Boris Slutsky's Jewish Linguistics: The Notions of Yiddish and Hebrew in "Ya osvobozhdal Ukrainu..." and "Pereobuchenie odinochestvu..."

Marat Grinberg, University of Chicago

Often recognized as one of the major figures in Russian poetry of the second half of the 20th century, Boris Slutsky's oeuvre remains, nevertheless, largely unexplored and when analyzed, confined to the investigations of political circumstances of his life. Even more so is this true in regard to the study of the poet's Jewish "cycles," which have received a complete lack of serious critical attention. In my larger work devoted to the problematics of constructing a Jewish literary discourse in Russian tradition, I argue for the primacy of the Jewish theme to the development of his poetics. Since Slutsky's creative Jewish model fails to be explained by any pre-existing theories on the production of Jewish literature in non-Jewish languages (self-hatred, bifurcation, hybridity), I propose to view his Jewish self-fashioning as that of a marrano, a Jewish converso. Having completely "converted" into Russian literature and ethos, he continued to poetically dwell on his Jewishness, until it overwhelmed his entire poetic project, threatening his very identity as that of a Russian Soviet poet. Slutsky's Jewish case exposes both the possibilities and the pitfalls embedded in the attempts to create a Jewish poetry that would be integral to Russian literary history and tradition. In my presentation, I will discuss the two most provocative examples of his treatment of the Jewish theme, the Holocaust poem, "I was a Liberator of Ukraine...," with its focus on Yiddish, and one of his last poems, "Relearning Solitude..." which focuses on Hebrew. Both have neither been translated into English nor discussed in any existing works on Slutsky.