Tubercular Capital
Illness and the Conditions of Modern Jewish Writing
Sunny S. Yudkoff


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: Jewish Literature and Tubercular Capital
chapter abstract

The Introduction sets the stage for a larger investigation into the intersection of tuberculosis, biography, and literary output. To do so, the Introduction offers an account of the state of Yiddish and Hebrew literature at the turn of the twentieth century as well as an overview of various cultural-historical connotations of tuberculosis among Jewish and non-Jewish readers. This includes an examination of Romantic notions about consumption, anti-Semitic discourses surrounding tuberculosis, and the reputation of the disease among Zionists, communists, and Jewish public health officials across the globe. The Introduction further introduces the methodological intervention of the study—tubercular capital—by bringing together sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's concept of "cultural capital" with anthropologist Didier Fassin's investigations into the "politics of life."

1 In the Hands of Every Reader: Sholem Aleichem's Tubercular Jubilee
chapter abstract

This chapter examines the role played by disease in the life and career of the classic Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem (né Sholem Rabinovitsh). After being diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1908, a global campaign known as "The Jubilee" was initiated to help the destitute author recuperate in Nervi, Italy. Drawing on archival sources, newspaper articles, and multiple memoirs, this chapter plots how the campaign promoted the author's reputation, stabilized his finances, and inaugurated the first formal stage of literary-critical assessments of his work. It further analyzes the importance of tuberculosis in Sholem Aleichem's literary output, in the development of his literary persona, and in the establishment of a mutually-effective relationship with his readership.

2 In a Sickroom of Her Own: Raḥel Bluvshtein's Tubercular Poetry
chapter abstract

This chapter examines the role of tuberculosis in the life and writing of the Hebrew poet known as Raḥel. To do so, the chapter draws on the comparative model of the Victorian sickroom to examine how Raḥel transformed the space of her recuperation into a veritable salon of literary exchange and creativity. Reading Raḥel's correspondence and poetry and drawing on the memoiristic accounts published by her visitors, this chapter reveals that Raḥel's Tel Aviv sickroom became the center of her public self-fashioning as an ailing female poet. The sickroom further serves as the key for interpreting the link between Raḥel's poetics of space, simplicity (pashtut), and the spread (hitpashtut) of disease. This chapter also sharpens scholarly understanding of Raḥel's literary biography by situating her work within an Eastern European Romantic tradition of writing about consumption that stands in tension with contemporaneous Zionist ideas concerning illness.

3 In the Kingdom of Fever: The Writers of the Jewish Consumptives' Relief Society
chapter abstract

This chapter investigates the literary scene of the Jewish Consumptives' Relief Society (JCRS), a Coloradan sanatorium for indigent Jews. There, a cohort of Yiddish tubercular writers engaged in a reciprocal relationship with the institution, becoming the public faces of the sanatorium and, in turn, being offered new venues to see their work published and translated. These writers include the lyric poet and Bible translator Yehoash, the epic poet H. Leivick, and the prose stylist Shea Tenenbaum. Drawing on archival records, newspaper reports, and memoirs, the chapter further explores how the JCRS supported the establishment of a tubercular American Yiddish literary tradition.

4 In the Sanatorium: David Vogel Between Hebrew and German
chapter abstract

This chapter examines the role played by tuberculosis in the life and writing of the Hebrew modernist David Vogel. After taking the cure in Merano, Italy in the winters of 1925 and 1926, he published his first novella, Be-vet ha-marpe (In the Sanatorium) in 1927. The text draws heavily on the tropes and concerns of German-language sanatorium fiction, including works by Arthur Schnitzler, Klabund, and Thomas Mann. Specifically, this chapter argues that Vogel writes his account of the sanatorium in a tense intertextual exchange with Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain (1924). Vogel challenges the possibility of a Hebrew-German literary conversation through a series of interlingual puns, wordplays, and jokes about tuberculosis. Illness emerges in this chapter as the hermeneutic key to Vogel's modernism.

Epilogue: After the Cure
chapter abstract

This chapter explores post-Holocaust iterations of tuberculosis and sanatoria in the work of the Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld. Although he did not suffer from tuberculosis, Appelfeld frequently turns to the disease and its institutions, such as in his 1975 novella, Badenheim, 'ir nofesh (English: Badenheim 1939). Bringing his work into dialogue with the texts of the tubercular writers of the pre-WWII period, this chapter demonstrates the continued relevance of tubercular capital as a methodological prism and analytic category, even after a diagnosis of tuberculosis was no longer commonplace among modern Jewish writers.