How Two Turn-of-the Century Yiddish Classics Shed Light on the Age of Disconnection

Last year, Hersh David Nomberg’s collection Warsaw Stories and Zalman Shneur’s novella A Death: Notes of a Suicide were both published in English, translated from the Yiddish by David Kennedy. Nomberg and Shneur were renowned writers in Jewish literary circles in their own day; the latter was even awarded the Israel Prize.

Reviewing the two translations, Ri J. Turner notes that these works, both written in the first decade of the 20th century, have as their protagonists exemplars of the archetypal figure from Yiddish literature known as the talush (from the Hebrew, “plucked” or “disconnected”)—“the displaced, alienated, emasculated intellectual who has attained a certain modern urban ‘freedom’ at the expense of belonging, connection, meaning, and ultimately sanity.” One such character is Bender, the hero of two of Nomberg’s stories:

In each of the stories, Bender is so paralyzed by his own ideas about romantic love that the flesh-and-blood existence of his supposed beloved pales into unreality. Any sort of decisive action, not to mention interaction, becomes impossible thanks to the combination of impatient desire and crippling self-doubt that governs him. In a move characteristic of most of Nomberg’s heroes (or, better, anti-heroes), Bender hovers on the verge of mailing a letter to his beloved—or, more accurately, two contradictory versions of a letter, unable as he is to commit to one single approach—but ultimately “held himself back, . . . let go of the post-box flap, tore the letters to shreds, and let the wind blow the pieces in every direction. ‘I don’t need it. I don’t need anything. I don’t need anybody,’ he mumbled to himself.’”

[But] what hope [do] these two works of prewar Yiddish literature have of fitting into the world of contemporary English letters, with its overwhelmingly different narrative demands and conventions? One answer, I think, . . . is that despite our vast temporal and spatial distance from Nomberg’s and Shneur’s world, the central issue at the heart of both books is more current today than ever before: the mechanisms by which ascetic, self-destructive narratives of victimhood can quickly spiral out of control within individual and communal echo chambers.

This occurs especially in the absence of restraining and stabilizing influences, particularly social structures built of nuanced, intimate, long-term connections that can repeatedly and sustainably pull overthinkers back from the ledge.

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Read more at In geveb

More about: Jewish literature, Translation, Yiddish literature

 

Is the Attempt on Salman Rushdie’s Life Part of a Broader Iranian Strategy?

Aug. 18 2022

While there is not yet any definitive evidence that Hadi Matar, the man who repeatedly stabbed the novelist Salman Rushdie at a public talk last week, was acting on direct orders from Iranian authorities, he has made clear that he was inspired by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s call for Rushdie’s murder, and his social-media accounts express admiration for the Islamic Republic. The attack also follows on the heels of other Iranian attempts on the lives of Americans, including the dissident activist Masih Alinejad, the former national security advisor John Bolton, and the former secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who was held hostage by the mullahs for over two years, sees a deliberate effort at play:

It is no coincidence this flurry of Iranian activity comes at a crucial moment for the hitherto-moribund [nuclear] negotiations. Iranian hardliners have long opposed reviving the 2015 deal, and the Iranians have made a series of unrealistic and seemingly ever-shifting demands which has led many to conclude that they are not negotiating in good faith. Among these is requiring the U.S. to delist the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in its entirety from the State Department’s list of terror organizations.

The Biden administration and its European partners’ willingness to make concessions are viewed in Tehran as signals of weakness. The lack of a firm response in the shocking attack on Salman Rushdie will similarly indicate to Tehran that there is little to be lost and much to be gained in pursuing dissidents like Alinejad or so-called blasphemers like Sir Salman on U.S. soil.

If we don’t stand up for our values when under attack we can hardly blame our adversaries for assuming that we have none. Likewise, if we don’t erect and maintain firm red lines in negotiations our adversaries will perhaps also assume that we have none.

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Read more at iNews

More about: Iran, Terrorism, U.S. Foreign policy