Faltering Language: German-Yiddish Literature after 1900
The dissertation of Matthew Johnson examines the relationship between German and Yiddish literature after 1900. While German and Yiddish are often thought to represent divergent trajectories of modern Jewish culture, his research demonstrates that there was a significant effort to bring these two languages together. Johnson identifies and analyzes an understudied corpus of texts in which writers make use of both German and Yiddish. This corpus includes translations, transliterations, macaronic (bilingual) texts, anthologies, and critical essays by Solomon Birnbaum, Martin Buber, Paul Celan, Moyshe-Leyb Halpern, Bertha Pappenheim, and Chava Rosenfarb. Johnson endeavors to show how the intersection of German and Yiddish became a concentrated space for reflection and literary experimentation that opened new possibilities for modern Jewish writing.
Matthew Johnson studied comparative literature, German, and Jewish Studies in Chicago, Berlin, and New York and completed internships at the Archive of the Jewish Museum Berlin and at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago. His dissertation examines the relationship between German and Yiddish literature in the twentieth century. In addition, he is a member of the editorial team of the Chicago Review.
“Book Review: Cosmic Miniatures and the Future Sense: Alexander Kluge’s 21st-Century Literary Experiments in German Culture and Narrative Form by Leslie Adelson”, in: The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory 95, 2019; together with Corbin Allardice, Jessica Kirzane, Jonah Lubin (Translation), “The Small Opinions of Great Men by G. Selikovitch”, in: Pakn Treger: Magazine of the Yiddish Book Center, 2019; “Book Review, Never Better! The Modern Jewish Picaresque by Miriam Udel”, in: geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies, 2016.
In 1994, the Yiddish writer Chava Rosenfarb argued that Paul Celan “sought to distance the German language from the language of his murderers […], as if he had wanted to transform German into Yiddish.” In his talk, Matthew Johnson analyzes this striking claim within the larger history of Celan’s Yiddish reception from 1965–2002.