“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.

Read more at Studs Terkel Radio Archive

More about: Isaac Bashevis Singer, Mysticism, Yiddish literature


Israel’s Covert War on Iran’s Nuclear Program Is Impressive. But Is It Successful?

Sept. 26 2023

The Mossad’s heist of a vast Iranian nuclear archive in 2018 provided abundant evidence that Tehran was not adhering to its commitments; it also provided an enormous amount of actionable intelligence. Two years later, Israel responded to international inspectors’ condemnation of the Islamic Republic’s violations by using this intelligence to launch a spectacular campaign of sabotage—a campaign that is the subject of Target Tehran, by Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ilan Evyatar. David Adesnik writes:

The question that remains open at the conclusion of Target Tehran is whether the Mossad’s tactical wizardry adds up to strategic success in the shadow war with Iran. The authors give a very respectful hearing to skeptics—such as the former Mossad director Tamir Pardo—who believe the country should have embraced the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Bob and Evyatar reject that position, arguing that covert action has proven itself the best way to slow down the nuclear program. They acknowledge, however, that the clerical regime remains fully determined to reach the nuclear threshold. “The Mossad’s secret war, in other words, is not over. Indeed, it may never end,” they write.

Which brings us back to Joe Biden. The clerical regime was headed over a financial cliff when Biden took office, thanks to the reimposition of sanctions after Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal. The billions flowing into Iran on Biden’s watch have made it that much easier for the regime to rebuild whatever Mossad destroys in addition to weathering nationwide protests on behalf of women, life, and freedom. Until Washington and Jerusalem get on the same page—and stay there—Tehran’s nuclear ambitions will remain an affordable luxury for a dictatorship at war with its citizens.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, Mossad, U.S. Foreign policy