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Aharon Appelfeld's Fiction

Acknowledging the Holocaust

Emily Miller Budick

Publication Year: 2005

How can a fictional text adequately or meaningfully represent the events of the Holocaust? Drawing on philosopher Stanley Cavell's ideas about "acknowledgment" as a respectful attentiveness to the world, Emily Miller Budick develops a penetrating philosophical analysis of major works by internationally prominent Israeli writer Aharon Appelfeld. Through sensitive discussions of the novels Badenheim 1939, The Iron Tracks, The Age of Wonders, and Tzili, and the autobiographical work The Story of My Life, Budick reveals the compelling art with which Appelfeld renders the sights, sensations, and experiences of European Jewish life preceding, during, and after the Second World War. She argues that it is through acknowledging the incompleteness of our knowledge and understanding of the catastrophe that Appelfeld's fiction produces not only its stunning aesthetic power but its affirmation and faith in both the human and the divine. This beautifully written book provides a moving introduction to the work of an important and powerful writer and an enlightening meditation on how fictional texts deepen our understanding of historical events.

Jewish Literature and Culture -- Alvin H. Rosenfeld, editor

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Jewish Literature and Culture

Front Matter

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

How in a book about acknowledgment to acknowledge all the debts that I have incurred in writing it? I have acknowledged most of these debts in the usual academic way, in the body of my text. A few special thanks need separate mention, however. I first began reading Appelfeld’s fiction in Hebrew while a visitor at the University ...

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pp. xi-xix

In his autobiography sippur hayyim [The Story of a Life], Aharon Appelfeld repeatedly uses a particular word to describe both the dominant register of his own relation to the world and the basic mode of his fictional representations. That word is, in Hebrew, hitbonenut, which means observation, reflection, contemplation, and insight. Related to the kabbalistic concept binah, the word is also ...

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1. Acknowledgment and the Human Condition: Historical, Psychoanalytic, and Philosophical Approaches to Writing on the Holocaust

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pp. 1-26

The following chapters constitute a meditation on the fiction of Aharon Appelfeld. In particular I am interested in the philosophical, psychological, and religious dimensions of Appelfeld’s writing as they come to bear upon the subject of the Holocaust and as they enable us to glimpse an attitude or relationship to Holocaust representation, what we might think of as a poetics of Holocaust representation. ...

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2. Literature, Ideology, and the Measure of Moral Freedom: Badenheim 1939

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pp. 27-50

The issue I want to examine in this chapter is what constitutes the ideology of a literary text, and how we might sometimes be called upon by a certain kind of text to acknowledge rather than to know or understand as an epistemological verity something that the text is telling us. For several reasons, I put at the center of my discussion Aharon Appelfeld’s 1978 novel Badenheim 1939. In terms of ...

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3. Fear, Trembling, and the Pathway to God: The Iron Tracks

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pp. 51-77

Like several other of Appelfeld’s most memorable and affecting characters, including Bartfuss in The Immortal Bartfuss or the older Bruno in part two of The Age of Wonders—whom we shall meet shortly—Erwin Siegelbaum in The Iron Tracks is a survivor who has escaped death but not deathliness. His life, therefore, is afflicted by the unceasing torments of loss and what the text calls ...

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4. The Conditions That Condition This Utterly Specific People: The Age of Wonders

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pp. 78-105

Bruno A. in The Age of Wonders is a man very much like Erwin Siegelbaum in The Iron Tracks. He too arrives at the place of confrontation with the past (in this case, his place of literal rather than figurative rebirth). He comes by rail— “I came on the train,” he says, rather forlornly; “and here I am” (192)—and also to a “warehouse” (182) where he confronts a Jewish traveler. Like many of ...

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5. Religious Faith and the “Question of the Human”: Tzili: The Story of a Life

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pp. 106-152

A question that circulates throughout Appelfeld’s fiction, virtually in defiance of what we would imagine as a decorous or legitimate inquiry for Holocaust fiction to make, is, as I have begun suggesting, just that question that Nazism itself asked—and answered—about the Jews: how do I know that another human being is in fact a human being, to be treated by me one way and not another? ...

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6. Imagination, Memory, and the Storied Life: The Story of a Life

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pp. 153-180

Anyone interested in the “creative laboratory” in which Appelfeld produced his fiction over the last forty years will find the autobiography a goldmine. Not only does the text provide the autobiographical bases for many of the events that find their way into the fiction (in particular in Tzili), but, far more importantly, it locates the themes, images, and language that have become the heart ...


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pp. 181-190

Works by Appelfeld Cited in Text

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pp. 191-192


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pp. 193-195

E-ISBN-13: 9780253111067
E-ISBN-10: 0253111064
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253344922

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 1 index
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Jewish Literature and Culture