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Jerome Rothenberg’s Gematrias: The Hybrid Poems of Irreversibility

Abstract : Jerome Rothenberg's Gematrias: the hybrid poems of irreversibility In Gematrias Complete, published in 2009, Jerome Rothenberg presented as a coherent whole poems composed over more than fifteen years, and published in installments since 1994. All of the poems expand from a method initially devised to compose the poems of 14 Stations, a series based on the 14 names of 14 Nazi death camps, and their transcriptions into Yiddish. All of them are based on a complex compositional strategy that starts from from the Hebraic transcription or translation of a word, often a name nor a noun, that is then processed as what we can call a seed word. The use of the Hebrew alphabet for transcription, and of Yiddish, rather than Hebrew, as the target language opens the door to a mystical world of Kabbalah whereby alternative modes of textual interpretation can be developed using the numerical value of Hebrew letters and the total value of words as additions of their letters' value. Words of identical value can then be hunted through the text of Torah, which works as a vocabulary or word repository. These words can be used to compose poems built on the links thus created, so that words are related to one another that would otherwise have remained unrelated. The numerical logics creates a web of signification that is counter-intuitive, divorced from the free association of lexical fields or poetic inspiration. In the specific case of the Nazi death camps, selecting the words of equal value to the name of the camp allows to build a vocabulary of "related" words of equal value in the Hebrew of the Biblical text, which once translated into English make up poems that speak to the original name but do not directly express individual affect or the subject's perception of the disaster of Holocaust. It is this presentation's argument that the process of linguistic hybridization imprints on the poems the seal of estrangement, defamiliarization, and alienation in language as well as in the apocalyptic landscape of post-Holocaust poetics. It will attempt to show that when moving on from the names of death camps to the names of fellow-artists and poets, or to common nouns, the poet expands the purview of his initial intuition from a recognizable
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Hélène Aji. Jerome Rothenberg’s Gematrias: The Hybrid Poems of Irreversibility. Congrès international Modernist Studies Association, Oct 2019, Toronto, Canada. ⟨hal-02364748⟩

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