Lost in the Shadow of the Word

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ISBN 978-0-8101-3415-7

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ISBN 978-0-8101-3413-3

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ISBN 978-0-8101-3414-0
Publication Date
December 2016
Page Count
376 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

Lost in the Shadow of the Word

Space, Time, and Freedom in Interwar Eastern Europe
Benjamin Paloff

Scholars of modernism have long addressed how literature, painting, and music reflected the radical reconceptualization of space and time in the early twentieth century—a veritable revolution in both physics and philosophy that has been characterized as precipitating an “epistemic trauma” around the world. In this wide-ranging study, Benjamin Paloff contends that writers in Central and Eastern Europe felt this impact quite distinctly from their counterparts in Western Europe. For the latter, the destabilization of traditional notions of space and time inspired works that saw in it a new kind of freedom. However, for many Central and Eastern European authors, who were writing from within public discourses about how to construct new social realities, the need for escape met the realization that there was both nowhere to escape to and no stable delineation of what to escape from. In reading the prose and poetry of Czech, Polish, and Russian writers, Paloff imbues the term “Kafkaesque” with a complexity so far missing from our understanding of this moment in literary history.
About the Author

BENJAMIN PALOFF is an associate professor of Slavic languages and literature and comparative literature at the University of Michigan.

"In this book, Paloff engages with the Western perception of twentieth-century Central and East European literature as distinctive, strange, elusive and ‘Kafka-esque’. There is plenty to admire: the author’s imaginative, productive juxtaposition of Lukács and Bakhtin, his apparently equivalent ability to engage with Czech, Polish and Russian literary contexts, his patient, careful close reading of key texts, his readiness to work with both prose and poetry, and his judicious and flexible interweaving of preceding scholarship. This is an honest, rigorous, coherent and bold piece of work, revealing the author to be a reliable judge of his material and what he wants to achieve.” —Rajendra Chitnis, author of Literature in Post-Communist Russia and Eastern Europe: The Russian, Czech and Slovak Fiction of the Changes, 1988-1998

“…a work that will provide rich rewards for those ready to grapple with its complexity.” —Slavic and East European Journal

"The term 'Kafkaesque' has been both over- and misused to the extent that there are articles decrying its usage every couple of years. When applied to literature, it often distances the reader from the text as something that cannot be, or at least is not meant to be, understood; a Kafkaesque work can be left alone because it will always be an enigma, never to be fully comprehended.... Instead of abandoning these works to inscrutability, Paloff provides an outstanding interpretation of them in terms of the Einsteinian revolution in space and time... Any book that attempts to tackle such a large array of writers and thinkers, yet alone the scholarship attached to them, raises concerns for a reader, but Paloff masterfully weaves together the various strands of his argument. Each chapter not only discusses the writers in depth, but they build on each other through the thematic structure of the book."