Monday, November 17, 2014

identify your firing squad











Sunday, November 16, 2014

two from twitter




Thursday, November 13, 2014

two buck chuck


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

schlemiel

Anyway, in unrelated news, I came across a couple articles that consider the schlemiel: exhibits A and B. I've yet to read them in their entirety, but they concern famous Jewish writers and comedians using, or associating with, the term, from Walter Benjamin to Woody Allen to Philip Roth. To me, it's worth noting that long before "channeling his inner Jewish mother" Thomas Pynchon was at home with the Yiddish word in V, if I'm not mistaken, describing Benny Profane as such.


Friday, November 7, 2014

the fall of the Berlin Wall

The Lazarus Project includes an anecdote about rabbits finding love by overcoming the Berlin Wall despite trigger-happy East German guards firing eagerly during mating season (Hemon 103-4).

Anyway, by chance, it's the 25th anniversary of the famous wall's fall, and I've stumbled upon a couple postings noting this:

"The Berlin Wall, 25 Years After the Fall" from The Atlantic and an image gallery from Yahoo! Finance, "Human Wave of East Germans Surges Across Berlin Wall."

Another time, in another post, maybe I'll describe the refugee father and son who'd just escaped and wound up in the same bunk area as a bunch of us staying in a Swiss youth hostel. I remember well the father describing his escape story, again and again, throughout the night. I couldn't understand his German, or anyone else's, but I could hear the repetition of the words and some of the vigorous physical movements he used to support them. Again and again.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Hemon in Chicago

Because I'm teaching The Lazarus Project right now, I googled Aleksandar Hemon and arrived at an article on his love of his adopted city of Chicago. Although back in Sarajevo his parents were technical people, urban, affluent STEM-folk, Hemon had a humble start in America's "somber city":


With just $300 in his pocket, the young man was forced to scramble for odd jobs—waiter, Greenpeace canvasser—while managing his fear and longing for Sarajevo. He set about learning Chicago by walking its neighborhoods. “Pullman, Beverly, Lakeview, and then the Parks—Hyde, Lincoln, Rogers,” he writes in The Book of My Lives. “I began to sort out the geography of Chicagoland, assembling a street map in my mind, building by building, door by door . . . I was a low-wage, immigrant flaneur.”

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

some French Jews read Celine

According to an article published a few years ago in The Jewish Daily Forward, some French Jews continue to be fascinated with Celine. Here are two of the final paragraphs:

Decades later, other Jewish writers remain firmly fascinated by Céline, drooling or not. Parisian bookseller and writer Mikaël Hirsch, born in 1973, is a grandson of Louis-Daniel Hirsch, who served as Gallimard’s sales manager for more than half a century. The younger Hirsch’s 2010 novel “The Outcast,” out in paperback August 31 [from Les editions J’ai Lu], describes the true story of how, in 1954, Mikaël’s father, then working as a Gallimard messenger boy (he is renamed Gérard Cohen for the purposes of the novel), delivered printer’s proofs to Céline in Meudon, or what the novel calls “Célinegrad.” There, Céline’s “reprobate” status echoes with the young Cohen’s own feelings of exclusion for being too Jewish, or not Jewish enough, to please his compatriots.
 
Another French-Jewish author, Émile Brami, who is of Tunisian origin and once owned a Paris bookshop devoted to Céline, currently maintains a blog, “Le Petit Célinien,” and has also written studies on his favorite author. Last year, Brami produced a mystery novel, “Massacre for a Bagatelle,” published by L’Editeur and set in the murky world of collectors of Céline manuscripts and rare editions. Such books suggest that Céline is a permanent presence, albeit one incarnating for many readers the epitome of rabid hatred and prejudice, on the French literary landscape. Celebrate him or not, Céline is, for better or for worse — much worse in his case — here to stay.

Several years ago, I began Celine's Death on the Installment Plan but never finished it. I do hope to one day, along with Updike's Rabbit Is Rich and several other more recent "stuck in the middle" books. It was satisfying to read Malamud's A New Life in its entirety this summer, nearly 20 years after putting it down after 100 pages or so. 

For favorite books written by writers with somewhat rabid antisemitic tendencies (more than just the usual Jew joke), I'd go with Voltaire's Candide and Hamsun's Hunger. Those are the first two that come to mind. Alas, there's the taint of antisemitism and many other prejudices (misogyny, racism, etc.) in so much of the canon as well as many contemporary novels, even with a sense that most big-name publishers are far more "PC" in their tastes these days.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Election Day

I voted early, but not often. Only once as a matter of fact. . . and I didn't linger outside any polling places to learn what others had pressed, punched, or checked.

Monday, November 3, 2014

I Love Dollars

Aside from syllabus readings, I've had only a little bit of time to read on or off line. But one selection was the title story of Wen Zhu's I Love Dollars, which takes us inside contemporary money-mad, sex-crazed China where at least some young people are now interested in becoming writers and musicians.

I also stumbled upon, and then read, Michael Kazin's considerations of his father Alfred Kazin's life and writing, and I continue to support Cooke's fairly recent biography of Kazin, particularly for anyone with some time on their hands.

Last, I came across an article on Louis-Ferdinand Celine's antisemitism. I'd been under the impression that Celine was of that most curious caste of antisemites, that is, one born Jewish, but in fact, it seems I'm mistaken. I'm not sure of why I'd been under that impression or if I ever had a source. Now I find myself reading and skimming his interview from The Paris Review. Here's an excerpt:

My mother always used to tell me, “Poor kid, if you didn't have the rich people (because I already had a few little ideas, as it happened), if there weren't any rich people we wouldn't have anything to eat. Rich people have responsibilities.” My mother worshiped rich people, you see.

Here's one more, Celine on the novel as fighting a losing battle against TV, film, and alcohol:

But novels are a little like lace . . . an art that disappeared with the convents. Novels can't fight cars, movies, television, booze. A guy who's eaten well, who's escaped the big war, in the evenings gives a peck to the old lady and his day's finished. Done with.