Language on the verge of death: On language and language criticism in Badenheim 1939 by Aharon Appelfeld

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The question of language became a central issue in writing after the Holocaust, especially for those for whom the years of the Second World War were formative in both their personal lives and their becoming writers. The Hebrew writer Aharon Appelfeld is one of them. This study focuses on the problem of language and language criticism in Appelfeld's novella Badenheim 1939 (1975), Language is in fact the covert theme of the novella. The work, which describes the last summer in an Austrian resort before the deportation of its Jews to Poland, is replete with metalanguage whose purpose is to draw the reader's attention to the language and its Status in the work. The essay follows and analyses the effects on language made by the characters' experiences (weakening, loss of meaning, loss of referents in the new reality and the new era in Badenheim) and suggests that the meeting point of the murderers and victims is in language corruption and distortion. The study furthermore suggests that from the novella Springs the unspoken accusation against the Jewish vacationers of unintentional collaboration with the murderers by conniving in the 'laundering' of the language, which in turn contributed to the coming catastrophe. Central to the explorations of the essay is the possibility of linking Appelfeld's criticism of language with Karl Krause's critical stance on language contamination and doublespeak implied in the work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)188-203
Number of pages16
JournalOrbis Litterarum
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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