Facing the Limits of Fiction: Self-Consciousness in Jewish American Literature

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Facing the Limits of Fiction: Self-Consciousness in Jewish American Literature

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Title: Facing the Limits of Fiction: Self-Consciousness in Jewish American Literature
Author: Kensky, Eitan Lev
Citation: Kensky, Eitan Lev. 2013. Facing the Limits of Fiction: Self-Consciousness in Jewish American Literature. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This thesis explores the limits of fictional language by studying the work of Jewish American writer-critics, novelists who significantly engaged with literary criticism, and critics who experimented with the novel or short fiction. These writer-critics all believed in Literature: they believed that literature could effect social change and educate the masses; or they believed in literature as an art-form, one that exposed the myths underlying American society, or that revealed something fundamental about the human condition. Yet it is because they believed so stridently in the concept of Literature that they turned to non-fiction. Writing fiction exposed problems that Literature could not resolve. They describe being haunted by “preoccupations” that they could not exhaust in fiction alone. They apologetically refer to their critical texts as “by-products” of their creative writing. Writer-critics were forced to decide what the limits of fiction were, and they adopted other types of writing to supplement these unexpected gaps in fiction's power. This dissertation contains four chapters and an introduction. The introduction establishes the methodological difficulties in writing about author-critics, and introduces a set of principles to guide the study. Chapter 1 approaches Abraham Cahan's The Rise of David Levinsky (1917). I argue that many of the novel's difficulties result from Cahan's desire to present the way that ideology shades our understanding of reality while minimizing direct narratorial intrusions. Chapter 2 studies how politics affected the work of Mike Gold, Moishe Nadir, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. In all three writers, literature emerges as a kind of ersatz-politics, a space for the dispossessed to imagine the political. In the end, the political novel only reinforces the fictionality. Chapter 3 is a study of Leslie Fiedler's problematic novel, The Second Stone. While critics have seen the novel as a kind of game, I propose reading the novel as an earnest expression of Fiedler's vision of literature as a conversation. Chapter 4 turns to Cynthia Ozick and Susan Sontag. A cumulative reading of their fiction and criticism shows the deep twinning of their fiction and critical thought. For both writers true knowledge comes only through the imagination.
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:10417579
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