Browsing all posts by Michael Sterling
by Michael Sterling · 12/15/11
Discovery Times Square will display for two weeks one of the oldest and best-preserved manuscripts of the Ten Commandmants in The Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times, an exhibition located in Times Square. The manuscripts will only be available for viewing from December 16 to January 2. Due to their extreme sensitivity to light and humidity, it is unsafe to show them for a longer period of time. The leather scroll is dated from 30 B.C. to 1 B.C.; it was discovered in 1952 and has since been studied and displayed all around the the world.
The Scrolls exhibition is presented in partnership with the Israeli Antiquities Authority. Click here to see The Dead Sea Scrolls’ website. Click here to read a related article by Edward Rothstein of The New York Times and here to see a post by Randy Kennedy for The New York Times Arts Beat.
by Michael Sterling · 12/15/11
Dan Miron’s From Continuity to Contiguity: Toward a New Jewish Literary Thinking is a new look at how modern Jewish literature fits into the Jewish literary canon. Prior to Miron’s work, much criticism dealing with Jewish literature insisted on the necessity for viewing it a continuous, evolving literary mode. In his book, Miron argues that “discontinuity is a staple characteristic of modern Jewish writing,” that it is important to analyze Jewish literature with the understanding that various Jewish works don’t fit into the canon as easily as many argue. Thus, the works are not continuous but contiguous:
Vast, disorderly, and somewhat diffuse … characterized by dualities, parallelisms, occasional intersections, marginal overlapping, hybrids, similarities within dissimilarities, mobility, changeability, occasional emergence of patterns and their eventual disappearance, randomness, and, when approximating a semblance of significant order, by contiguities.
Sachar Pinsker, an Associate Professor of Hebrew Literature and Culture at the Near Eastern Studies Department and the Judaic Studies Program at the University of Michigan, reviewed the work for the New Republic. He writes: “The challenge of anyone who faces such a bewildering and contradictory subject is to resist the temptation to find false harmony and unity, and at the same time to avoid abandoning altogether the very category of ‘Jewish literature,’ which Miron still refuses to renounce.”
Click here to read the review. Dan Miron is Leonard Kay Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. From Continuity to Contiguity: Toward a New Jewish Literary Thinking is available for purchase.
by Michael Sterling · 12/05/11
This December marks the twentieth anniversary of Pedro Meyer‘s legendary multi-media photography exposition I Photograph to Remember. Meyer’s intimate collection of photographs documents his parents’ struggle with cancer.
The first of its kind, I Photograph to Remember originally could only be viewed on a computer screen. The exposition was housed, so to speak, on a CD-ROM; the photographs of Meyer’s family are accompanied by music and narration. “The narration, and the use of my voice,” says Meyer, “made a huge difference in how this work was perceived. It is precisely because of the inherent limitation of the photographic medium, that the presence of the voice picks up where the photograph couldn’t tread. I made sure that the narration would always be a complement to that which was self evident in the picture, thus adding to the story being told while not competing with the image.”
I Photograph to Remember is featured in the Mexico City issue of this magazine.
by Michael Sterling · 11/21/11
Jenna Weissman Joselit, a Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of History at the George Washington University, reviewed Jonathan Boyarin‘s Mornings at the Stanton Street Shul: A Summer on the Lower East Side. The book is a history of the district told through the story of a humble synagogue, Boyarin’s own shul which he’s attended since he was a youth in New York. Joselit’s review, titled Praying with Ghosts, is published in The New Republic.
The Lower East Side, situated in the very heart of the city in south Manhattan, is in many ways its own space apart from New York. “Everything about the place–its architecture, its rhythms, its residents–seemed at odds with the rest of the city. It still does,” writes Joselit.
by Michael Sterling · 11/21/11
In 1922, Sioma Lifshitz set off for China. He was a twenty-year-old Russian who became disillusioned with the political aspirations of the 1917 Revolution. He would spend the next thirty years in Shanghai, launching a career as a high-class photographer under the pseudonym Sam Sanzetti. Today, Lifshitz is heralded by many as one of the best photographers ever to have worked in Shanghai. When he left for Israel in 1957, he carried in his suitcase some 20,000 photographs that he had taken during his career.
