Let It Be Consumption!: Modern Jewish Writing and the Literary Capital of Tuberculosis
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CitationYudkoff, Sunny. 2015. Let It Be Consumption!: Modern Jewish Writing and the Literary Capital of Tuberculosis. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractLet it Be Consumption!: Modern Jewish Writing and the Literary Capital of Tuberculosis investigates the relationship between literary production and the cultural experience of illness. Focusing attention on the history of modern Yiddish and Hebrew literature, this study examines how a diagnosis of tuberculosis mobilized literary and financial support on behalf of the ailing writer. At the same time, the disease itself became a subject of concern in the writer’s creative oeuvre and literary self-fashioning. Drawing on the work of Pierre Bourdieu and Bruno Latour, I argue that the role played by disease in these traditions is best understood through the paradox of tubercular capital. The debilitating and incurable illness proved a generative context for these writers to develop their literary identities, augment their reputations and join together in a variety of overlapping and intersecting genealogies of tubercular writing.
I map this transnational network of disease, opportunity and creativity over the course of four chapters. Chapter One turns to the life and legacy of the Yiddish humorist Sholem Aleichem, who grew his reputation and defined his literary persona while taking “the cure” in Italy, Switzerland and Germany. Moving from Central Europe to British Mandate Palestine, Chapter Two investigates the tubercular space of the sickroom as both setting and subject for the Hebrew poet Raḥel Bluvshtein, who generated a poetic legacy and literary support network from her garret apartment. Chapter Three directs attention back across the ocean to a cohort of Yiddish writers affiliated with the Denver Sanatorium. These writers, such as Yehoash, H. Leivick and Lune Mattes, would find that a tubercular diagnosis created new possibilities for them to see their work read, cited, translated and performed across the United States. Returning to Europe, Chapter Four examines the life and writing of the tubercular modernist David Vogel. The Hebrew writer drew on his own sanatorium experience in Merano, Italy (formerly: Meran, Austria) to enter into an intertextual conversation with German writers, such as Arthur Schnitzler and Thomas Mann, if only to challenge precisely the possibility of that Hebrew-German exchange.
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