Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

In a manner of speaking: Yiddish and the literature of the German-Jewish subculture, 1803–1912
by Felsen, Sarah Bailey, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2007, 255; 3275820
Abstract (Summary)

Eighteenth-century German-speaking Jewish ideologues, empowered by the Enlightenment's notion of the moral development of the individual ( Bildung), believed that the Jewish regeneration Bildung allowed would lead to emancipation and social acceptance. Still waiting for emancipation, the nineteenth century's German-Jewish bourgeoisie remained committed to Bildung. However, while these Jews continued, naively, to "regenerate" themselves, German society—moving away from liberal, Enlightenment ideals—continued to exclude them. Isolated, Jews formed more affinities with each other than with the majority culture; they therefore supposedly became unknowing members of a German-Jewish subculture. Most historians argue that the subculture remained invisible to its members until the Shoah. However, focusing on the role of "Jewish manners of speaking" in a handful of works from 1803-1912, I contend that German-speaking Jewish writers used Yiddish or Yiddishized German to affirm their knowledge of a German-Jewish subculture.

In the nineteenth century, the German language was synonymous with German culture; acculturating Jews—in an effort to demonstrate their commitment to Germanness—were, therefore, concerned about how they spoke. The perceived difference between German and the marked-Jewish speech of dissimilation carried political, social, and aesthetic consequences. It has been argued that Yiddish or Yiddishized German in German-language literature by Jewish writers represents a dissimilated culture against which German-speaking Jews measured their acculturatory progress; Yiddish in such literature is supposedly indicative of "Jewish self-hatred." Self-hatred, however, cannot account for a number of texts in which acculturated German-speaking Jewish writers portray Yiddish ambivalently, even positively. I argue that, in selected works, Heinrich Heine, Aron David Bernstein, Karl Emil Franzos, and Franz Kafka used ambivalent portrayals of Yiddish to help them mark their distance, as German Jews, from both the liberal German culture that excluded them, and from a dissimilated Jewish culture with which they could not fully identify. Their complex portrayals of Yiddish or Yiddishized German—as both writers working in the German language and as Jews (or former Jews)—allows their writing to express constructive elements of a culture all their own. Certainly these writers, and their German-Jewish readership, were conscious members of a German-Jewish subculture.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Holub, Robert C.
School: University of California, Berkeley
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 68/08, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Germanic literature, History
Keywords: Austria, Bernstein, Aron David, Franzos, Karl Emil, German-Jewish, Heine, Heinrich, Jewish, Kafka, Franz, Subculture, Yiddish
Publication Number: 3275820
ISBN: 978-0-549-19374-6
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