Capitalism and Religion in the Writings of S. Y. Agnon
This is the first book to examine the oeuvre of Shmuel Yosef Agnon, 1966 Nobel laureate in literature, through a reading that combines perspectives from economic theory, semiotics, psychoanalysis, narrative theory, and Jewish and religious studies.
Yonatan Sagiv is a postdoctoral fellow of the Israel Institute at SOAS, University of London. He is the author of the novel Your Secret’s Safe with Me.
“Sagiv offers the first comprehensive analysis of Agnon’s work with monetary issues in mind. . . . after reading Indebted one cannot help but see all of Agnon’s work in light of Sagiv’s readings, and we should surely see more analyses follow in Sagiv’s path.” —H-Net Reviews
This is the first book to examine the oeuvre of Shmuel Yosef Agnon, 1966 Nobel laureate in literature, through a reading that combines perspectives from economic theory, semiotics, psychoanalysis, narrative theory, and Jewish and religious studies. Sagiv outlines the vital role economy plays in the construction of religion, subjectivity, language, and thought in Agnon’s work, and, accordingly, explores his literary use of images of debt, money, and economy to examine how these themes illuminate other focal points in the canonical author’s work, excavating the economic infrastructure of discourses that are commonly considered to reside beyond the economic sphere.
Sagiv’s analysis of Agnon’s work, renowned for its paradoxical articulation of the impact of modernity on traditional Jewish society, exposes an overarching distrust regarding the sustainability of any economic structure. The concrete and symbolic economies surveyed in this project are prone to cyclical crises. Under what Sagiv terms Agnon’s “law of permanent debt,” the stability and profitability of economies are always temporary. Agnon’s literary economy, transgressing traditional closures, together with his profound irony, make it impossible to determine if these economic crises are indeed the product of the break with tradition or, alternatively, if this theodicy is but a fantasy, marking permanent debt as the inherent economic infrastructure of human existence.