Minority Perspective and the Trouble with Liberal Discourses. Thinking History of Jewish/Yiddish Culture in Polish Context

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9 October 2018 - 5:30 PM

Karolina Szymaniak (Wroclaw University)

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When in 1988 the poet Marcin Świetlicki formulated in a now-famous poem his sharp criticism of the rhetoric of cultural opposition and its possession by history, he wrote: “Instead of saying:  I have a toothache, I’m/ hungry, I’m lonely (…)/ they say quietly: Wanda/ Wasilewska, Cyprian Kamil Norwid,/ Józef Piłsudski, the Ukraine, Lithuania/ Thomas Mann, the Bible, and at the end a little something/ in Yiddish” (trans. W. Martin). As Eugenia Prokop-Janiec has shown, in the 1980s Yiddish came to be treated as a part of the code of independent culture, and investment into it became a form of resistance. What was this undefined “little something” and what was the tradition underlying its presence in the Polish discourse? What meaning and content was it endowed with? How does this tradition bear on contemporary representations of the Jewish Polish past and the way we write the history of culture in Poland?

The talk is a discussion of existing and possible approaches to the study of Yiddish Polish cultural contacts in the 20th century, their limits and ramifications. It is a working presentation of an ongoing project. By turning to the history of Yiddish Polish cultural relations and their discourse, and by interpreting them through the different lens of cultural studies, this study also seeks to think other ways of conceptualizing the history of culture in Poland. This approach includes minority perspectives, respects their independence, and creates a space where the “little something” turns into a complex, polyphonic phenomenon in its own right.


Modern Jewish History Seminar

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The seminar is intended to provide a platform for academic discussion about the latest research on Jewish history especially of the last three centuries. Though primarily focused on the Jews of central and east central Europe, the seminar also includes topics related to the Jews of other regions. The seminar is further enriched by including topics not directly concerned with Jews, but enabling one to see Jewish history from other perspectives (for instance, the perspective of other marginalized communities).

Despite our preference for the methods of historical research, the organizers welcome multidisciplinary approaches to the topics, including those of sociology, political science, religious studies, and art history.

The seminar is held in the library of CEFRES, Na Florenci 3, Prague 1 always at 5:30 p.m. The language of the seminar is English. The seminar is organized by Kateřina Čapková and Michal Frankl. Since 2018/2019 the seminar is included into the MA program of the Prague Center for Jewish Studies at the Charles University. Due to Michal Frankl’s stay abroad this academic year, all the questions and suggestions should be sent to Kateřina Čapková (capkova@usd.cas.cz).