The Yiddish Columbus: Critical Counter-History and the Remapping of American Jewish Literature

Wed, Mar 13, 2019, 4:30 pm
Speaker(s): 

Abstract

For Spanish readers Jacobo Glantz may be most familiar as the protagonist of his daughter Margo Glantz’s family memoir, Las genealogías (1987), in which she describes her parents’ experiences of migration and her own coming of age as a Jewish woman in Mexico. But in the world of interwar Yiddish, Glantz was one of the most important poets of his day. His daughter, Margo Glantz, became Mexico’s most significant scholar of colonial Mexican literature, a specialist on Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, and a writer of fiction in her own right. This talk introduces Jacobo Glantz’s 1939 Mexican Yiddish epic poem Kristobal Kolon, arguing that Glantz’s poem is a point of origin for his daughter Margo Glantz’s later feminist reexaminations of the colonial histories of Mexico. Jacobo Glantz’s counter-canonical retelling of the Americas’ most iconic foundational myth relied on Columbus’s journals and the new, more critical histories of Columbus emerging in the 1930s, which culminated in Samuel E. Morison’s monumental history Admiral of the Ocean Sea (1942).  But Luis de Torres, not Columbus, is at the center of Glantz’s retelling. De Torres was the only Jew on Columbus’s crew, hired by Columbus to serve as an interpreter. In Glantz’s poem, de Torres is an interpreter in the most capacious sense — interpreting Columbus’s visions and dreams, lamenting the Inquisition’s violence in Spain and prophesying the bloody conquests to come, thus gesturing to the fascism growing both in Mexico and abroad in the 1930s.

Written in a deliberately multilingual Yiddish with Spanish, Taino, Latin and Hebrew borrowings, Glantz’s epic functions as critical counter-history, a wild re-imagining of a history he knew so well. This lecture explores the ways in which the myth of Columbus can be mobilized to unearth “underground” Indigenous, African and Jewish histories in the New World, and suggests a new geography for American Jewish literature that exceeds the boundaries of English and the United States.

Cosponsored by the Program in Judaic Studies and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

Biography

Rachel Rubinstein is professor of American literature and Jewish studies at Hampshire College. She is the author of Members of the Tribe: Native America in the Jewish Imagination (2010) and co-editor of the forthcoming Modern Language Association volume Teaching Jewish-American Literature (2019). Her current research explores Yiddish, translation, and racial formation in the Americas.