This lecture will examine the literatures of ostensibly marginal modern cultures as a conceptual and historical key to understanding aesthetic modernism. Professor Caplan will compare nineteenth-century Yiddish literature and twentieth-century Francophone African literature, finding unexpected similarities between them. These literatures were created under imperial regimes that brought with them processes of modernization that were already well advanced elsewhere. Yiddish and African writers reacted to the liberating potential of modernity and the burdens of imperial authority by choosing similar narrative genres, typically reminiscent of early-modern European literatures: the picaresque, the pseudo-autobiography, satire, and the Bildungsroman. Both display analogous anxieties toward language, caught as they were between imperial, "global" languages and stigmatized native vernaculars, and between traditions of writing and orality. Professor Caplan will demonstrate that these literatures' "belated" relationship to modernization suggests their potential to anticipate subsequent crises in the modernity and post-modernity of metropolitan cultures. The conflicts between tradition and modernity—expressed in both contexts as a competition between initiation and education of young people—results in a literature that provides a critique of modernity even at the outset of the modernization process.
Speaker: Marc Caplan; Zelda and Myer Tandetnik Professor of Yiddish Literature, Language, and Culture; Department of German and Romance Languages; Johns Hopkins University, USA.
Dr. Ali Mozaffari
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Faculty of Humanities
Western Australia Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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