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"700 Years of Vilnius, a City of Translation." Jan. 25, 2023, 7:00 pm, New York, Zoom/In-Person

Vilnius in 19th century from the Jan Kazmierz Wilcznyski album (courtesy of TARTLE)

Free Presentation & Panel Discussion co-sponsored by the New York Consulate General of the Republic of Lithuania, Vilna Shul, and the Polish Cultural Institute New York.

The history and geography of Vilnius are marked by linguistic pluralism, cultural variations, territorial rearrangements, and human losses that make temporal correspondence and spatial continuity hard to decipher. Since the first written records of the city in 1323, Vilnius was put on the path of translation. The existence of many languages and the sense of discontinuity point to diversity and conflict, but translation unravels the tensions, interactions, rivalries, or convergences among different points of views, knowledge and experiences of the place.

In the context of Vilnius, translation is often an outcome or response to erasure. Still, as Czesław Miłosz (self-proclaimed "last citizen of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania") pointed out, “everything would be fine if language did not deceive us finding / different names for the same thing in different times and places.” In one of his poems dedicated to his hometown, the poet construes Vilnius as a city without name, underpinning its untranslatable – ‘unexpressed, untold’ – character. On the other hand, for Moyshe Kulbak, the Jewish city opens up as “the dream of a cabbalist” with a “thousand narrow doors into the universe.” Contrastingly, Avrom Sutzkver, in his threnody to Vilna, makes the town omnipresent with ‘all the cities [being transformed] into your image.’ As an act of creation, translation offers a possibility of entering Vilnius from an unknown territory; simultaneously, it frames the city within ‘unfamiliar tongues.’

In commemorating 700 years of the founding of Vilnius, Laimonas Briedis will give a presentation about the city as a form of translation, from poetic imagery and visual records to tangible geography and memory fragments. Briedis’s presentation will be followed by a discussion moderated by Jonathan Brent in which Briedis will be joined by Laima Laučkaitė, Irena Grudzińska Gross, and David Roskies.

Laimonas Briedis is a writer and scholar of the history, literature and geographical imagination of Vilnius, Lithuania. A native of Vilnius, he has lived for most of his adult life in Vancouver (Canada) where he completed a doctoral degree in cultural geography at the University of British Columbia.

Jonathan Brent is the Executive Director of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City, and teaches history and literature at Bard College.

Laima Laučkaitė, art historian and curator of exhibitions, lives in Vilnius and is currently the leading researcher at the Lithuanian Culture Research Institute.

Irena Grudzińska Gross emigrated from her native Poland after student unrest of 1968. She studied in Poland, Italy and in the United States; she received her PhD from Columbia University in 1982. She taught East-Central European history and literature at Emory, New York, Boston and Princeton universities.

David G. Roskies is the Sol and Evelyn Henkind Chair emeritus in Yiddish Literature and Culture and a professor emeritus of Jewish literature at The Jewish Theological Seminary.


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