2.04.2019

Open lecture by Prof. Marc Caplan

All are welcome to join us for a lecture by visiting Professor Marc Caplan, an outstanding expert on the history of Yiddish literature and culture.


The lecture will be held in English at the Taube Department of Jewish Studies, sw. Jadwigi 3/4, auditiorium 115, on Thursday, 4 April at 6:00pm


Prof. Caplan will speak on:


“A Disenchanted Elijah: Conspiracy, Allegory, and the Crisis of East European Jewry in S. An-sky’s Destruction of Galicia”

Among the many achievements in the career of S. An-sky (Shloyme-Zaynvl Rapoport, 1863-1920), his 1920 account of the anti-Jewish pogroms at the border of the Russian and Austrian empires during World War I, Khurbn galitsye (“The Destruction of Galicia,” translated into English as The Enemy at His Pleasure, 2003), stands as one of his most complex publications. While focusing on the physical destruction of Jewish communities and the variety of duplicitous, hostile, or ineffectual responses from non-Jews in both official and informal capacities toward this violence, An-sky’s first-person account deploys numerous literary strategies and embedded narratives that trespass the borders separating conventions of journalism, political propaganda, and fiction. Though written in Yiddish, the welter of languages out of which it is constructed further contributes to the book’s unstable narrative voice. The author’s unsteady position within the contradictory social networks through which he moves conveys the extent to which his witnessing of anti-Semitic violence undermines his ability to locate himself as a political representative, a writer, and a Jew. The strangeness of this work is understandable, given its origins: as a political radical and official representative of Russian relief agencies, the author technically served as an officer in the government he wished to overthrow, in territories caught in a struggle among four warring powers—the old Austrian and Czarist empires, as well as the emerging Soviet and independent Polish regimes—none of which he identified with. These national and linguistic affiliations are no less fraught than the ideological loyalties or personal conflicts of An-sky’s narrator. Indeed, Galicia as a quintessential border territory between empires and epochs functions for An-sky as a spatial projection for his narrator’s personal and political struggles. Like the rumors he records of mythical Jewish treachery and magical gadgets causing Russia’s defeat—both of which provide pretexts for pogroms in town after town—the narrator functions as a cipher for the intersection of mobility, technology, and stealth that constitute the new dislocations of modern warfare. In his earlier ethnographic work, An-sky recorded legends about the prophet Elijah, performing inscrutable deeds of kindness for pious Jews in the guise of a non-Jew. In Khurbn galitsye, An-sky presents himself as a disenchanted Elijah, whose presence signifies not the coming redemption of the Jewish people in Galicia, but its imminent dissolution.


MARC CAPLAN is a native of Louisiana and a graduate of Yale University. In 2003 he earned his Ph.D. in comparative literature from New York University. Since then he has held professorial appointments at Indiana University, Johns Hopkins University, and Yale as well as visiting fellowships at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, the Universität Konstanz (Germany), the Center for Jewish History (New York), and the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor). In 2011 he published How Strange the Change: Language, Temporality, and Narrative Form in Peripheral Modernisms–a comparison of Yiddish and African literatures–with Stanford University Press. His second book, on Yiddish literature written in Weimar Germany, considered in comparison with contemporaneous German literature, critical theory, and film, is currently under review. In the Fall 2018 he was a Senior Research Fellow at the IFK in Vienna, Austria, and in the Spring 2019 the is a visiting fellow in the Taube Department of Jewish Studies at the University of Wroclaw, Poland.