The Invisible Wound: Jewish Poetics, Modernity, and the Return of the Repressed

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Shapiro, Aaron Herschel
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Middle Tennessee State University
This dissertation explores a narrative in which, in the process of its own subject formation, Western culture produced a salvific but antisemitic fantasy of Judaization which shaped its approach to aesthetics. Over centuries, that aesthetic vision would be systematized by writers and thinkers like St. Paul, St. Augustine, and Geoffrey Chaucer. In time, it would come to inform the development of modernism—an influence I track through the work of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot (who rejected it), as well as Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) and Wallace Stevens (who embraced it). At the same time, and rather ironically, it would also provide modern Jewish writers with an entry point—albeit an overdetermined one—for engaging and revising the tradition of Western aesthetics. I argue that, due in part to the interventions of Jewish artists, notably Louis Zukofsky, this fantasy produced a counter discourse within modernism, some of whose practitioners, both Jewish (e.g. Zukofsky) and gentile (e.g. H.D. and Stevens), came to see in Jewishness, or in the Jewish approach to language and textuality, something subversive and vital, something which—though derided as sacrilege—might yet prove energizing to a new generation of modern artists. Through a mixture of New Historicist, New Critical, poststructuralist, and deconstructive approaches, this dissertation investigates the roots of antisemitic aesthetics in the Western tradition, traces that dispensation into modernity, and then examines the counter discourse produced by Jewish writers—itself an alternate mode of modern poetics based in the Jewish philosophy of language and in the practice of rabbinical hermeneutics—as well as its influence on non-Jewish writers and on the development of literary modernism.
Aesthetics, Anti-Judaism, Antisemitism, Jewishness, Poetics, Poetry, American literature, Judaic studies