This paper will argue that Karl Emil Franzos’s novel Der Pojaz (completed 1893, published posthumously 1905) represents the origins of a strand of German-Jewish modernist writing which is oriented toward traditional Judaism and the Eastern Jew. The novel masquerades as a conventional Bildungsroman, or novel of education, whose major innovation is that its hero is Jewish, and yet it is better understood as an Anti-Bildungsroman, or even a failed Bildungsroman. As such, Der Pojaz is a distinctly modernist work, even if it does not exhibit the typical features of German literary modernism (alienation, fragmentation, etc). Instead, there is a failure of form on the level of character and mood: the protagonist Sender Glatteis never learns to negotiate his Jewishness and Germanness, and the novel never manages to negotiate its simultaneously tragic and comic tone. These persistent incongruities establish the work as modernist.
This paper will form the basis of the opening chapter of a book on the interwar East European German-Jewish novel. Franzos’s novel provides a crucial first step in showing that German-Jewish writers do not necessarily leave behind their Jewishness to become modern. Rather, their continued engagement with their traditional, East European Jewish background in the face of modernity constitutes their distinct brand of German-Jewish modernism.
Kata Gellen is Assistant Professor of German at Duke University. Her main areas of research are German literary modernism, German-Jewish culture, Weimar cinema, and Austrian literature. Her manuscript Kafka and Noise: The Discovery of Cinematic Sound in Literary Modernism is under review at Northwestern University Press. Her next project will examine the twentieth-century East European German-Jewish novel, or Galizienroman, as a modernist form. She has published articles on Franz Kafka, Elias Canetti, Joseph Roth, Soma Morgenstern, and Thomas Bernhard, among others.