The Strange Play of Traumatic Reality: Enchantment in Jewish American Literature Public Deposited

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  • May 25, 2021
  • Workman, Sarah
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • This project analyzes the play of narrative worlds in the work of Bernard Malamud (The Magic Barrel), Michael Chabon (The Yiddish Policemen’s Union), Nicole Krauss (Great House), Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything Is Illuminated), Nathan Englander (“The Tumblers”), and the Coen brothers (A Serious Man). These texts self-consciously dramatize the question: How do we know what we think we know about Holocaust history? The serious play of fantasy registers a historical shift in Jewish American literature towards metafictional approaches to mediating Holocaust history, exposing the unconsidered intersections between speculative fiction and historiography. This work flouts interpretive conventions of narrative ontologies to problematize meaning-making in Holocaust studies, subverting assumptions that this history is either knowable or not knowable. In addition to showing the limited ability of historical realism to incorporate Holocaust representation in an American literary context, the project highlights the ways in which fantasy genres—long discarded to the bottom of the critical dustbin—mediate history, absence, and loss. To conceptualize this contemporary turn to genre-mixing, I develop a critical schemata entitled enchantment. This framework encapsulates the strange commensurability between the fantasy mode of storytelling and its representation of traumatic history. Reflecting the third generation’s lack of first-hand experience, enchantment defamiliarizes historical narratives, producing a critical apparatus that enables new discussions of how aesthetic play structures the intergenerational transfer of Holocaust memory.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Kim, Heidi
  • DeGuzmán, María
  • Curtain, Tyler
  • Franco, Dean
  • Carlston, Erin
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2016

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