“I Made Myself a Notebook of Blank Paper”: The Sins of Writing and the Constitution of the Subject

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Abstract

Chapter Nine examines the world of the young yeshiva students undergoing enlightenment [the Mitmaskelim] by delving into their first experiences of writing as recounted in their autobiographies, and by analyzing the role of personal, confessional writing in their constitution as autonomous, male, Maskilic subjects. The chapter lays out the full range of sins perceived as “sins of writing”, exposing the various transgressions that were entailed by writing. It reveals the feelings of guilt that accompanied the study of writing and the act of writing itself, especially the writing of confessional texts. The most painful of the sins of writing, those that frequently led to a break with the writer's father, had to do with the pride and the Eros that were associated with confessional and introspective writing – with taking pleasure in writing and enjoying its public display. The revolutionary and subversive aspect of the Mitmaskelim's confessional writing found symbolic expression in their transition from writing in the margins of a sanctified text to writing on a blank sheet of paper. The blank page opened up a space that allowed the writer to construct his identity from the very beginning, and to divorce himself from the superiority of speech by giving priority to writing.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNew Directions in Book History
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Pages269-327
Number of pages59
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022

Publication series

NameNew Directions in Book History
ISSN (Print)2634-6117
ISSN (Electronic)2634-6125

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