Yehuda Amichai has the distinction of being one of
the first Hebrew language poets to write in the spoken vernacular, rather than
in the poetic register that marked most modern, Israeli poems. More
Love Poems, a collection of his poems on topics amorous does show this in
many particular examples. Yet he still
holds an ironic attachment to the biblical text. His poems are not yet the kind of ethnicy, street
verse we find, for example, in Ronny Someck’s The Fire Stays Red.
In “I Dreamed a Dream,” Amichai connects his poem
to the biblical story of Joseph’s dream interpretation of Pharoah’s cows, both fat and sleek, to seven maidens, one
group heavy, one group thick. The thin
ones swallow the leans ones with their “hungry thighs” and the narrator of the
poem, making love to them all, gets swallowed by the voracious thighs in turn.
So, the picture of Amichai is far from clear. Some of his poems are startling clear, and
empty of biblical allusion. Others hop
and play along with the biblical text, borrowing from it both as a form of
connection and distance to the text, which has been done for millennium with the words of
Peter Cole is a prolific translator of Hebrew and
Arabic texts, and he brings to his translations the deft hand of a man who
writes his own English language poetry.So it should be no surprise that his The
Poetry of Kabbalah: Mystical Verse from the Jewish Tradition is a very
readable and accessible volume.
Cole wants to reach a wide audience, and walks the
line between an academic and popular treatment of the subject.Different topics are discussed before texts
are introduced, giving the reader a key into the significance of the translated
verse. For those who wish to delve into
the details of the translations, and further historical information, there is
an extensive notes section (which occupies about a fourth of the book).
So, Cole has compiled a comprehensive volume
on the poetry of Jewish mysticism that should satisfy almost any interested
Comparisons between Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night and The Great Gatsby are inevitable.Both are viewed as his most complete artistic
visions; and both are in the enviable position of being on the Modern Libraries
list of the 100 best pieces of fiction of the twentieth century.
Gatsby is gorgeously written, and the language is
expressive, nuanced, and multi-leveled.One can read and re-read Gatsby and find new things with each
reading.A better definition of a
classic I cannot find.Gatsby is also a
radically economical novel.Coming in at
just 50,000 words, it is nearly a novella.A short book, it seems long due to its reputation and genius.But in the end, it is petite, and Fitzgerald
had to work within the confines of this short narrative structure.
Not so with Tender
is the Night.At 108,000 words, the
novel allows Fitzgerald to sprawl; in the course of the novel, we see far less
compressed development of the characters than in Gatsby.There are far more graphic representations of scene, the flow of time,
and the outcome of events.Tender shows
the reader how good Fitzgerald could be in a longer form.He stretches his wings, and the results are
astonishing.It is a moving and tragic novel
of love and life gone astray.
Even with some of the novel’s problems (does the
text really give us enough of Nichole’s insanity?Is Dick Diver’s descent given enough
grounding) Tender is the perfect accompaniment to Gatsby and Gatsby to Tender.For writers, it shows that if lighting does
not exactly strike twice, similar results can be produced by and expressed by the same electric charge.
Garden of Eden was Hemingway’s attempt to move beyond
his literary and public persona toward a new, fuller level.The fact that he did not complete the
book,and left the work in a confusing manuscript
form with multiple endings and a lack of cohesive force, shows how hard this
project was for him as a writer and a man.
The Scribners 1986 version of The Garden of Eden gave readers a view of what Hemingway in part
wanted to accomplish.The manuscript is
over 200,000 words, while the novel comes in at 70,000.Much was cut out, and the ending gives a more
sanguine view of the story than Hemingway perhaps envisioned.
Aharon Appelfeld’s The Retreat has shades of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, a bit of Kafka’s strange realism, and Appelfeld's
patented sense of looming, uncertain doom.
Jewish residents of a mountain retreat, sanatorium,
or prison (we are never sure which one) struggle to rid themselves of their
Jewish traits. They attempt to stand up
straight, to be less argumentative, to be fair in their dealings with others. These
all fail, and in the end the intimates of the retreat are forced to pawn their
possession just to remain in the place where they have failed.
A trenchant critique, it is difficult to say what,
exactly, Appelfeld is critiquing. The
inmates may simply be Jews living in a European retreat on the verge of World
War II, and are subject to all manner of discriminatory measures. Their attempts to rid themselves of their
intractable Jewishness are then ironically wrong. They will never rid themselves of Jewish
traits, for their enemies will not let them do so.
This book could also be a commentary on the Zionist
ideal of the Jew. The inmates of the
retreat are 'typical' Diaspora Jews viewed through a Zionist lens. This view accepts much of the anti-Semitic
rhetoric about Jewish parasitism and corruption.
Either way, this strange, even twisted novel keeps the
reader slightly off balance. Appelfeld
has written us into an odd world, where the unsettling is all too true.