Lifshitz–calling himself Sanzetti–opened his own photography studio in 1927 on Nanjing Road, a commercial street near the Bund, the tourist center and financial district in Shanghai. He photographed all manner of people: celebrities, film stars, young couples, children.
Lifshitz is famous for saying, “You could have found me in Honolulu, if that happened to be the destiny of the ship.” He was speaking of his decision to leave Russia when, quite impulsively, he boarded the next available ship to somewhere. In Shanghai, he apprenticed under an American photographer who taught him the craft, and soon thereafter Lipshitz began to work as Sam Sanzetti.
Lifshitz died in Israel in 1986. For years, his photography was unavailable for public viewing and his name had all but faded from memory. Now, the Israeli consulate in Shanghai has headed the effort to reinvigorate Sanzetti’s name and well-deserved fame in Shanghai.
The consulate hopes to find the stories behind the photographs. They’ve posted many of Lipshitz’s photographs on their Weibo—a Chinese version of Twitter—in hopes that someone will recognize who is in the photograph. Within days, the Weibo post has had thousands of hits and the consulate has received many calls with possible leads.
Oren Rozenblat, the deputy consul general of Israel in Shanghai said of the project: “It will be beautiful to see at the exhibition a very old lady standing in front of her picture as a young bride.”
Visit the Israeli consulate in Shanghai’s website on the digital exhibition here. Satellite Voices, an international photography forum, features some of Lipshitz’s work as well. Read the related article in the China Daily here.
by Michael Sterling · 11/01/11
Gertrude Stein’s reputation is that of a literary maverick and an American ex-pat in Paris. Yet she is hardly known for being a staunch Franco supporter, a disdainful detractor of Roosevelt, nor is she known for suggesting in 1934 that Hitler merited the Nobel Prize.
Eric Banks, a New York based writer who is the current president of the National Book Critics Circle, wrote an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education that discusses the relationship Gertrude Stein held with Bernard Faÿ, a Vichy bureaucrat directly responsibly for the death of at least 550 freemasons in France after 1940. The article is titled “Wars They Have Seen: How an Unlikely Friendship With a Vichy Collaborator Complicates Our Understanding of Gertrude Stein”.
She believed in the collaborationist policies of Philippe Pétain, the Vichy Marshall of the French State from 1940 to 1944—Stein even translated several of his speeches into English. Stein wrote in the introductory text to the speeches that the Méréchal was similar to figures like George Washington and other great leaders who, as a knight might, arrived in time to rescue his country and people. Indeed, it wasn’t until 1970 that Stein’s less reputable past was made available for public scrutiny with Richard Bridgman’s biography, Gertrude Stein in Pieces.
Stein’s politics did not wend their way into her writing. Instead, her political predispositions were visible only in her personal relationships she held with figures like Bernard Faÿ, who whisked her through the bureaucratic red tape necessary for translating Pétain’s speeches. John Whittier-Ferguson, an associate professor of English at the University of Michigan, discusses this distinct lack of politics in Stein’s oeuvre:
“Most people don’t have enough reference points around her late writing from the war to engage with why it might matter to figure this out.” he says. “With Ezra Pound or Wyndham Lewis, the story about their politics has been told and worked over more consistently and for longer,” says Whittier-Ferguson. “The narrative we have to tell ourselves about Stein’s politics is not really yet formed, which makes it harder to say what you’re going to do with this material on politics when she doesn’t seem to do much with it in her own texts. Glance at it, look off to the side, what do you do with that? But that’s what makes it very interesting, and challenging.”
