Browsing all posts by Justine Poustchi
by Justine Poustchi · 04/24/12
The recent shootings in Toulouse have brought the complexities of French Jewry to the forefront and inspired our own investigation into the modern literary history of the Jews in France. Since the advent of colonialism, the term “French literature” has inspired debates that argue vehemently for the rupture between French literature and Francophone literature. What then of French-Jewish literature? Since the emergence of the modern nation-state of France, both Sephardic and Ashkenazim Jews have been welcomed—so long as they wholly adapted their tongues to the language of les belles lettres. As a result, hybrid categories such as French-Jewish literature are seen to contradict the concept of a unified French identity.Accordingly, contemporary French-Jewish literature betrays only traces of a Jewish sensibility. Such is the case of Yasmina Reza, a playwright of Hungarian Jewish and Russian-Iranian Jewish descent, who finds that the her parents’ world seeps into her plays, Art and God of Carnage. Though Reza writes directly to the influence of her parents in Hammerklavier, a series of autobiographical sketches, Reza argued in a recent interview with the Guardian for the importance of complete integration with French culture.
Though literature that speaks directly to Jewish themes is often marginal, literary critic Pierre Assouline turns his attention to the different representations of Job throughout the monotheistic tradition in his latest novel Les vie de Job. Drawing on his skills as a prolific biographer, Assouline dramatizes the biographer’s quest to piece together the different facets of the biblical character’s life, examining the intersection between the many lives of Job and the biographer’s own life.
Peering further back into French Jewish literary history, the memory of Vichy France occupies a distinct place. Patrick Modiano, an author of Jewish-Italian origins, constantly explores that terrain. Haunted by the memories of the Occupation, Modiano, in his first novel Place de l’Étoile, intertwines the specificity of his French locality with the wound of the war. Standing on the famous intersection that holds the Arc de Triomphe, the Place de l’Étoile (literally the Place of the Star), Raphaël Schlemilovitch hallucinates a parade of real and imagined Jewish characters, as Modiano probes the intersection between time, memory, and forgetting.
Similarly, Henri Racyzmow, a writer of Jewish Polish origins explores the “memory gap” which plagues European Jews. In Contes d’exil et d’oubli (Tales of Memory and Forgetting), a grandfather is unable to recover stories of shtetl life and instead chooses to invent tales about Yiddish culture.
France’s presence in Tunisia absorbed other Jewish populations into the nation’s literary history, creating a prismatic intersection between East and West. One can trace the junction between the two spheres through the works of Albert Memmi, best known for his non-fiction on the psychological effects of colonialism, but whose fiction deserves just as much attention. In The Pillar of Salt, Memmi richly evokes the atmosphere of the ghetto of Tunis, turning his attention to the relations between Arabs and Jews. Above all, Memmi investigates the difficulty of glancing back at the past, and the toils of memory that continue to fixate Jewish writers today.
by Justine Poustchi · 03/13/12Politics and Literature
Hungarian Jewish writer Akos Kertesz’s recent condemnation of Hungary’s role in the Holocaust has led to a “political campaign” against him, forcing the 80 year old writer to seek asylum in Canada.
Sam Jordison muses on the future of literary translation, noting the success of the works Hans Fallada, a German writer whose work explores his country’s dark political history, that leaves Jordison wondering what else he may have been missing out on.
Adam Gopnik takes a look at the dramatic and often hallucinatory ending of the Christian Bible: The Book of Revelation. Decoding the mystical vision, Gopnik reveals the text’s satirical caricature of the Roman Empire that, as Elaine Pagels argues in her latest book, is the result of a distinctly anti-Christian polemic that strived to maintain the early Jesus movement’s Jewish roots.
Fragments of Human Existence
Drawing connections between Victorian pseudo-science and surrealist photography, Jacob Mikanowski’s article paints a complex portrait of the creation of writer Bruno Schulz’s cosmos and his obsession with matter.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a relief and rescue organization, is embarking on a project to digitize their extensive archives of the 20th Century Diaspora that includes over 500,000 names and 100,000 photographs. Take a look at some gems from their collection, which includes photos of painter Marc Chagall a young Leonard Bernstein, here.
New York contributor Arnon Grunberg “embeds” himself in different social groups that range from a Dutch family’s vacation to armies in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a part of a recent exhibition of his work in Amsterdam, Grunberg is seeking interesting ideas for new journalistic projects that you can be a part of. More information on the competition, which closes on March 18th, here.
by Justine Poustchi · 03/05/12
Albert Kahn, one of the earliest color photographers, traveled to over fifty countries to document the rich cultural diversity in the years before the First World War. Taking a look at his work, Maria Popova explores the way his photographs helped frame complex cultural narratives that had been reduced to “caricatures.”
