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LEAH GARRETT The Self As Marrano in Jacob Glatstein's Autobiographical Novels G? 1934, THE NORTH-AMERICAN YIDDISH POET Jacob Glatstein traveled to his hometown of Lublin, Poland, to visit his dying mother.1 Upon his return to America, he wrote two autobiographical novels in Yiddish about thejourney: Ven Yash iz geforn (When Yash went forth)2 and Ven Yash iz gekumen (When Yash came).3 The first novel, Ven Yash izgeforn, describes the journey by ship to Europe, a brief layover in Paris, and the train journey through Germany and Poland. The novel ends as the train pulls into Glatstein's childhood town of Lublin, Poland. The second novel, Ven Yash iz gekumen, depicts Yash's (the autobiographical character 's) stay in a Polish sanatorium before his return to America. The Yash novels exemplify a major turning point for Glatstein. As I will demonstrate, the Yash novels represent a new, politicized conception of the beliefs of the Inzikhistn (Introspectivist) group, of which Glatstein was a leading member. The Inrrospectivists sought to create a "consciously modernist poetics"4 attuned to how the modern "man" internalizes the political/historical moment into his frequently chaotic identity.5 The Yash novels utilize a style that connotes the poetics of the Introspectivist group: "In an introspective manner means that the poet must really listen to his inner voice, observe his internal panorama—kaleidoscopic, contradictory, unclear or confused as it may be."6 Yet during the course of the novels, the modernist ethos, as exemplified by a polyphonic narrative, meets up with the challenge of Jewish history. The polyphonic narrative, which in the first novel connotes a hopeful, universalistic, and modernist aesthetic, becomes in the second novel the means to express a newfound understanding of the worsening political situation of interwar Jewry. PROOFTEXTS 18 (1998): 207-223 O 1998 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 208LEAH GARRETT During his journey, Glatstein's notion of himself as a free, American, individuated artist is challenged as he becomes aware of the manner in which an antisemitic environment categorizes him as a Jew and marks him as Other.7 The return to Poland unhinges and essentially deconstructs any univocal notion of himself as American, for a more complicated dialogue between the urge for a free universal self, and one that is ethnically bound. The works exemplify an immigrant's new awareness of his inextricable tie to a homeland that constructed him as the Other. The plot of the first novel, Ven Yash iz geforn, seems to mirror the common motif of an American immigrant returning to his homeland to reconnect with his childhood. The return home should be a catalyst for autobiographical remembrances of the protagonist's childhood years in the "old country." However, in the introduction to his 1934 Ven Yash iz geforn, Glatstein asserts that his novel is a counter-model to this type of immigrant autobiography, as exemplified by Louis Adamic's 1934 work The Native's Return: An American Immigrant Visits Yugoslavia and Discovers His Old Country.8 Glatstein states that his journey and writing differ from Adamic's in three ways: there was no grand reception for him upon his return; the shtetl would not seem exotic to his readers (since it had already been so thoroughly described by other writers), as would Adamic's descriptions of Yugoslavia; and most important, Glatstein was never tied to Poland, as Adamic was to Yugoslavia.9 Glatstein's return was not of a native son, but of an outsider. His works exemplify the strange, problematic return to a home that was never really a home because he was on the Jewish margin.10 The novels, taken as a pair, subvert all idealized notions of return, reconnection , and the synthesis of the "old world" with the new. In these novels, the return home is not a return to a place, but to being placed as the Other. Instead of discovering a home, Glatstein discovers a new concept of selfhood that he would later liken to the hidden status of the Marrano.11 Years after the trip, Glatstein would assert: "Historically Jews have lived a double life, like Marranos, even in the freest countries. It's a matter...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3311
Print ISSN
0272-9601
Pages
pp. 207-223
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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