Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Bruno Schulz and Jewish modernity
by Underhill, Karen Christine, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2011, 268; 3460247
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines the work of Polish-Jewish modernist prose writer and graphic artist Bruno Schulz (1892–1942) in the context of Jewish intellectual trends current in the early 20th century Central European environment in which Schulz wrote. The author argues for Schulz's inclusion in the constellation of assimilated Jewish thinkers and writers whose work is considered representative of "modern Jewish messianism," which seeks to negotiate a space for maneuver between theology and materialism; between sacred and secular uses of language; and also, between tradition and modernity. While this philosophical and aesthetic trend has received attention in the field of German-Jewish studies, and German philosophy, its presence in the Polish-Jewish world has been little discussed, and the present study argues that Schulz's affinities with it, cultural, aesthetic and philosophical, deserve exploration.

Specifically, the study considers modernist formulations or adaptations of the messianic impulse that explore the soteriological functions of language and narrative—or storytelling: formulations that transcribe discussions of redemption, or of messianic potentiality, onto the realm of both poetics and the philosophy of language and history. Schulz's work is placed in dialogue with the writings of his contemporaries Walter Benjamin, Martin Buber, and Gershom Scholem; and it is proposed that he be viewed within a lineage of Jewish messianic narrative forms that begins a century earlier with the Hasidic tales of Nachman of Bratslav, and finds its contemporary inheritor in the work of Jacques Derrida.

The discussion challenges previous presentations of Schulz's concept of the "mythicizing of reality," arguing that Schulz's poetics bear comparison with the concept of allegory, and the dialectical-allegorical mode of representation suitable to "ages of ruin" and fragmentation, developed by Benjamin in his study of German baroque Trauerspiel. Schulz's work is further considered in the context of Martin Buber and "fin-de-siècle orientalism"; and in relation to the tradition of redemptive storytelling pioneered in the Hasidic tales of Nachman of Bratslav in the early 19th century, and influenced by principles of Lurianic kabbalah. The study concludes by proposing a concept of "writing in the third language," adapted from Jacques Derrida, to describe the genre of dialectical, post-theological text which Schulz and members of his constellation strove to create.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Shallcross, Bozena
Commitee: Bielik-Robson, Agata, Mendes-Flohr, Paul, Sternstein, Malynne
School: The University of Chicago
Department: Slavic Languages and Literatures
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 72/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Slavic literature, Philosophy, Theology, Judaic studies
Keywords: Allegory, Jewish modernity, Messianism, Modern Jewish messianism, Philosopy, Polish-Jewish literature, Schulz, Bruno, Theology and language
Publication Number: 3460247
ISBN: 978-1-124-71830-9
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