How Henry Roth Used Ornate English to Imitate Yiddish

A controversy has broken out in the German state of Baden-Württemberg over what many high-school students see as the disproportionate difficulty of the English portion of an important standardized test. Among the questions that provoked exasperation was a sentence from the American Jewish novelist Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep. Paul Berman comments on the irony of the situation:

Call It Sleep is a novel about a little boy growing up on Avenue D and a few other addresses on the Lower East Side a century ago. But it is also a novel about language, the crude and the elegant. When the characters speak crudely, they are speaking an English that, being immigrants, they have not entirely mastered. When they speak with spectacular elegance, we are meant to hear the language that is theirs, which is Yiddish, the language of poetry. And hints of this appear in the narrator’s tone. The passage [from the exam] is not supposed to sound like modern English, or even like archaic English. It is Yiddish poetry, rendered into English.

How could the Germans be expected to know that? How could anyone be expected to know? That kind of double-English—an ostensible English, which is really a Yiddish—scarcely exists anymore. Henry Roth was a master of it; and so was Saul Bellow. But it is gone. And here are the German students being asked to parse a supremely ornate evocation, in English, of the language that, in 1934, was already under a death sentence. And the students are complaining, and their complaint looks reasonable.

Who will understand that, even so, something in their complaint, or perhaps in the exam, is grotesque? Who will understand that, if Henry Roth has become incomprehensible, it is not because his English is sometimes difficult?

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewish literature, Arts & Culture, Germany, Henry Roth, Saul Bellow, Yiddish

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen