This article examines Gershom Scholem's 1917–18 essay “On Lamentation and Dirges” in the context of his early writings on language between 1916 and 1926. During this period Scholem applauded the “silent language of lamentation” and warned of the loss of lament in a language that had become profane and instrumentalized but that nonetheless echoes ancient meaning. In “On Lamentation and Dirges” Scholem “laments language itself” by exploring the relation between language and transmissibility (Tradierbarkeit) and by addressing some of the paradoxes inherent in language as such: How can language lament itself? How can language communicate its own limits in language? Scholem attempts to illuminate and overcome the paradoxes of language and the enigma of its transmission by experimenting with apophasis, a discourse aimed precisely at solving the dilemma of saying the inexpressible. Defining the language of lamentation as the silent, (self-) destructive “language of the border” allowed Scholem to generate a performative essay as an act of inscription into tradition. Moreover, by pointing to the anarchic, apocalyptic, and messianic moments in the language of lamentation, this early essay contributes to an understanding of Scholem's overall engagement with the topics of revelation, destruction, and redemption. The writings of Walter Benjamin, Martin Buber, Fritz Mauthner, and Franz Josef Molitor, among others, contribute to an understanding of Scholem's linguistic ideas presented in my article.
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Lina Barouch; Lamenting Language Itself: Gershom Scholem on the Silent Language of Lamentation. New German Critique 1 November 2010; 37 (3 (111)): 1–26. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0094033X-2010-013
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