Lintsheray and Jewish-American Liberalism: The Motif of Lynching in American Yiddish Literature
Saturday March 19
Instructor: Marc Caplan
Although there is only one recorded instance of a Jew being lynched in America during the early 20th century, Leo Frank in Georgia in 1915, the lynching of African Americans maintains a surprisingly prominent place in American Yiddish literature. This lecture will discuss in detail the American writer Joseph Opatoshu's 1923 story Lintsheray ("Lynching") to examine the resonances of this theme for Yiddish culture--as rallying cry against injustice, as cautionary example against a complacent assimilation of American "whiteness," and as a means to identify with a non-Jewish ethnicity while maintaining a sense of ethnic and cultural autonomy. As the discussion will demonstrate, the protest against American racism becomes a means through which Jewish radicals could identify with American citizenship while maintaining a critique of dominant American values. This notion of critical identification in turn establishes a pattern that continues to shape the character of contemporary Jewish-American liberalism, which resonates further in the character of American liberalism as such.
Marc Caplan is Visiting Senior Lecturer in the Judaic Studies department at Yale University. A native of Louisiana and a graduate of Yale University, he earned his Ph.D. in comparative literature from New York University. Since then he has held appointments at Indiana University, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, and the Johns Hopkins University, as well as visiting fellowships at 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. Currently he is a visiting senior lecturer at his alma mater, where he is completing a second book, on Yiddish literature written in Weimar Germany, considered in comparison with contemporaneous German literature, theater, and film.