Sound Effects in Agnon's Yiddish Story ‘Toytntants'

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In April 1908, on his way to the Land of Israel, a young man named Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes, later to be known as Shmuel Yosef Agnon, visited the city of Lemberg. While there he met with the multilingual publicist Gershom Bader and handed him a Yiddish story, entitled “Toytntants”. This story turned out to be the last one Agnon ever wrote in Yiddish. In this story, Agnon employs a well-developed sound- and music-oriented semantic field that, upon consideration, exposes his intention of performing a feat opposite that of Saint-Saëns's symphonic poem “Danse macabre”. While the French composer exemplified brilliantly the “verbalization” of music, Agnon's aim was the “vocalization” of the textual flow, which can be described rather easily in phonological and musical terms. Virtually every movement in the story is conveyed using a phonological expression of one kind or another: the tumult of the town, sounds of a polka (as an expression of Slavic celebration), Macabre laughter (as in the known Yiddish expression, “the laughter of lizards”), ring of a telephone, etc. These sound effects were a kind of a farewell to the romantic-sentimental style, which Agnon identified with his writing in the “Exile language” of Yiddish. The language change from Yiddish to Hebrew was clearly a part or even a cause of the major transformation process that Agnon's writing-style underwent, in which, according to one of the leading researchers of Agnon, Gershon Shaked, the “epic” triumphed in “the struggle with the abundance of sentimentality.”
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 2019
EventTracing the Agency of Sound - University of Bern; Swiss National Science Foundation, Bern, Switzerland
Duration: 8 Feb 20199 Feb 2019 (Website)


ConferenceTracing the Agency of Sound
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