Aaron Appelfeld has a well-established narrative
pattern in many of his novels: the son of a beautiful mother traveling to some destination.In their progress, many odd and disjointed
things are seen and heard, and harbingers for some terrible event that will
happen later in the novel are found throughout.
the Land of the Cattails follows this pattern exactly.For frequent readers of Appelfeld’s fiction,
there is not much new here, or much to learn.I do not know much of the secondary literature about Appelfeld; no doubt
this trend is commented upon by Hebrew language critics.I know that Appelfeld lost his mother early
in the war, while his father survived.In all the novels along these narrative lines, the father is a distant
figure.He is either not present, or an
In the end, there is only doom.Even if Appelfeld does not name the Holocaust
or Nazis in his novels (and in Cattails
he does not) frequent readers know what will happen.
The take away: only read a few Appelfeld novels, or
grow accustomed to watching an author work out a primary theme many times,
trying to perfect it.
People have been cherry picking passages from Rebbe
Nachman’s writings for a long time.We see this in Outpouring of the
Soul, called in Hebrew Histap’kuth HaNefesh. It was complied in 1904 by Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua
Bezishianski, known as the Reb Alter of Teplik.Reb Alter combed through Rabbi Nachman’s writings and found passages particularly
suited to meditation, and its allied pursuit according to the Bratslaver Hasidim, prayer.
What we get in this small distillation of the Rebbe’s
work is the rock hard center of his thinking about mediation and prayer.How to do it, how to keep it up, and what to
expect from it.Translated by the noted
expert on Jewish mediation, Aryeh Kaplan, this small book is really indispensable
for an understanding of Jewish meditation in a condensed form.
I've wanted to watch CSA (Confederate States of America). A mocumentary from
2004 about the South winning the Civil War. Finally did this afternoon. I love
alternate histories, and mocumentaries, and this one, oy, packs a major punch.
Can't say it is funny. Its moments of humor make one cringe. But it is worth an
hour and a half of your time. It is satire with a capital S. So, that is Satire.
Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden:
Twenty Five Years of Criticism
is a finely edited volume exploring Ernest
Hemingway's posthumously published novel The Garden of Eden, in
handles many aspects of the publication and reception of the novel.There are essays about the state of the
manuscript and the radical trimming done by a Scribner’s editor.The problem of publishing posthumous (and in
the case of Eden, unfinished) books is given much needed detail.Feminist, post-colonial, and various other “post-modern” perspectives of
the book are provided. Some are well written and clear, other rich in the comic jargon that post-modernism churns out in abundance.
these explorations lead to the most important aspect of this book, and The Garden of Eden.The
novel was an attempt by Hemingway to transcend both himself and his art as
previously rendered.He worked to create
a novel which raised difficult questions about sex, art and identity that are
only explored obliquely in his other works.How difficult this was is seen in the sprawling, 200,000 word manuscript
(toned down to 70,000 for publication) housed at the Kennedy Library in Boston.
Hemingway did not succeed by finishing this novel is a tribute to the enormity of the task, and the
many physical and mental challenges he faced in the post-war period.But he left much work for scholars; and scholarship
demands that a critical edition of The Garden of Eden be published so
interested readers can see what the complete vision of Hemingway might have
been.Then we can judge for
ourselves. We can see, perhaps, how a great artist can always extent the reach of his or her vision.
Zemer’s Evolving Halakhah: A Progressive
Approach to Traditional Jewish Law, takes a novel and I think very fruitful
method and applies it to Jewish law.Rabbi Zemer is a progressive Rabbi in Israel (as the branch of Reform is
called there) and is well versed in the vast literature of Halakhah, or Jewish law.As such, he does not simply play the Reform
card by saying “Halakhah is no longer valid” and endorse a spiritual, cultural,
or ethnic Judaism.Rather, he takes
Halakhah on its own terms, using its very rules and precedents to show that in
the past lenient, more humane rulings were far more common than today.
Israeli rabbi, much of Rabbi Zemer’s book applies to Jews living in Israel,
where such matters as marriage, divorce, and ‘who is a Jew’ are handled by an
established religious body.In America,
things are much more fractured.Issues
such as these come up, but are treated quietly within the confines of
particular American communities and denominations.In a way, American Judaism is far more like
the kind of Judaism that Zemer espouses: pluralistic, open to disagreement, fluid.
the meta-conclusion that this books shows, but which Rabbi Zemer never quite
spells out enough, is that more often than not Halakhah is decided based on
political considerations.When all Jews
were observant (and largely poor) rabbis tried to take a lenient approach for the
sake of compassion.There was nothing
riding on allowing a couple to marry, for instance, rather than the pain or
suffering caused by their inability to marry due to mamzer, or illegitimate issues.Today, strictness in Halakhah has become a way
for the Orthodox to both differentiate themselves from secular Jews, and from other
Orthodox groups.Strictness becomes a
way to prove one’s Orthodox credentials and in some instances have gone so far
as to become mannerist in appearance.
Rabbi Zemer offers a well-reasoned and detailed
book on the rationale behind more liberal, humanistic halakhic decisions.As much as possible he tries to take the
politics out of religious Jewish law, and place it on a more humane footing.