Theses Doctoral

Possessed by the Other: Dybbuk Possession and Modern Jewish Identity in Twentieth-Century Jewish Literature and Beyond

Legutko, Agnieszka

This dissertation explores the metaphor of dybbuk possession as a key to modern Jewish identity, focusing on the evolution of the dybbuk possession trope in twentieth- and twenty-first century Yiddish, English, Hebrew, and Polish language Jewish literature and culture. First described in the sixteenth century, dybbuk possession - a Jewish variant of spirit possession found in many cultures - grew out of the Jewish mystical tradition, especially the kabbalistic doctrine of transmigration of souls, according to which a soul of a deceased person took possession of a living human being. The trope of possession can be viewed as a mode of reflection on the modern Jewish experience, which shows how the past continuously possesses the present, and how this haunting attachment to the past becomes an essential component of Jewish identity. Highly interdisciplinary in character and transnational in scope, this project draws upon scholarship in gender, trauma, body, memory, and performance studies. An overview of cultural background of dybbuk possession (Chapter 1) is followed by an exploration of how the dybbuk possession trope is deployed metaphorically in Yiddish classics (Chapter 2), Holocaust narratives (Chapter 3), feminist fiction (Chapter 4), as well as in a selection of film and theater adaptations of S. An-sky's iconic drama, The Dybbuk, Or Between Two Worlds (1914) produced in Poland, Israel and the United States (Chapter 5). Finally, this dissertation features an unprecedented compilation of over seventy adaptations of An-sky's Dybbuk staged since the play's premiere in 1920 (Appendix).


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Germanic Languages
Thesis Advisors
Dauber, Jeremy A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 15, 2014