Bernard Faÿ, Stein’s excellent friend who was deeply involved with the Vichy government, was an unlikely collaborator: an academic, an American history buff and Roosevelt fan, a homosexual. Faÿ pulled strings to keep Stein and Alice B. Toklas–Jews–safe together in the Northern French countryside once the Nazis began the Occupation; he arranged a lecture tour of the United States for Stein and worked extensively with her on her novel The Making of Americans. Faÿ earned his masters at Harvard and penned a dissertation at the Sorbonne titled L’Esprit Revolutionnaire en France et aux États-Unis à la Fin du XVIIIème Siècle—a study of both the American and French revolutionary spirits between 1770 and 1800. He would have the won 1926 Pulitzer Prize were it written in English and not French, originally. Faÿ was a revered academic whose specialty was American Civilization. He taught at institutions like Columbia, Kenyon and the University of Iowa, and he wrote popular biographies of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. He championed forward thinking and modernism in literature in music.
As more is discovered about Stein and Faÿ, new books and studies arise that help us understand who these two tremendous figures were, and how their politics and careers intermingled. Janet Malcolm’s Two Lives, Ulla E. Dydo’s and Edward M. Burns’ The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder, Barbara Will’s Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma, and Antoine Compagnon’s Le Cas Bernard Faÿ: Du Collège de France à l’indignité nationale are all relatively recent publications that seek answers to questions about Stein and Faÿ’s questionable political leanings.
by Michael Sterling · 11/01/11
Pamela Potter, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, reviews Erik Levi’s Mozart and the Nazis: How the Third Reich Abused a Cultural Icon. Her essay was titled Crimes Against Culture or Business as Usual? The Yale University Press published Levi’s book earlier this year. He discusses the Nazis’ use of Mozart as fodder for both antisemitism and Aryan pride.
Levi’s research, which unearthed newspaper articles, speeches and other archived materials, effectively transports readers back to the early 20th century when, at the advent World War I, Mozart became a political tool to prove Aryan superiority.
Though Potter does find some faults with some of Levi’s contentions—that the steely appropriation of Mozart’s artistic identity was as ruthless and exacting as the Nazis’ elimination of Jews, for example–Potter considers Levi’s work to be an exemplary examination of the Nazi’s use of German cultural heritage. One significant aspect of the Nazis’ treatment of Mozart that Potter takes into consideration is the relation the German Jews to the composer:
Mozart’s significance particularly for Jewish performers and scholars provides perhaps the most compelling material for readers of this list, as the discussions yield some very poignant insights into this group’s stubborn adherence to German cultural identity. As is well known, the systematic exclusion of Jews from participation in German cultural life led first to a stop-gap measure concocted by the government and the Jewish community, known as the Jewish Culture League (Kulturbund deutscher Juden), to provide cultural and educational programs exclusively for Jews by Jews. When it came to excluding German content from the league’s programs, the deep connection German Jews held to German culture became all too evident. The ban on Mozart imposed upon the league in 1937 was a bitter pill to swallow, and Herbert Peyser, reporting for the New York Times, perceptively noted the German Jews’ undying claim to “that same artistic, scientific, and philosophic fare to which, through the centuries, they have felt a proprietary right to equal that of other Germans.
Erik Levi is a music and music history professor at the Royal Holloway University of London. He has extensively researched 20th century German music, especially during the Nazi era. His other book Music in the Third Reich is available for purchase.
by Michael Sterling · 11/01/11
Each year, The Institute of Psychoanalysis in London hosts the European Psychoanalytic Film Festival. This year’s will be the Institute’s sixth run. Bernardo Bertolucci, the Academy Award winning Italian filmmaker who has been involved in projects such as Once Upon a Time in the West and The Last Emperor, is the festival’s Honorary President. This year’s festival will take place from November 3rd through the 6th.
Andrea Sabbadini, the Director of the festival, discussed this year’s theme of border crossing, migration and the immigrant’s experience. The immigrant, Sabbadini says, traverses mental borders as well as physical ones. The films this year will attend to this multi-faceted theme in various ways. In particular, they will demonstrate two kinds of spaces that immigrants occupy once they’ve been uprooted: the transitional space and the bridge space.
