“If a Writer Has Nothing to Tell, He Will Never Bring Out Anything That Is Really Good”

June 14 2022

In November 1964, the writer and broadcaster Studs Terkel recorded an interview for his radio show with Isaac Bashevis Singer, the main subject of which was the latter’s collection Short Friday and Other Stories, which had appeared the previous year. In the recording—recently made available online together with a complete transcript—Singer speaks frankly about his approach to literature and human nature. Terkel at one point states, “What you are, primarily, is a storyteller,” a characterization Singer accepts:

Singer: I think that literature suffers nowadays a lot from the fact that writers don’t pay much attention to the story. They think that it’s enough to describe a piece of life, so to say. . . . I don’t think so. I think a story is the most important thing for writing. You have to have something to tell. If a writer has nothing to tell, no matter how well he writes, he will never bring out anything which is really good.

People [today] are so much interested in psychology, and in psychoanalysis, and so on that they think that you just can describe a man. But this is not enough. Something must happen. . . . I would say that the rules of literature are the same as the rules of a newspaper—you cannot just publish something every day. . . . There must be a story behind every story.

Later in the interview, discussing the role of the demonic and the supernatural in his writing, Singer makes a point of stating that he considers himself “a kind of a mystic.”

Terkel: Would you mind, perhaps, expanding on this just a bit?

Singer: What I mean by this is that I feel that what we know about life and about ourselves is not everything. There are hidden powers which we don’t know and which we may never know. And I always feel these powers. For example, telepathy is such a power; we all have it although we don’t know why, and how it works, and we can never foresee when it will work. But it’s still there. The same thing is true about the dreams which come true, and so on and so on. I would say that there is some mystic in every human being, even in those who deny it.

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Read more at Studs Terkel Radio Archive

More about: Isaac Bashevis Singer, Mysticism, Yiddish literature

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

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Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia