Why literature can get lost when it is the target of ideological demands – 08/09/2022 – Juliana de Albuquerque

“Old Truths and New Clichés” could well be the title of an essay about our time, highlighting how we let ourselves be carried away by false polemics and commonplaces, to the detriment of what really matters. However, it is a recently released collection of texts by Isaac Bashevis Singer (1903-1991), Yiddish-language writer and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978.

Singer became known for telling stories that go back to the lives of Polish Jews before the catastrophe of the 20th century, many of which reveal his deep knowledge of the folklore, customs and beliefs of Orthodox segments of that population.

He is the author of novels, among which I highlight “Satan in Gorai”, about which I have already discussed in a previous column, books for children, such as “The Golem”, memoirs, such as “In the Court of My Father”, in which offers a precious record of his childhood in Warsaw, and a multitude of short stories, many of which have been published in collections such as “Brief Friday” and “A Crown of Feathers”.

Singer’s biographers often say that he worked incessantly, always carrying a notebook on which he could scribble something, as well as supervising the translation or editing his own texts, initially published in the North American Yiddish press. , such as the Jewish Daily Forward —the Forverts—, in which he began to work in the early 1940s, some time after his arrival in the United States.

Other than that, from the 1950s, when fame finally knocked on his door, thanks to the publication of one of his short stories, “Gimpel the Fool”, by the magazine Partisan Review and, later, upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature, Singer was invited to teach courses, give lectures and grant interviews on the most varied topics related to the universes of literature and Judaism.

The idea of ​​publishing a collection of essays by Isaac Bashevis Singer is an old one, having, at one point, started with the author himself. However, it was postponed indefinitely and would never have gotten off the ground had it not been for David Stromberg’s dedication to convincing Singer’s son Israel Zamir of the project’s importance.

In an interview with the Times of Israel, Stromberg explains that his desire to edit such a collection arose from a research trip to the Singer archives in Austin, at the University of Texas. He comments that when examining the 176 boxes in the collection, he was surprised to note that some of these essays had already been edited and translated by the author himself.

Finally, it suggests that, perhaps, this material had not yet received due attention, both because of the image that Singer had built of himself as a storyteller, and because of the period in which these documents were out of the reach of researchers, since organizing your files took nearly a decade to complete.

The result of work that began in 2014, the collection organized by Stromberg is composed of 19 essays grouped into three sections that reflect some of Bashevis Singer’s main interests, including literature and writing, Yiddish and Judaism, memory and philosophy.

Much of what is discussed in these texts is already known to scholars of the author’s work, especially through his interviews, such as the famous conversation with journalist Richard Burgin, published in 1985 by the publisher Doubleday. However, it is worth checking the way in which Singer’s writing adapts to the essay genre, to prove his versatility as a writer.

Also in this sense, I draw attention to the first part of the book, which includes seven texts of literary criticism, in which Singer writes deftly about great names in European literature, such as Balzac, Flaubert, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, in addition to being attentive to what was being produced at the time, in the United States and around the world, both in terms of literature and criticism.

Here, much more than in the interviews, it is clear what Singer understands by literature and the relationship it must keep with other areas of knowledge, such as psychology, sociology, philosophy and journalism. Thus, in the essay that lends its title to the collection, Singer draws the reader’s attention to the fact that literature must be informative, but that writers cannot be fooled into thinking that someone is going to read a novel in an attempt to accumulate knowledge about a certain Subject:

“The great literary works contain elements of psychology and sociology, but no one reads Tolstoy to learn about the agrarian question in Russia, or ‘Crime and Punishment’ to learn about criminal psychology. The chapters of ‘Anna Karenina’ and ‘War and Peace’ in which Levin or Pierre discuss the problems of Russian peasants are the most boring parts of these novels. [Por sua vez] ‘Crime and Punishment’ gives us access to the psychology of a specific criminal, a unique case in the history of criminology. Raskolnikov is not an archetype but a character, and through his behavior one learns very little about criminology in general.”

Both here and in other essays in the book, Singer emphasizes that literature must be concerned with expressing what is particular to each individual and that literary art runs the risk of being lost when critics and readers begin to demand from the author any kind of intellectual or ideological conformity.

Singer still claims that the author must be free to experiment, being, for that very reason, a figure that puts himself in permanent conflict with his own environment, because every good writer would be a kind of dissident.

This lesson is present in all the texts in the collection and perhaps surprises those who until now have approached his work in a naive way, as if the author was nothing more than a kind of spokesperson for the Jewish tradition of Eastern Europe, mainly from the Hasidic or orthodox environment, regardless of how his writing —with a radical emphasis on respect for what is genuinely unique in each individual — also clashes with the limitations of that universe.

The son and grandson of rabbis, Singer demonstrates an excellent knowledge of religious sources in the essays in which he writes exclusively on Judaism and Jewish mysticism.

In one of these essays, he presents the main concepts that guide the study of Kabbalah in a simple and direct way. In another, he offers a reflection on the lifestyle of the orthodox community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, in which he ponders, among other things, the importance of dress as a form of language.

For those interested in literature and theater in Yiddish, the collection presents two excellent essays that both serve as an introduction to these subjects and as a critique, especially when Singer emphasizes that, in order to remain alive, Yiddish literature must strive to reflect. the contemporary experiences and attitudes of speakers of this language, always taking care to avoid any kind of sentimentality and not to turn the past into a caricature.

Therefore, I recommend the reading of “Old Truths and New Clichés” to all who are interested in Singer’s work and to those who wish to develop a more in-depth knowledge of this author, who, some time ago, shortly before the outbreak of the Covid -19, became one of my main companies.

Source link

About Admin

Check Also

‘There will be no peace’ if Russia beats Ukraine in war, says NATO

Secretary General of the military alliance declared that “oppression and autocracy prevail” with defeat of …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *