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Salvage Poetics

Post-Holocaust American Jewish Folk Ethnographies

Sheila E. Jelen

Award Winner

Jewish Studies, Language and Literature

Raphael Patai Series in Jewish Folklore and Anthropology

Printed Paper Cased
Published: April 2020
ISBN: 9780814343180
Pages: 402 Size: 6x9
Illustrations: 57 color images
Available October 2023
ISBN: 9780814350812
Pages: 402 Size: 6x9
Illustrations: 57 color images
Published: April 2020
ISBN: 9780814343197

Salvage Poetics: Post-Holocaust American Jewish Folk Ethnographies explores how American Jewish post-Holocaust writers, scholars, and editors adapted pre-Holocaust works—such as Yiddish fiction and documentary photography—for popular consumption by American Jews in the post-Holocaust decades. These texts, Jelen argues, served to help clarify the role of East European Jewish identity in the construction of a post-Holocaust American one. In her analysis of a variety of hybrid texts—those that exist on the border between ethnography and art—Jelen traces the gradual shift from verbal to visual Jewish literacy among Jewish Americans after the Holocaust.

Salvage Poetics looks at classical texts of the American Jewish experience in the second half of the twentieth century, including texts by Maurice Samuel, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Lucy Dawidowicz, Roman Vishniac, alongside other texts that consider the symbiotic relationship between pre-Holocaust aesthetic artifacts and their postwar reframings and reconsiderations. Rather than simply an ethnographic reference to a "dead" or "dying" language and culture, Jelen argues that American Jewish authors create a unique form of ethnographic literary text by adopting what she calls a salvage poetics of Yiddishkeit.

Sheila E. Jelen is the Zantker Professor of Jewish Literature, Culture, and History and the director of the program in Jewish studies at the University of Kentucky, Lexington. She is an associate editor of Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History and has previously published works on topics including Hebrew literature, Jewish literature, gender, Holocaust studies, and post-Holocaust studies.

In a series of brilliant readings of the works of photography, ethnography, and anthropology that emerged from the devastations of the Holocaust and the deracination of assimilation, Sheila Jelen uncovers the ‘salvage poetics’ that mobilized Jewish cultural fragments against the ruins. Salvage Poetics thus sheds light on both the past and present and how the two are entwined through a Jewish poetics of salvage as well as loss.

– Naomi Seidman, author of The Marriage Plot, Or, How Jews Fell in Love with Love, and with Literature

The absence felt noticeable because this stimulating and impressive book has an impact— and deserves to have a readership—far beyond its topic. While Salvage Poetics will primarily and valuably be of use for scholars examining the reconstruction of Jewish cultural life and identity after the Holocaust, it has much to say to folklorists more generally considering the interactive incorporation and adaptive use of literary material in the ongoing shaping of our own disciplinary thinking.

– Paul Cowdell, Folklore

This is a thorough academic work with a fresh approach to our understanding of pre-war Europe. It contains a number of images, beautifully reproduced in color and black-and-white. For academic collections of Jewish history and ethnography

– Beth Dwoskin, AJL News and Reviews

  • 2021 Jordan Schnitzer Book Awards - Result: Finalist in Jewish Literature and Linguistics category