scholars with questions of visuality, visual poetics, “imagetexts,” and modernist art. Our papers, in turn, explore the relationship between Yiddish culture, art theory, and textual form, as well as how theories of representation are transferred from art to text and vice versa.The working assumption of this panel is that attending to the confrontations and intersections of word and image refines our understanding of modernist Yiddish creativity writ large. It further imbricates Yiddish literature with broader art-historical discussions in European and Anglo-American modernist discourses.

Ofer Dynes enters the conversation by turning to the work of the painter Yosl Bergner. Dynes examines how Bergner’s personal history as a soldier in Australia and his previous portraits of Aboriginal people would influence his own illustrations for a collection of folktales by I.L. Peretz. Here, Dynes asks how Bergner’s illustrational intervention directs a re-reading of Peretz’s classic work. Further investigating the ability of visual art to comment on the literary, Sunny Yudkoff turns her attention to the work of Jennings Tofel, an understudied painter-poet of Di yunge. Analyzing his evocative line drawings alongside his over-saturated and over-populated paintings, Yudkoff argues for a reconceptualization of the aesthetics of Di yunge that interprets the written word with reference to visual art. Moving from the realm of visual art to visual art theory, Samuel Spinner concludes the panel by investigating how the primitivist aesthetic theory of German-Jewish art historian Carl Einstein finds its clearest articulation in the abstract prose of Der Nister. Spinner’s paper posits that Der Nister’s work comes closest to fulfilling the promise of literary abstraction drawn from the intersection of Einstein’s theories of primitivism and cubism.

Bringing these papers together, this panel argues for conceiving of “Yiddish Art” as an inter- and trans-medial form. It is the goal of the panel participants to use these papers, and the conversations they provoke, as the first step toward an edited volume that brings together translations of Yiddish art theory with scholarly articles on the nexus of Yiddish literature and visual art.

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