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Impious renewal

The Holocaust and Jewish American fiction after postmodernism
PhD ceremony:Mr F.J. (Joost) Krijnen
When:June 19, 2014
Start:12:45
Supervisor:W.M. Verhoeven
Co-supervisor:H. Harbers
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Arts
Impious renewal

The Holocaust is often felt to be unimaginable and unrepresentable, and for that reason writers and critics have traditionally approached it with a sense of reverence and awe. In recent years, however, a new generation of Jewish American novelists has developed strikingly different ways of writing about this history. In fact, authors like Michael Chabon, Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss, and Nathan Englander tend to engage with the Holocaust through highly playful and comic means, often preferring fantastic narratives that unabashedly flout the historical record. Moreover, they generally seek to understand this history from outspokenly contemporary and American(ized) perspectives.

As irreverent as these recent Jewish American engagements with the Holocaust may seem at first sight, this study suggests that they should not be mistaken for paradigmatic instances of historical and moral insensitivity. Instead, insisting on reading these “impious” Holocaust fictions in relation to a variety of cultural and intellectual contexts, it contends that these writings engage with the past in ways that in fact seek to renew and ensure its significance for contemporary generations. Moreover, this study argues that in doing so, these fictions are at the same time intricately connected to efforts of finding new ways of expressing Jewish American identity, as well as of moving beyond the increasingly apparent problems of postmodernism.