The works of Debora Vogel (1900-1942), eminent Polish-Jewish writer, poet, and critic writing in Yiddish in the twentieth century, have been collected and translated by Anastasiya Lyubas in the new volume Blooming Spaces: The Collected Poetry, Prose, Critical Writing, and Letters of Debora Vogel. Here, Dr. Lyubas tells us more about the book, Debora Vogel, and how this project came to her.
Tell us what Blooming Spaces is about in simple terms.
Blooming Spaces is the first comprehensive collection of the work of Debora Vogel (1900-1942), a Polish-Jewish Modernist writer, philosopher, art critic and translator. If one were to draw analogies between Vogel’s style of writing and that of the better-known authors, Gertrude Stein comes to mind. Vogel wrote Cubist and Constructivist poetry in Yiddish, her fourth language after Polish, Hebrew, and German. Vogel’s prose is also rich with innovation, her characters remind us of the two-dimensional and machine-like characters in Wyndham Lewis’s fiction.
Vogel’s voice is all the more remarkable because the author lived far from the major centers of literary Modernism and the artistic avant-garde, and yet she studied and followed these contemporary cultural trends and integrated them into her singular poetics. By observing developments in modern painting (Cubism and Constructivism), film and photography (montage), and literature (experiments with new forms of realism), Debora Vogel asked herself, what does it mean to be contemporary in one’s writing? What does it mean to truly capture and express one’s contemporary historical moment? What does it mean to write at the time of unprecedented development of visual culture (film) and mass culture (advertisements)? What is the role of art and how can it help make sense of the world?
You can find Vogel’s answers to these and many other questions in the book. You will also learn about the author’s negotiation between cultures and languages, her struggles as a woman in the male-dominated literary world, and the extraordinary nature of her high-caliber writing published on both sides of the Atlantic, in Europe and America.
How does Blooming Spaces make a unique contribution to the field of Polish Studies and Jewish Studies?
The book makes a major contribution to the field of Yiddish Studies and Polish Studies. This is the first collection of Vogel’s work in English which includes her poetry, prose, and critical writing and also provides the context in which the texts emerged—through letters which Debora Vogel penned to Jewish intellectuals in New York, Stockholm, Bucharest, Sidney and in other parts of the world, as well as discussions of her work in the press. In making a careful selection of Vogel’s representative works available in one volume, I introduce the reader to the texts which are not always easy to access because they are scattered across periodicals, found in rare editions, archival materials and on microfilm.
In the table of contents, you will see that the author’s essays come first, followed by poetry and prose. This was an intentional editorial decision. Debora Vogel believed that her theory and practice are interlinked. Because of her sophisticated style of writing, the author was often misunderstood by critics and readers alike. She explained what was at stake in her work in her essays. It might be beneficial to read her prose together with the theoretical discussion of her montage technique in “Literary Montage: An Introduction,” or approach her poems while reading the essay “White Words in Poetry.”
There is also a second reason behind the foregrounding of the essays. Women writers and especially Yiddish female writers have often been discussed primarily as poets and their contributions to prose have been overlooked or deemed insignificant. When you look at the anthologies of critical writing, the names of women critics and essayists rarely appear. This marginalization of women critics is not always due to the lack of women’s contributions to literary theory. By showing the full stylistic range of a talented writer and critic, I hope to ask the question, how many more writings by women still wait to be discovered?
How did this translation project come to you?
I discovered Debora Vogel as a footnote when reading the work by another Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz. Debora Vogel was often considered to be Bruno Schulz’s muse. Only later did I discover that in fact Vogel was Schulz’s mentor, the one who encouraged him in his work. Schulz’s Street of Crocodiles (1934) grew out of the postscripts to letters which he wrote to Vogel.
I found it remarkable that I knew nothing about the writer who lived, worked, and then perished during the Holocaust in my hometown of Lviv. I went on to read Karolina Szymaniak’s pioneering study of Vogel Być agentem wiecznej idei. Przemiany poglądow estetycznych Debory Vogel [To be an agent of an eternal idea: Modifications of Debora Vogel’s aesthetic views] (Krakow: Universitas, 2006). It struck me that everything about the author needed to be reconstructed, including her biography, the context of her work, her writing in a minority language and negotiation of the question of difference.
I perfected my knowledge of Yiddish in order to be able to read Debora Vogel. I translated Vogel’s texts into English so that I would be able to write about the author in my doctoral work. There is no other type of reading quite like a translation. By reading and simultaneously crafting Debora Vogel’s texts into English, I read the author’s work very closely. This allowed me to make complex theoretical arguments about what is at stake in Debora Vogel’s work and why it matters.
What is the significance of the title?
The title, Blooming Spaces, relates to the argument which I make about Debora Vogel’s work, namely, that there is multiplicity contained in Vogel’s artistic method. “Blooming” suggests becoming and process, temporality and finitude. Debora Vogel gives an example of the event of “blossoming acacias” which recurs every year and represents stasis, cyclicity of seasonal change. This event is combined with the dynamic and topical time of history and events which are transitory and yet loom larger than life— revolutions, military parades, or the unemployed people on the streets. The temporal synchronicity of the unfolding events is combined with the simultaneity of space in which things and bodies find themselves. Thus, the title encapsulates the dialectical tension between stasis and dynamism—the lasting and transient, the polyphonic and colorful versus the monochrome and monotonous. Finally, the title epitomizes how art folds life into itself, and how life unfolds in art.
Could you give us a quote by Debora Vogel and explain why you chose it?
Sure. Here is the quote from “Courage in Solitude” (1930), one of Debora Vogel’s first essays.
Would you have to die if writing were denied you? Rilke suggests asking the question. He means writing, and not necessarily publishing. Publishing is merely the last act of the play called the artist’s life, as necessary as sewing the last stitch on a piece of clothing or putting an address on a letter. Publishing is justified when the work is necessary and socially significant for a specific time. The actual justification of the artist’s existence, however, is to be found in his work—in the creation of a world system from the material of words, or lines, and colors. A question emerges: when would the artist’s inner world be capable of existence? Or rather, when would it have objective value? When this world is singular and historically necessary is the answer.
This quote encapsulates Debora Vogel’s ambition: to create works that would be “singular and historically necessary.” I think she succeeded. Give this book a read. Debora Vogel’s writing will strike you as very contemporary today.
Anastasiya Lyubas is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Northrop Frye Centre at the University of Toronto. She is the author of Blooming Spaces: The Collected Poetry, Prose, Critical Writing, and Letters of Debora Vogel (Boston: Academic Studies Press, October 2020). Anastasiya is also the author of White Words: Essays, Letters, and Reviews by Debora Vogel, a volume in Ukrainian (Kyiv: Dukh i Litera, 2019). Anastasiya holds a PhD from Binghamton University (2018). She was the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship (2012–2014) and of fellowships at the Modern Literature and Culture Research Centre (MLCRC at Ryerson University (2018–2019), YIVO (2017–2018), and the Yiddish Book Center (2017–2018).
Blooming Spaces: The Collected Poetry, Prose, Critical Writing, and Letters of Debora Vogel is now available for purchase on our website or wherever you buy books.