Theses Doctoral

Writing the Margin: Rabbi Nachman of Braslav, Jorge Luis Borges and the Question of Jewish Writing

Lewis, Yitzhak Meir

The present project draws a comparison between the literature and thought of Hasidic Rabbi Nachman of Braslav (1772–1810) and Argentine writer and public intellectual Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986). It is organized around two components of their writing—a discursive self-positioning at “the edge” of tradition and a “cabbalistic” stylization of their narratives. The dissertation contextualizes these components within late eighteenth century Enlightenment ideology and emancipation policies, and mid-twentieth century political ideologies of Nazism and Fascism, respectively. The dissertation is bookended by a close comparative reading of their stories. It finds that each in his moment is greatly implicated in questions of resituating Jews and Judaism within broader society, and argues that the effort to aesthetically represent the changing social location of Jews is linked to their understanding of their respective literary projects more broadly. Finally, the study illuminates their shared conceptualization of modern Judaism as a literary model. The dissertation’s broader intervention in the filed of early modern and modern literature relates to the dynamic of rupture and continuity that is so central to categorizations of modern writing. It demonstrates that the fault lines of the rupture from tradition, vis-à-vis which modern literature has been constructed, was already present—poetically and discursively—in the “tradition” from which it purportedly departs. By combining the study of diverse geographies, histories, languages, cultures and genres, the present study articulates a comparative frame that challenges conventional categorizations of modern writing.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Miron, Dan
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 19, 2016