Vernacular Anxiety and the Semitic Imaginary: Shem Tov Isaac ibn Ardutiel de Carrión and his Critics
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Shem Tov ibn Isaac Ardutiel (Santob de Carrión) lived in the fourteenth century, period of intense vernacularization of literary practice in Castile. Shem Tov has long been imagined as a model of multiculturality, and the lasting impact of his diglossic literary legacy is undeniable. He is a compelling case study of the role of Hebrew literature in the age of Hispano-Romance vernacularity. Shem Tov writes at a time when Spanish Jewish authors voice considerable ambivalence about the practice of vernacular literature. In this essay I offer a new reading of Proverbios morales and his Hebrew Debate between the pen and the scissors as veiled critiques of Castilian literary practice and a defense of Hebrew in an age of vernacularization. The ambivalence and anxiety that characterized Jewish approaches to the vernacular are mirrored by modern critics of the literature of Spain’s Jews. Spanish criticism of Shem Tov’s work is revealing of conflictive modern Spanish attitudes toward the role of Jewish authors in a national literary legacy. In the second part of this essay I demonstrate how the anxieties that characterized Jewish-Christian literary relations in 14th century Castile are still alive and well in 19th and 20th century Spanish scholarship.
- Wacks, David