Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Jewish Liberals and Anti-Semitism

An article in the New York Times today explores the American Jewish Committee's decision to post on its website an essay by Alvin Rosenfeld ("Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism") linking the very public participation of some Jews -- such as Tony Kushner and Adrienne Rich among others -- in the "verbal onslaught" against Zionism and the right for Israel to exist with the rise of virulent anti-Semitism.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Art Minus Otherness = The Market

There's an interesting article in the Village Voice that questions the art market, and of course it makes me think of discussions I've consistently had with a close friend about the future of fiction. But before I get into that, look at these excerpts from the Voice article:

Is the art market making us stupid? Or are we making it stupid? Consider the lame-brained claim made by Sotheby's worldwide head of contemporary art, Tobias Meyer, who recently effused 'The best art is the most expensive because the market is so smart." This is exactly wrong. The market isn't "smart"; it's like a camera—so dumb it'll believe anything you put in front of it. Essentially, the art market is a self-replicating organism that, when it tracks one artist's work selling well, craves more work by the same artist. Although everyone says the market is "about quality," the market merely assigns values, fetishizes desire, charts hits, and creates ambience. These days the market is also too good to be true.

This sounds familiar to my ear. Case in point: as a friend of mine has often said, MBA-types have, over the past decade or more, taken over publishing houses and turned them into corporate machines. Now instead of many writers getting published with a decent advance, fewer writers are getting published with million-dollar advances. And in order to legitimize their often seemingly arbitrary choices on who to publish, publishing companies market the hell out of these few writers and essentially tell us what/who we need to read (so much for going into a privately owned bookstore and discovering something on one's own). Jonathan Safran Foer is a prime example of what "the market" can do, or not do, for a writer's career. His first book Everything is Illuminated came in five different color combinations and was marketed as one of newest and most innovative things to hit the world of fiction since . . . I don't know. The problem, though, is that what Foer did in that book was nothing that already established post-Holocaust or Second Generation writers (David Grossman, for example) hadn't been doing for at least the past decade. Sadly, it seems that even literary academics were bamboozled into thinking that Foer was the next big thing for post-Holocaust writing, or even that he was in fact the first post-Holocaust writer.

Here's the Village Voice again:

Yet we can't ignore the market or just lay back and drink the Kool-Aid. Maybe we should be asking questions such as: Are we sometimes liking things because we know the market likes them or are we really liking them? Do people really believe the kitschy pictures of naked girls with pussy cats by German painter Martin Eder are any good or are buyers simply jumping on the bandwagon because his prices have reached $500,000? When we learn that a newish painting by the second-rate latter-day Neo-Expressionist Marlene Dumas sold for over three million dollars, does it alter how we think of her work? Does it alter the ways magazine editors or curators think about it?

This gave me a great big laugh. And I'm left to wonder: how much Kool-Aid are we academics and so-called literary people drinking along with the average American consumer of books?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Words, Words -- What Are They Good For?

Again, it seems, I am thinking about words -- about what they fail to accomplish, despite their glaring, and often sinister, yet seductive nature. I love words. I admire those to whom words are enslaved, those who have mastered both the promise and duplicity of their (and our) utterances. Yes, of course, there is the argument that words are merely, at best, a facsimile of what's going on inside our minds, our hearts. Tonight at dinner, in fact, my favorite mentor and I discussed the issue of translation as extensional thinking as opposed to representational thinking (a topic for a different post), and I got to thinking that all language is extensional, midrashic even, on some level.

But I don't want to theorize about words right now. I don't want to run philosophical circles around what is really the heart of that matter, literally and figuratively.

Sometimes there is nothing to say. Sometimes I have nothing to say, despite feeling that it is the moment for me to say something, and for it to be magical. But perhaps it would only be magically misleading.

For all of my confidence in the world of words and interpretations of words, I feel as if I am enacting some sort of masquerade when I come home and find a dear, beautiful friend emotionally torn, crying even when her tears have long since run dry. I watch myself, as if from another vantage point, with horror as I try to comfort her and as she looks at me as if I am about to give birth to the words that will begin the healing.

But I have nothing, except my presence. Maybe that's enough.

Actually, that's not true. I do have something. I just don't know what to do with it, what to make of it. I fight the impulse to form words that make up sentences that contain the promises once given to me in what often seems like another lifetime:

This, too, shall pass. (And when it doesn't?)

Weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (And when the night is endless?)

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Why must mourning and loss precede comfort?)

I keep these promises, and their undersides, to myself.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Family: In Between

In a rare sentimental moment in my blogging, I'm going to post some family pics that were taken over the holiday break, in between travels and parties, endings and beginnings.
Me, my sister, my mom, and my aunt . . . pretending we don't look alike.

My sister and me . . . she's younger but taller.

This is a picture of my brothers, sister, and me -- rare thing to get all five of us in a pic together. It looks like we were posing for an album cover . . .

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Midrash and Postmodernity: Art After the Holocaust

If you want to know what I've been working on, check out my essay in Tikkun. It's my dissertation in just a few pages . . .