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Yiddish Exceptionalism: Lynching, Race, and Racism in Joseph Opatoshu’s American Fiction

Evening Seminar - in collaboration with the Institute for Historical Research, Jewish History seminar series

Event Information

19th November, 2018
5:15 pm - 6:30 pm
Institute of Historical Research (North American History Room, 2nd floor), Senate House, North Block, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU
Marc Caplan, Senior Research Fellow, Internationales Forschungszentrum Kulturwissenschaften (IFK), Kunstuniversität Linz, Vienna

Joseph Opatoshu’s story Lintsheray (“Lynching” 1923) offers the most intense exposition of race relations between American whites and Blacks in Yiddish literature; indeed it presents one of the most graphic descriptions of lynching in any language. This lecture will focus on Lintsheray in the context of the lynching motif in Yiddish literature as well as contemporaneous depictions in African-American fiction. Racism against African Americans was a preoccupation among Jewish radicals of the early twentieth century. By focusing on this subject, they proposed a mode of resistance to American culture to which other European immigrants had rushed to assimilate. This engagement with American racism politicizes the Yiddish language in a new way, by positioning it against a discourse of ‘whiteness’. That strategy, in turn, defines citizenship in legal, institutional, and ethical terms rather than cultural, linguistic, or racial ones. This critique of citizenship, ethnic identification, and ethical identity bespeaks a contemporary relevance for Yiddish culture – now more than ever.

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