Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Rodger Kamenetz introduces “Going to the Movies” by Andrei Codrescu. This piece originally appeared on March 2, 2001, as part of the Forward’s Psalm 151 series. It is being published here online for the first time.
Mr. Codrescu was born in 1946 in Sibiu, Romania, and in an early autobiography, “Life and Times of an Involuntary Genius,” he vividly describes the anti-Semitism of Stalinist Romania. He immigrated to the United States as a teenager, landing initially in Detroit, where he was helped by Jewish charities. Already an accomplished poet in Transylvania, he carried the surrealist tradition headlong into the New York poetry scene of the 1960s, where he was influenced by the writing of Frank O’Hara and Ted Berrigan.
Poet, novelist, essayist, autobiographer, editor of the online literary review “Exquisite Corpse” and National Public Radio commentator, Mr. Codrescu has forged a persona half de Tocqueville and half Henry Miller as he comments on American life with a mixture of wisdom, bemusement and wonder.
Orly Adelson’s employees do not salute her when they report for work in the morning.
“I would like that, but they won’t,” she said, laughing at the thought.
Adelson is president of dick clark productions, the company that produces shows such as “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Shaq Vs.,” the Academy of Country Music Awards, and the Golden Globe Awards, which will be presented January 16. What prompted the question about the salute was less her current duties than a job she held years ago: lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces.
In some ways, that experience proved a burden. “It’s in every article about me,” Adelson said. “‘She was in the military,‘ [they write]. I’m proud of it. But I’ve done many things since then.” Still, she conceded that “it’s part of what shaped me.”
Get ready for the Robert Moses musical.
Find out what the New York Times best sellers were the week you were born (or any week, really).
New research shows that Wilhelm von Bode (1845-1929), the namesake of the Bode Museum in Berlin, was — get this — an anti-Semite.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
I’ve been meaning for quite some time now to write about the Judaica Sound Archives, an online treasure trove of American Jewry’s musicological patrimony, but I couldn’t quite find the right note to strike. In the wake of the sudden and untimely passing of Debbie Friedman, whose musical contributions to the shaping of contemporary Jewish life are virtually without parallel, the appropriate occasion presents itself.
I don’t know whether the Judaica Sound Archives, which is maintained by the Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, actually contains any of Debbie Friedman’s songs — I’m sure it will in due course — but the collection houses just about everything else that once made for American Jewry’s varied and lively acoustic culture.
Contemporary American composers have few able defenders, and once out of sight, composers are often forgotten, so it is good to have a biographical tribute, out in November, from University of Rochester Press to Leon Kirchner, who died in 2009 at age 90.
“Leon Kirchner: Composer, Performer, & Teacher” by Robert Riggs recounts the life and work of the Brooklyn-born composer, whose father, Samuel Kirzner, was an embroiderer from Odessa. As Kirchner wrote in a lapidary 1970 essay, the elder Kirzner was:
[a] prodigy. By the age of fourteen [Kirzner] had embroidered an elaborate gown for the Czarina… There were pogroms. He came to America in a cattle boat.
Kirchner’s own works, from those for solo piano (see video below) to his scandalously overlooked and still-unrecorded 1977 opera “Lily,” based on Saul Bellow’s “Henderson the Rain King,” continue in the family tradition of stern attention to detail. Uncompromising thorniness is a hallmark of many Kirchner compositions, and indeed a source of their integrity and strength, as one would expect after his studies with Arnold Schoenberg and Ernest Bloch, two great Jewish composers who would never be confused with the Sunshine Boys.
If you drown a Jew while trying to baptize him against his will, are you anti-Semitic? That was the discussion brewing in the blogosphere after the penultimate episode of the HBO hit series “Boardwalk Empire” aired on November 28. The show, set in the 1920s in Atlantic City, follows the people who run the city and the Federal Agents trying to enforce Prohibition.
Agent Van Alden, played by Michael Shannon, grew increasingly fanatical as the episodes aired — he flagellates himself and talks to his wife about signs from God. His assistant, Agent Sebso (Erik Weiner), is Jewish — he understands the Yiddish spoken by Simon, a suspect in a bootleg robbery, when Van Alden revives him with cocaine in the third episode. Sebso is also, as Van Alden suspects, working for the other side. But it was in the eleventh episode, “Paris Green” (written by playwright/screenwriter Howard Korder), that Van Alden’s true crazy emerged, as he submerged Sebso in front of an African-American congregation.
At the “Boardwalk Empire” panel at the New York Times Arts and Lesiure Weekend on January 9 I asked showrunner Terence Winter if Van Alden was intended to be anti-Semitic.
