by Habitus · 12/06/12
A very worthwhile review in The New Republic delves into the vexing terrain of Jewish genetic and the importance of ancestry. Richard Lewontin writes:
My own skepticism notwithstanding, the belief is widespread that knowledge about the personal characteristics of ancestors who have never directly entered into our lives is relevant to our own formation. Moreover, that relevance is seen not simply as arising from our conscious knowledge about those ancestors, but from a deeper source, our genetical inheritance, which also would operate to form us in part, irrespective of our consciousness of the past. That belief is summed up in the title of Harry Ostrer’s book, Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People. It is also implied in the title of a book by Raphael Falk, Zionism and the Biology of the Jews, whose English translation from the Hebrew original has yet to appear.1 While the term “race” is not used explicitly in these titles, in large part because the term is so loaded, there is considerable discussion of the Jews as a race or, using a less charged word, as a “people.”
The essay pivots nimbly between discussions of genetics and more philosophical considerations of the relationship of the self to group identity.The author finds this latter discussion underserved in the reviewed titles:
What is revealed here in her reference to “bodily facts about who I have always already been” is an underlying biological determinism that seems to make her present persona a cosmetic, deliberately applied to the face of an underlying “authentic self.” What is not revealed in her book is what she regards as the nature of that self.
by Habitus · 12/05/12
The Weekly Standard’s Mark Falcoff considers the legacy and Joseph Roth and the resurgent interest in some of Roth’s German-language contemporaries. The essay is occasioned by the release of Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters. Falcoff sums it up:
What gives this book its special interest is the fact that Roth represents the final moments of an archetype: the cosmopolitan European, at home in several countries, and, before 1919, not even fully sensitive to national boundaries. (The Austro-Hungarian Empire was home to 17 different language and cultural groups.) Roth’s real home was the German language, and this explains why, after 1933, and particularly after 1938, he became homeless in both a physical and spiritual sense.
by Habitus · 11/08/12As New York continues to face extreme weather and massive recovery challenges, we wanted to make one more way for our readers to help.
For any copies of our New York issue sold in November, we will donate 70% of the sale price to local organizations working on rebuilding and serving New Yorkers in need after Hurricane Sandy.
For a preview of what’s inside, read the 1923 essay by Konrad Bercovici on “The Greatest Jewish City in the World.” His caustic look at Jewish life in New York has a lot of relevance today:
There is an old European saying that every country deserves the kind of Jews it has.
If so, New York does not know what it deserves, for it has every kind—gangsters, social workers, philanthropists, corrupt politicians, patriotic capitalists, preaching socialists, anarchists, bigots, atheists, ignorant illiterates, highly educated men. Every kind of Jew, from the lowest strata of humanity to the peak of culture, is represented here—a complete nation.
Also, take a look at our interview with World Trade Center designer Michael Arad, who has many timely reflections on trauma and recovery in our city.
Here’s the link to purchase. Please share with your friends!
by Habitus · 11/02/12Our hearts are with our friends and neighbors who are suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Please consider a donation to help those in need.
This week, we are re-reading our interview with World Trade Center Memorial designer Michael Arad. It’s an interesting reminder of how New York has dealt with trauma and recovery in its recent past:
All of a sudden, by going through the crucible of this experience, I felt a tremendous sense of kinship to my fellow New Yorkers. All my neighbors, the people I saw on the subway, the people I saw on the street, and the people I saw gathering in public spaces like Union Square and Washington Square: we were one. That was very powerful and moving. In particular, I recall going to Washington Square a couple of days after the attacks—I was living in the East Village at the time—and our neighborhood, like everything south of Fourteenth Street, was shut off from the rest of the city. There were no cars, hardly any people outside. I went for a bike ride in the middle of the night—two, three in the morning—in an ever-widening circle, starting in my neighborhood, making my way over to Chinatown and TriBeCa and the West Village. I eventually ended up in Washington Square Park and I walked up to the fountain. There were candles surrounding the fountain and there were people standing there. I think people came there the same way that I did, alone or maybe with one other friend, but people stood there together. And when I walked up to that fountain, that circular fountain, I joined that circle of people and I didn’t feel alone anymore. I don’t think I understood the significance of that moment, but in many ways it was a very transformative moment for me: I felt that I became a New Yorker, realizing that this is my home.
Best wishes to our friends, colleagues, contributors, and readers in New York and the throughout the northeast.
by Habitus · 08/08/12
NPR’s Science Friday had a fascinating item about photographer Roman Vishniac,best known for his iconic photographs of shtetl life in Eastern Europe. The segment focuses on a far lesser-known part of his oeuvre:
Photographer Roman Vishniac, perhaps most famous for documenting Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, was also a pioneer of cinemicroscopy — filming through a microscope. Flora Lichtman looks back at Vishniac’s science cinema and talks to Dutch photographer Wim van Egmond about how he makes his award-winning images and videos of microorganisms.
You can see some examples of his scientific work here. Guest Flora Licthman recounts:
It’s almost like avant-garde film because, you know, you look at these oyster larvae pulsating, and you don’t know what they are.
by Habitus · 07/10/12
The act of traveling is an impossibly broad category: it can encompass both the death march and the cruise ship. Travel has no inherent moral character, no necessary outcome. It can be precious or worthless, productive or destructive. It can be ennobling or self-satisfied. The returns can be only as good as what we offer of ourselves in the process. So what distinguishes meaningful, fruitful travel from mere tourism? What turns travel into a quest rather than self-serving escapism?
by Habitus · 06/04/12
Habitus is very excited to share our latest production: Once@9:53 is a first-of-its-kind graphic eBook created by two close friends of the journal.The book is available for iPad only (so far) and can be downloaded from the iBookstore.
The Mexican-American scholar and writer Ilan Stavans and Argentine photographer Marcelo Brodsky have collaborated to re-imagine the fotonovela, a form of photographic comic book once beloved throughout the Spanish-speaking world, as a vehicle for literary experiment and political commentary. Once 9:53, forthcoming later this year in Spanish and English editions, is set in Buenos Aires’ historically Jewish Once neighborhood, in the hours leading up to the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center building.
Habitus produced a short video feature when the book was first published in Spanish.
by Habitus · 04/24/12
Habitus editor Joshua Ellison read an essay for NPR’s Berlin Stories, drawing heavily on his explorations of the city for our Berlin issue. His essay, titled “Germans in the Mirror,” recalls our conversation with Turkish-German writer Zafer Şenocak.
Get your copy of the issue here. You can also follow the excellent series on Facebook. The season-premiere episode is online in its entirety. Thanks to Anna Winger, Victoria Gosling, and the rest of the Berlin Stories team for including us.
Give a listen and tell us what you think!
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.