With the Loss of a Master-Signifier: Modernism and Translation in Lamed Shapiro’s American Yiddish Stories

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Abstract

This article explores translational modes of literary representation in
two American Yiddish stories by Lamed Shapiro: “Nuyorkish” (New Yorkish, 1931)
and “Oyfn yam” (At sea, 1909). Shapiro narrates in Yiddish events that take place in English, thus shifting much of the thematic “drama” of his works from the represented world to the very act of its linguistic mediation. I argue that for Shapiro, the intersection of translation and narration—translation in narration—becomes a means to critically complicate the modernist turn “inward,” by refusing the notion of a universalist consciousness that exists prior to and apart from social identity. In dramatizing the multilingual encounter between a Yiddish-inflected perception and the American locale, Shapiro carries forward the modernist project of destabilizing the national language, without giving up linguistic particularity. His distinct style insists on the capacity of translation to produce a new aesthetic language, one that could rearrange the fragmented social real by producing transient encounters between the languages of
self and other.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)55-70
Number of pages16
JournalDibur Literary Journal
Volume7
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019

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