Associate 2015-16

Harriet Murav

Slavic Languages & Literature

Murav image
The author, David Bergelson,    and his son, Lev, taken in Berlin in 1921 or 1922.

A Strange New World: Untimeliness, Futurity, and David Bergelson

A Strange New World: Untimeliness, Futurity, and David Bergelson focuses on the experience of anachronism and distorted temporality as an emotional, sensory, and existential condition in both the world and the work of the Yiddish author David Bergelson (1884-1952). The first part of the 20th century was marked by scientific, technological and artistic innovation, social transformation, political upheaval, and violence, when time itself seemed to break apart. Freud and Henri Bergson, the two great modern theorists of time, memory, and consciousness, and contemporaries of the Yiddish author, provide the conceptual framework for this project, and Russian and Yiddish modernism, the cultural context.

By situating Bergelson in the philosophical and artistic experimentation and the political and technological change of his era, Professor Murav’s study can add a new comparative and interdisciplinary dimension to the study of Yiddish, and a new ethnic dimension to the study of modernism. Bergelson reframes the stagnation and obsolescence of the shtetl as the gateway for activating the unrealized potentialities of the discarded past. In our own time scholars and creative artists are returning to Bergson for new insights about time, and the relation between the mind, the body, and the surrounding world. This project establishes his significance for Yiddish, thus introducing a network of convergences and parallels previously unexplored.

A Strange New World adds to the growing discussion about the texture of time, its evocation in art, and its potentiality from the perspective of the early 20th century. Professor Murav’s emphasis on futurity also helps balance the humanities today, dominated by a sense of futility. Many theorists see the past only as a source of the traumatic wound that we are compelled to repeat. In contrast, the Yiddish author Bergelson did not lose faith in life and the human capacity for creativity beyond the technology of death.