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Salvage Poetics

Post-Holocaust American Jewish Folk Ethnographies

Sheila E. Jelen

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
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.

S. Ansky’s ethnographic expedition (1912–1914) and Martin Buber’s adaptation and compilation of Hasidic tales (1906–1935) are presented as a means of contextualizing the role of an ethnographic consciousness in modern Jewish experience and the way in which literary adaptations and mediations create opportunities for the creation of folk ethnographic hybrid texts. Salvage Poetics looks at classical texts of the American Jewish experience in the second half of the twentieth century, such as Maurice Samuel’s The World of Sholem Aleichem (1944), Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Earth Is the Lord’s (1950), Elizabeth Herzog and Mark Zborowski’s Life Is with People (1952), Lucy Dawidowicz’s The Golden Tradition (1967), and Roman Vishniac’s A Vanished World (1983), alongside other texts that consider the symbiotic relationship between pre-Holocaust aesthetic artifacts and their postwar reframings and reconsiderations.

Salvage Poetics is particularly attentive to how literary scholars deploy the notion of "ethnography" in their readings of literature in languages and/or cultures that are considered "dead" or "dying" and how their definition of an "ethnographic" literary text speaks to and enhance the scientific discipline of ethnography. This book makes a fresh contribution to the fields of American Jewish cultural and literary studies and art history.

Sheila E. Jelen is associate professor of Hebrew and Jewish studies in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at the University of Kentucky, Lexington. She is the author of Intimations of Difference: Dvora Baron in the Modern Hebrew Renaissance and co-editor of Modern Jewish Literatures: Intersections and Boundaries and Reconstructing the Old Country: American Jewry in the Post-Holocaust Decades (Wayne State University Press, 2017).

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