A Surrealistic Film Tackles the Ghosts of Poland’s Jewish Past

Sept. 12 2016

The recent Polish-language film Demon, a joint Polish-Israeli production loosely inspired by S. An-Sky’s classic play the The Dybbuk, tells the story of a foreigner named Python who comes to his Polish fiancée’s hometown for their wedding. (The two met while living in Britain.) Upon arriving, he discovers, or believes he discovers, human remains on the estate of his father-in-law-to-be, and is subsequently possessed by the spirit of a local Jewish woman killed during World War II, possibly on the day of her own wedding. J. Hoberman writes in his review:

Demon is more a Polish than a Jewish story. The land where Python finds himself is variously visualized as a massive construction site, in which things seem more likely to be buried than excavated, and a mysterious ruin wherein revelers reenact intricate folk rituals. . . .

An-Sky’s play is the ur-text for a tendency in Jewish art and literature that the Yiddish scholar Jeffrey Shandler has called “haunted modernism.” Literary examples include [the works of] Franz Kafka, Bruno Schulz, and Isaac Bashevis Singer; the best-known painters [to exhibit this tendency] are Marc Chagall and Natan Altman who, at least in their early work, were possessed by an uncanny past. Even before the Holocaust, the displacement and violent destruction of an ancient collective past prompted many writers, artists, and performers to view the vanished or vanishing traditional communities in which they originated as essentially ghostly—and therefore to reimagine these rural towns and urban ghettos as fantastic landscapes or haunted graveyards. . . .

This Jewish intimation of a past that, however lost, will not remain buried has also been experienced by some non-Jewish Central European artists.

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Read more at Tablet

More about: Arts & Culture, Film, Poland, Polish Jewry, S. An-sky, Yiddish literature

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter