Sunday, March 14, 2010

Oy, You Think You Got Problems?

Yiddish has for so long been just part of a comedy routine that we forget that it is, or was, a living language with its own virtues and its own limitations:
Paradoxically, the Yiddish language was very old and very young at the same time, rich in emotive expressions and poor in denotations of "realia," specific objects in everyday life. ... The same holds for Yiddish literature: it was perhaps seven hundred years old and still seemed to lack beauty in comparison with the literatures of Europe, and sublimity in comparison with biblical Hebrew. Yiddish writers of the last hundred years experienced the frustrations--as well as the elation--of having to create and enrich both their language and their literature as if they were just beginning. ... [A]n enormous effort had to be invested--by writers, teachers, essayists, journalists, and political activists--to enrich its vocabulary and expand it to cover new domains of politics, knowledge, nature, industrial cities, poetry, and human experience. Yiddish literature had to discover and work out for itself the very genres in which it was writing... And at the same time there loomed the constant double menace that Yiddish culture might be trivialized and the language disappear altogether. Indeed, the beginning and the end of his language often ominously crossed the horizon of a single Yiddish writer in the course of one lifetime.
Benjamin Harshav, The Meaning of Yiddish, 4 (1990). I see that my copy, bought second hand, was purchased by the El Paso Public Library on Mar 5, 1991, and (big red stamp) DISCARDED. Afterthought, I wonder if the cutsey headline above is itself part of the problem Harshav seeks to identify.

1 comment:

New York Crank said...

El Paso? Isn't that in Texas, where the schoolboard is now burning even the US Constitution for heresy? And you're surprised they threw out a book on Yiddish?

Crankily yours,
The New York Crank