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Poetics of the Apocalypse: Messianism in Early Jewish American Poetry


The early Jewish American apocalyptic verse of Isaac Aboab da Fonseca, Miguel de Barrios, and Daniel Israel Lopez Laguna provides an important starting point for the history of Jewish American poetry. By beginning Jewish American literature with these poets, I aim to accomplish three important goals: (1) to more accurately reflect Jewish American literature’s diversity; (2) to denaturalize the concept of America; and (3) to remind readers that literary history need not be teleological, even when the poets themselves dreamt of a final telos—the messiah. After summarizing the main tenets of early Jewish American messianism, I show how this messianism impacted Aboab’s, de Barrios’s, and Laguna’s content, genre, and style. Messianism, I argue, affects the poets’ desire to write from and of America and their understanding of poetry’s goal. Messianism provided a means by which each poet made sense of temporal and spatial ruptures and placed those ruptures in the larger narrative of Jewish (American) history. Throughout my explication of each of these poets’ works, I highlight their relationship to later Jewish American literary history by taking note of the unintentional echoes between early and later Jewish American poets. I draw out these parallels in order to argue for a new understanding of literary history that is just as interested in drift, variation, and fragmentation as it is interested in expectancy, reinforcement, and cohesion. Correlation, not causation, is the narrative thread of this new literary history.

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