This presentation will focus on the complexities of linguistic identification in the early modern dramatic writings of Eastern European Jews. At the center of this discussion are two authors: Isaac Euchel (1756–1804), and Aaron Halle-Wolfssohn (1754–1835). These writers wrote farces depicting modernizing Jews in competition with their still-traditional Jewish parents–as is typical of marriage comedies–as well as with the rival innovators in Eastern European Jewish society, the new and charismatic sect of Hasidism.
As proponents of modernization, the authors take great lengths to ridicule and burlesque both traditional Jews and neo-traditional Hasidic Jews, but one of the most interesting features of their dramas is a linguistic competition between modern German and Yiddish. This lecture will focus primarily on the ideological nature of language choice and the aesthetic implications of this linguistic competition: implications that often unknowingly undermine the ideological claims that motivate these dramas. The research of Caplan is based on the theoretical insights of the Soviet-Yiddish critic Meir Wiener (1893–1941), and expands upon his research both with respect to the question of language choice among the Jews of the early modern era, as well as a more philosophical consideration of the conflict between spoken language and literary representation. Multilingual social contexts such as early modern Jewish culture, as he will attempt to demonstrate, provide a model for understanding relationships between writing, speaking, and the construction of literary language in general.
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, the Center for Jewish History (New York), and the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor). In the Fall 2018 he is a Senior Fellow at the IFK.