Senior Fellow: October 2021–February 2022
Research Project: Hope as the Flipside of Scepticism: The History of Esperanto as Jewish Linguistic Utopia
What is the flipside of scepticism? Is it hope? And what is the Jewish name for this hope? Hatikva? Or perhaps Esperanto? Can mistrust among human beings be eradicated by a linguistic utopia? Can language become a faith? In the matter of scepticism and violence, can the former be neutralised by trust in (a new) language? Is it possible that conflict among humans might not be caused by language itself, but by incomprehension among speakers? Is language a begetter of violence? Could a neutral tongue, without a sole owner, become a weapon for humankind?
This contra-project proposes to consider these divergent viewpoints within the Jewish tradition in which language (and silence) play an immense role, whether from the perspective of utopian hope or linguistic scepticism: language and writing are at the core of tradition, of revelation, and of the diasporic situation: a portatives Vaterland (Heine, “portable homeland”). It will analyse Zamenhof’s texts and the history of Esperanto in dialogue with the Jewish philosophy of language (Baruch Spinoza, Moses Mendelssohn, Walter Benjamin, etc.), but also with the creators of another new Jewish language: Modern Hebrew (Ben Yehuda and Ahad Ha’am). The problem of sources and translations is also of vital concern given their role in the construction of the humanity and sacrality of language.
Liliana Ruth Feierstein is Professor of Transcultural Jewish History at Humboldt Universität Berlin, Germany.