Sabbadini references the 20th century psychoanalyst Donald Woods Winnicott’s idea of the transitional space–otherwise known as a comfort object, like a child’s security blanket. This is a developmental phase between the psychic and external reality which facilitates the interaction of these two realities. In relation to an immigrant, for instance, a transitional space might be clutching to the memory of home in order to find comfort in a vastly different location and situation.
The bridge space, says Sabbadini, “is the passage going from one condition to another—whether a psychological condition, or moving physically. It is what happens to individuals when they do [migrate]. It seems to me one thing that always happens is that there is a loss. Sometimes a very major loss, sometimes a very traumatic loss. It could be a loss of language, a loss of identity, a loss of status, a loss of family, and a loss of one’s country of course.” Sabbadini elaborates on the immigrant’s experience of loss, in particular the transition from possession to dispossession. He claims that loss needs to be mourned. “If that mourning process is not possible,” says Sabbadini, “or interfered with or denied, then problems often ensue.”
Festival themes in the past have included children and Eastern European films. Hollywood films are excluded not because they are not worthy of the festival, but rather because they have far greater access to international distribution than do European films. Many European films do not find their way out of their countries of origin.
The Institute of Psychoanalysis, home of the British Psychoanalytic Society, is a center for training psychoanalysts, exploring psychoanalytic theory and treatment techniques. It is also the source for new publications in the field, further research, and the dissemination of psychoanalytic ideas through public lectures and events.
Click here for more details and as well a video of a press conference given by Director Andrea Sabbadini.
by Michael Sterling · 11/01/11
Lee Siegel wrote a funny article he titled An Unexpected Alliance for More Intelligent Life. The alliance he references was that of T.S. Eliot and Groucho Marx. An alliance is an odd word for friendship, but odd might be the best word to describe a friendship between two idiosyncratic icons.
Marx and Eliot are not the likeliest friends. One was a comedic actor, a man who adored being outrageous and provocative, while the other was a banker, an anti-Semite and a generally stoic man. One starred in thirteen feature films, had a career in vaudeville, and was a successful radio and game-show host. The other had a limited oeuvre since he never quit his day job to focus on writing. However, the two began to correspond in letters—somewhat randomly—in 1961 when Eliot wrote Marx, wondering if he could have a autographed portrait of the man. Eliot promised the actor that the photograph would be placed in proximity to portraits of other famous contemporaries and friends, including W.B. Yeats and Paul Valéry. The portrait Marx sent along was, ironically, not to Eliot’s liking, so the poet asked for another—one that displayed the iconic Marx with a cigar and thick mustache–and at the same time invited the actor to dine one night.
Groucho’s comic humor was, says Siegel, “uniquely Jewish as it was universally comic.” Siegel continues, “Where Eliot was the famous defender of tradition, order and civilized taste, the crux of Groucho’s humor was flouting tradition, fomenting chaos and outraging taste.” For instance, Marx once said to a host, “I have had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.” Marx even mocked Eliot, who believed in the necessity of art and knowledge: “Well, Art is Art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know.”
After sending along a second portrait, Marx asked one of Eliot in return. The photograph that Eliot sent came with a somewhat humorous note, which was odd for the poet since he was renowned for his serious demeanor. “I like cigars too but there isn’t any cigar in my portrait either,” he wrote. Marx thought this was hilarious.
by Michael Sterling · 11/01/11Jan Fleischhauer, an editor for the leftist German magazine SPIEGEL, wrote an opinion piece titled Political Thinking Shouldn’t Be Left to Novelists. He discusses Günter Grass‘s decades old penchant for inserting himself into various political debates, believing himself to be possessed of a leader’s voice. Fleischhauer–somewhat caustically–bemoans the fact that an author such as Grass is continually permitted by his supporters to assert his opinion when it is often incorrect, or, as the case may be, inconsequential. He writes: “Grass has subscribed to a belief widely held among Germany’s cultural elite, one that prompts him to emerge from the dark recesses where he does his writing to make political appeals and to attest to his political ‘engagement.’”