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The Meaning of Benjamin Harshav: Investigating his Legacy in Yiddish, Hebrew and Theoretical Studies

Tue, December 19, 8:30 to 10:00am, Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, Marquis Salon 14

Session Submission Type: Roundtable

Abstract

To speak about the career of Benjamin Harshav (1928-2015)—in the singular—appears to present a contradiction in terms: A man who went by multiple names (Benjamin Hrushovski, H. Binyumin, Gabi Daniel), his creative output was also startlingly diverse. As a poet, he not only wrote in both Yiddish and Hebrew, but also belonged to competing literary movements in these two languages. As a theoretician, he earned international recognition for his contribution to topics such as character and metaphor. At the same time, he also produced cultural criticism that was for more concrete and historically bound; He retold the story of Jewish modernity with language as its revolutionary protagonist. As yet another realm of influence, Harshav produced major anthologies and translations, which shaped the canon for future readers.
What unifies Harshav’s diverse theses, intellectual modes and political loyalties? What are the points of contradiction? Do his claims produce a coherent vision of modern Jewish culture? Or, in Harshavian terms, should we characterize his intellectual oeuvre as essentially “polyphonic” or even “centrifugal”? What are Harshav’s main messages for the future of Yiddish and Hebrew literary scholarship? These broad questions will guide discussion of the following themes:
1. Yiddish and Hebrew Commitments. In Israel in the 1950’s Harshav made the unusual and controversial decision to become a member of both the Yiddishist YUNG YISROEL and the Hebraist group LIKRAT. Can Harshav help pave the way for a new, joint literary historiography of Hebrew and Yiddish? Participant Specialists: Chana Kronfeld and Shachar Pinsker
2. Theoretical Insights. In founding the journal POETICS TODAY, Harshav advocated for ‘‘an objective and systematic understanding” of literature. How did his theory shape his Yiddish and Hebrew criticism? Participant Specialists: Chana Kronfeld and Hannah Pollin-Galay
3. The Art of Anthology and Translation. As one of his most sustained projects, Harshav produced a long list of indispensable anthologies. Artful translations, often crafted in partnership with Barbara Harshav, were a crucial component. In these anthologies, what was Harshav trying to purvey, or to rescue—and for whom? Participant specialists: David Roskies and Barbara Harshav

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