If you were to organize a graduate seminar around a single text what would it be?

Jeremy Dauber

Columbia University

Maybe it's the fact I just finished a book on its author. Or maybe it's the fact my wife just gave birth to our first child earlier this week, so I'm particularly attuned to works featuring fathers and children. But I don't think those are the only reasons I'd pick Sholem Aleichem's Tevye the Dairyman (Tevye der milkhiger) as my graduate seminar's central text. Our theoretically minded comparative literature students wouldn't know where to begin: would they write papers incorporating narratological theory to try to pin down Tevye's talking strategies? Would they employ discourses of gender and power to work on the representation of his daughters, and Tevye himself, constantly claiming he's no woman? Or would the deconstructionists come to the fore, citing Tevye's triumphant references to binary divisions—divisions the stories then work busily to undermine? They'd be challenged by our history students, who'd insist that to read the Tevye stories, written over more than two decades, is to read the story of modern Eastern European Jewry writ small. Some might try to tease out the particular ideologies represented by Tevye's daughters and their suitably unsuitable mates; and others might try to locate clues to their author's beliefs in the stories' complex publication history. And our Yiddish students, of course, would remind everyone of the language—Tevye only exists in language, after all, both as a fictional character and as a monologist. And they'd say that the robust history of literary criticism on Tevye can be a key to the history of Yiddish itself in the modern era, both in its Eastern European and American incarnations, both during Sholem Aleichem's life and the strange transformations and transmogrifications of his text's afterlife.