As you stand in the Dolby Chadwick Gallery in San Francisco, you can’t be sure if the figures in Joshua Meyer’s multi-layered oil paintings are emerging toward you or receding away into a complex sea of colors. That lack of certainty suits the artist just fine, as he considers his paintings to reside in “a netherworld, an in-between place of frictions, edges and reactions between different things.”
The 16 paintings by Meyer which make up this show, titled “Everything in Between” and which runs until January 29, exist in stark contrast to the clean, sharp lines of the gallery space with its white walls, blond wood floor and large, loft-like windows overlooking the tony Union Square shopping district.
Meyer explained that it is impossible to make a line when painting with a palette knife, as he has done almost exclusively for the past decade. “I found something intrinsically wrong about brushes. With a knife, you work more spot by spot, moment by moment. It’s about juxtaposition rather than smooth motion,” he said.
View a slideshow of paintings by Joshua Meyer:
Crossposted from Haaretz
Before green construction became a buzz word with architects declaiming the virtues of solar collectors and styled louvers, Israeli architects had already experienced planning for an extreme climate. In the golden age of public construction — the 1950s and 1960s — the Housing Ministry initiated experimental residential projects focused on the sun, wind and rain, or rather protection from them, mostly in desert towns or locales with dramatic topography. Planners were instructed to think outside the box and challenge the familiar and repetitive canon of housing projects.
The “Pyramid” in Be’er Sheva’s Dalet neighborhood is a fascinating example. It was built in the mid-’60s by architects Moshe Lofenfeld and Giora Gamerman, not far from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, then under construction.
Born André Isaac to an Alsatian Jewish family (his father was a butcher), the French humorist Pierre Dac became an unlikely hero of the French Resistance. After serving in the French army in World War I and being severely wounded — his brother Marcel died on the field of battle — Dac became a performer in Paris cabarets, fleeing to London in 1941 after the Nazi invasion. There he worked for Free France’s Radio Londres, broadcasting bitingly satirical songs with anarchic schoolboy humor, deriding the Waffen SS and the German war machine.
Belying his studious appearance, oddly close to that of the British poet/librarian Philip Larkin, Dac continues to amuse French readers long after his death in 1975 at age 81. In November, a French publisher, Le Cherche Midi éditions published “With My Best Considerations,” a selection of Dac’s japes, to join other titles by Dac recently reprinted by Les éditions du Seuil; Les Presses de la Cité; and Les éditions Omnibus.
In her final days, in the last letter she sent home, Simone Weil reassured her parents: “You have another source of comfort.” She was referring to her niece, Sylvie Weil. Sylvie — with her myopia, pale complexion and dark, cropped hair — bears an unnerving resemblance to her aunt, and has spent her life battling the impression that she is nothing more than an incompetent forgery of the woman who preceded her. “My identity is not being,” writes Weil; “not being Simone.”
Sylvie Weil’s “At Home With André and Simone Weil” (Northwestern University Press), translated from the French by Forward contributor Benjamin Ivry, traverses Weil’s fraught relationship with her luminous heritage: Her father, André, was a celebrated mathematician whose genius won him the Wolf Prize and, more important to the young Sylvie, exempted him from having to remember useless trivia like the location of the sugar bowl; Her aunt, Simone, was the philosopher and mystic who starved herself to death at the age of 34 and has been worshipped by many as a saint and martyr ever since.
According to the Israeli government, the 93-year-old Buchenwald survivor is a liar. Decried by French embassy spokesperson Yaron Gamburg for spreading falsehoods about the Jewish state, Stéphane Hessel’s criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians apparently does not correspond with reality. “It is a literary fad which will have no affect on the real world, a pseudo-intellectual phenomenon whose facts have not been verified,” an incensed Gamburg told The Jerusalem Post.
Hessel’s criticism? Statements such as “Jews themselves perpetrating war crimes is intolerable,” in the retired socialist diplomat’s new book, “Indignez-Vous!” (“Be Indignant,” or “Get Angry”), currently topping France’s best seller list, with over 500,000 copies sold (some sources claim 600,000) since its publication in October of last year. A 30-page pamphlet-equivalent (some sources say it is 12 pages and others that it is 19 and 32), produced by a tiny independent publishing house run by a former Le Monde staffer, Hessel’s book is a rightwing Israeli’s worst nightmare come true.
On the new record by the Israeli quintet Fogel and the Sheriffs, Jesus packs a gun, the Pope is a woman, and the Second Coming occurs in the bedroom. One song calls the Holocaust a “soiree”; another orders a Muslim woman to “put on a burka, baby” to hide her body, from her head to her clitoris. Long before the album’s final song declares, “I was crucified inside my mama’s womb,” the point is clear: nothing is too sacred to satire.
