The Sewing Poet Who Thought He Could Break through the Limits of Mortality

July 19 2021

While the Yiddish writer and World War II partisan Avraham Sutzkever (1913-2010) is known primarily as poet, he also wrote numerous stories in prose. One such work—translated into English by Zackary Sholem Berger under the title “A Black Angel with a Pin in His Hand”—describes a fellow poet Sutzkever knew in Vilnius before the Holocaust. It begins thus:

His whole life he had been called Moyshe-Itzke, a familiar name, like you’d call a boy. The only people in whose memory he’s still barely alive remember him by that name.

Moyshe-Itzke was born because he wanted to be born. That’s what he told me. He then added confidentially that an entire collection of dark forces didn’t want to let him shine, but his will was stronger. The anointed writer Moyshe-Itzke was born in order to live eternally.

“I’m going to stay the way I am,” he said, assessing me superciliously, with the sort of face that would well up out of a shattered mirror. “Death isn’t relevant to me; we belong to two different worlds. It’s a pity that you won’t be walking these streets in a thousand years. You’d recognize me in throngs of people. I won’t change. Like a rock doesn’t change.”

He burst into hysterics, laughter like a dispersed mold, and kept going on like one possessed. “You say a rock can be overgrown with moss? Yes, my great soul will be overgrown with a beard. And you say that sparks sleep in the rock? They sing in my veins! The storm that can extinguish my sparks has not yet been born.”

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Holocaust, Jewish literature, Vilna, 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.

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Read more at Atlantic

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