David Hofstein – between Jewishness and Universalism

The project of Prof. Sabine Koller and Tetyana Yakovleva is dedicated to the study of David Hofstein’s literary writings. David Hofstein (yidd.: Dovid Hofshteyn; born in 1889 in Korostyshiv, Ukraine; executed in 1952 in Moscow), tried his hand in Hebrew, Ukrainian, and Russian, but eventually devoted himself to Yiddish. At the beginning of 1918, he joined the Kyiv Kultur-Lige (Culture League). A wide-ranging cultural union of art, literature, theater and education, the Kultur-Lige became the most important cultural institution within the Jewish cultural Renaissance. Kyiv, demographically one of the most Jewish cities and ideologically one of the most antisemitic ones in the former Russian Empire, became the backbone of Yiddish culture throughout the new USSR in the first years after the Revolution. With his classic verse and his sober minimalism, David Hofstein became one of the leading literati of the "Kiev group", counterbalancing Leyb Kvitko’s (1890-1952) rural and folkloric verse and Perets Markish’s (1895-1952) futurist and expressionist exuberance. Although he was a key figure of modern Yiddish poetry and of the Jewish Renaissance, there is no systematic study of Hofstein, his poetics of the 1910s and 1920s, and its radical curtailment owing to the ideological constraints of Socialism.

The main goal of the research is to analyze how Hofstein, in a fascinating entanglement of ethics and aesthetics, of European, Slavic and Jewish traditions, developed a rhetorical system, which is intertextual, intercultural and translational at the same time. Hofstein’s poetry oscillates between Jewishness and universalism. It unfolds rich intertextual net linking biblical as well as modern Jewish literary traditions to German, Ukrainian and Russian Romanticism, Symbolism, and Akmeism. Hofstein’s poetic shaping of space and his key topics of wandering and movement engendered modern Yiddish landscape poetry (about the Ukrainian or Palestine landscape) as well as modernist poems about metropolises such as Moscow or Kyiv. Hofstein is unique because of his impulse toward aesthetic synthesis throughout time and space. His intertextual and intercultural Jewish-Slavic-German-Hebrew interplays reveal his commitment to "world culture".