Between Exile and Return

S. Y. Agnon and the Drama of Writing

By Anne Golomb Hoffman

Subjects: Jewish Studies, Literary Criticism, Israel Studies, Hebrew Language And Literature
Series: SUNY series in Modern Jewish Literature and Culture
Paperback : 9780791405413, 236 pages, March 1991
Hardcover : 9780791405406, 236 pages, March 1991

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Table of contents


1. Introduction: "Like a Man Who Is Exiled From the Palace of His Father"

Part I: Comparative Agnon

2. Scribal Fictions: Franz Kafka and S. Y. Agnon

3. Dramas of Signification: Edmund Jabes, S. Y. Agnon, Franz Kafka

Part II: Of Writing and the Writer

4. Autochthon of the Book

5. Housing the Past in A Guest for the Night

6. Inclusion and Exclusion: Three Stories

Part III: Anatomies of Culture

7. Inscription and Madness in Only Yesterday

8. The Wound and the Book: Gender, Writing and Culture in Shira

9. "A Sanctioned Babel": Toward a Conclusion





This innovative study of the modern Hebrew writer, S. Y. Agnon, offers new insight into his literary transformations of Jewish themes and sources. With particular attention to Kafka, Hoffman situates Agnon in the context of twentieth-century literature and examines such central issues in Agnon's art as the relationship of the literary text to traditions of sacred writings, the place of the book in culture, and the relationship of writing to the body.

Agnon's writing moves between exile and return, enacting dramas of presence and absence, and attachment and loss. From the images of sacred texts found in some of his short fiction to the ideological conflicts that inform his larger novels, this book traces the geographical-cultural sweep of Agnon's writing, as it moves through Eastern and Western Europe, positioning the Diaspora in relation to a Jerusalem that is both mundane and spiritual.

Hoffman examines the ways in which Agnon's writing produces an autobiographical myth that joins the figure of the writer to the life-history of the larger community of Israel. Moving from stories of writer and writing to the broader cultural canvas of several major novels, the author concludes with an analysis of the ways in which the fiction prompts interrogation of major cultural constructions concerning gender, the formative passage of the subject through the Oedipus complex, and the dissociation of culture from the body.

Anne Golomb Hoffman is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Fordham University, College at Lincoln Center.


"Anne Golomb Hoffman is a reader for the '90s. She has found a new approach to an old classic. Combining the insight of a comparatist with recent developments in psychoanalysis and literary theory, she has made a brilliant new beginning in Agnon studies. " — Gershon Shaked, Hebrew University