For a group of Catholic Hispanos in Colorado, a breast-cancer gene reveals an ancient Jewish past, forcing the women to confront changes not only to their bodies but also their heritage. Elie Dolgin takes a look at Jeff Wheelwright’s exploration of the gene that plagues the women as religion, race, and DNA intersect.
Home to the shrine of three faiths, Jerusalem has a history that is characterized by prophetic utterance—or more recently, pseudo-prophetic babbling. The phenomenon, labeled Jerusalem Syndrome, provokes a fascinating look at the psychosis engendered by the holy city on the people who believe God is speaking to them.
Ruminating on the future of Holocaust literature Stuart Kelly praises the work of Nathan Englander and Shalom Auslander, calling for more work that subverts the “monolithic narrative of victimhood.”
by Justine Poustchi · 02/26/12
Alan Brit sheds light on the Frankists: Polish Jews who converted to Catholicism to gain rights and land in the 18th Century. Brit reveals a brand of Catholicism that deeply reflected Jewish roots in its acknowledgement of the importance of the Sabbath and a vague sense of kashrut.
In response to harsh criticism of the religiosity of the Israeli public, Dr. Samuel Lebens warns against “oversimplification of theism,” and advocates a deeper understanding of Jewish literature as an imaginative tool to promote change from within.
Relics of Totalitarianism
Recently, Poland has been turning its attention to its complicated past. The rising generation is ready to ask “inconvenient questions” through film, literature, and the establishment of the Institute of National Remembrance.
Architectural plans for Hitler’s imagined capital city, Germania, reveal not only a grand fantasy but also a pervading misanthropy. Robert Moorhouse looks at the fraction that was completed and the devastation that enabled its creation.
Imre Kertész’s reflections on Nazism and totalitarianism continue to be brought to English readers by the independent publisher Melville House. Sohrab Ahmari takes a look at Roberto Bolaño’s “The Third Reich,” as the author pushes the boundaries of literary interpretation of Nazism by constructing a character who fetishizes the Third Reich and then challenging his character to a board game.
Voices of the Literary Past
As a part of the New Yorker’s Fiction Podcast Series, Nicole Krauss reads Bruno Schulz’s story “Father’s Last Escape”: a surreal musing on “the genealogy of spirits.”
Another look at Joseph Roth’s letters probe deep into his complex political persuasions as both a socialist and a monarchist who dreamed perpetually of yesteryear.
This Friday, Annie Kantar will be reading from her translations of Israeli poet Leah Goldberg at NYU.
by Justine Poustchi · 02/21/12
On our minds this week:
Literature in the City
A performance of “The Merchant of Venice” in Hebrew, as a part of London’s Cultural Olympiad, ignites controversy and leads to an exploration of its performance by the Habima Theater of Israel throughout history.
Lulling us further back in time and space, Berlin contributor Susan Bernofsky’s translations of Robert Walser’s vignettes animate the rush of the city while capturing the joy of Aschinger, a restaurant, and even the electric tram.
BOMBLOG’s Page Break series turns its attention to New York contributor Irina Reyn’s “Blood”, a short story that examines the role of the past in fostering Jewish-Armenian identity. Photographer Ana Yam explores the tension between memory and forgetting in a new collection of photographs entitled “Habitat” on display in Tel Aviv until the 23rd. Challenging conventional modes of observation, her work occupies the space between her Russian and Israeli identity, creating images that demand closer attention. Probe deeper into the scientific, legal, and fictional intricacies of memory with this fascinating look at our understanding of the way we remember.
The death of Nobel laureate Wislawa Syzmborska provokes an exploration of a “Brilliant Age of Polish Poetry”, drawing our attention to the works of Czeslaw Milosz, and Zbigniew Herbert. Adam Kirsch’s look at “Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters” illuminates the complexities of a cosmopolitan whose life “fit into three suitcases” as he grappled with his place in the world and his Jewish identity.
Claude Cahun, a forgotten surrealist artist and writer, has been garnering attention recently in conjunction with a traveling exhibition of her work. The retrospective, entitled “Entre Nous: The Art of Claude Cahun,” is opening in Chicago on the 25th and will feature over 80 photographs from her oeuvre. Cahun was known for her multiple identities – French, Jewish, writer, photographer – that as Lauren Elkin wrote “she put on and took off at will, like costumes for her portraits.”