Sayanti Gunguly Puckett Awarded Sabbatical Fall 2023

This is from Sayanti:

Sabbatical Proposal

Topic: The Golem

Stories of the golem can be traced back to early Judaism and the Talmud. Indeed, Adam, it is said, was created as a golem. By the 1910s and 1920s, this figure gained wider and more intense appreciation with the emergence of a “golem cult” across the U.S. and Europe. Since then, tales of this anthropomorphic clay monster from Jewish mythology have appeared in a variety of mediums and genres, including prose and graphic novels, video games, movies, and theater productions, capturing the imaginations of people across the world.

The golem has undertaken many roles: protector, companion, helper, detective, and destroyer. Indeed, the golem can be friend or foe, and despite being created to serve and obey its creator, it can also be an unpredictable force that brings destruction in its wake. Given these dynamics, it has, over the years, become an enthralling mythological creation. My research objectives for this sabbatical center around bringing several of these disparate threads together: the golem has been associated with mass murder and destruction as well as hope and protection, isolation and community. I would like to explore the golem and the symbolism behind it from these contradictory angles that juxtapose the figure as a subservient defender of the oppressed Jews and as a monster over whom his creator has lost control and who then runs amok slaughtering those it is created to protect. These opposing presentations of the golem in terms of meaning and symbolism, oftentimes in the same text or movie, are startling. I would like to continue my research to make sense of these clashing propensities to understand how this figure, that supposedly does not have any agency of its own, can become such a bewildering yet ominous figure to Christians and Jews alike. Additionally, in the ultimate destruction of the golem, I would like to explore societal anxieties, fears, and securities about the loss of power as reflected in the version of the tale in which the Rabbi loses control of the golem and is forced to immobilize it.

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