Produced by avant-garde guru John Zorn and released on his Tzadik label, “Exorcism” blends the blues with touches of jazz, punk and klezmer. Despite the superficial shock, these songs are meant as social commentary, not hate speech or blasphemy. The liner notes include a prominent image of a Star of David, quote the prophet Jeremiah, and praise “the High Holy One, Blessed be He, who brought us to life, maintained us alive and led us to this moment! AMEN!” It seems the band has no problem with faith, only with organized religion.
Listen to ‘Bless Me’:
Crossposted from Haaretz
It’s not quite clear whether Yanai Toister’s new show is a photography exhibition without any photos or a photo exhibition without any photography. Now on display at Dvir Gallery in Tel Aviv, Toister’s latest effort is the result of thoughts that have occupied him for several years now, about the way architecture and color integrate, and the formalism of photography.
The invitation to the show features an overhead view of a textbook, opened to a page with several graphs, placed atop a marble background. The book’s title, “The Keepers of Light,” inspired the name of Toister’s exhibition, “Keepers of the Light.” But neither the name or accompanying photo offer even a hint of what visitors will discover at the show.
A forthcoming biography of J.D. Salinger and Henry Kissinger’s “On China” are among The Daily Beast’s most anticipated books of 2011.
Is Frank Gehry’s design for the University of Technology, Sydney, a colossal mistake?
Jerome A. Chanes goes to see The Living Theatre’s production of “Korach.”
Curt Schleier tells the story of three Broadway producers.
Jay Michaelson questions whether mysticism is real.
Philologos is possessed.
Laurence Zuckerman looks back at the life of Judah L. Magnes, one of 20th-century Jewry’s most important — and most overlooked — leaders.
After listening to and viewing a rehearsal for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s presentation of “In Seven Days,” the 2008 concerto for piano and moving image by Thomas Adès and Tal Rosner being performed January 7 and 8 at Avery Fisher Hall, I was ready to become a creationist.
Not that the piece works to persuade the audience of anything more than to pay attention to its rich array of sounds and imagery. Swept up from the tohu-bohu of unruly waves, the audience is buffeted by the composer’s rich reverberations and the videographer’s eye-popping visuals, uncertain whether the aural propels the visual or vice versa. And therein lies the piece’s power, and the audience’s uncanny feeling of participating in the act of creation.
A tragic event can provide a filmmaker with compelling material for a movie, but simply presenting calamity on the big screen doesn’t necessarily result in a good story. In director Fabian Hofman’s semi-autobiographical “I Miss You” (“Te Extraño”), which screened in November at the Boston Jewish Film Festival and will be shown on January 22 and 23 at the New York Jewish Film Festival, he comes close to making this mistake.
“I Miss You” is about a Jewish family coping with the disappearance of their eldest son, Adrian, during Argentina’s military dictatorship in the 1970s. Fearing for the life of their second son, 15-year-old Javier, the parents send Javier to live with his aunt and uncle in Mexico until some degree of stability is restored back home. During his time away, Javier vacillates between despair over the needless loss of his brother and the impulse to join the remaining members of a resistance group, the Montoneros, to seek revenge.
Earlier this week, Michael Wex, author of “The Frumkiss Family Business,” wrote about writing about intermarriage and being the kvetch guy. His blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series, please visit:
I had the misfortune last night to turn on the television just as some self-appointed spokesman for today’s hip, young Jewish culture was saying that certain Jewish approaches to the outside world might have been all right, oh, for people of Mordecai Richler‘s generation, but this idea of the Jew as somehow outside of mainstream North American society was — winced the shmendrick — dated, as relevant to today’s Jewish experience as country music.
Well, I don’t know. I grew up in an Orthodox family in a small town in southern Alberta, not far from the Montana border, and spoke nothing but Yiddish at home. My hometown was the kind of place where country singers like Hank Snow and Wilf Carter were more popular than Jesus — for the simple reason that my father, who ran a furniture store that also sold records, refused to stock any gospel L.P.s.
Crossposted from Haaretz
How can a lone worker express his individuality in a corporate firm employing hundreds of people? Will a colorful coffee cup, some family photos or a distinctive fashion sense suffice to attracts the attention of colleagues and the secretaries?
At the renovated Neopharm building in Petah Tikva, architects Yael Benaroya and Yoram Shilo have given an original means of expression to employees. They have installed a sophisticated facade of moving louvers on the building and have given each employee the possibility of controlling the degree to which the window slats open and the amount of their exposure inside the office.
Seen from the street, the building is a mosaic of opened and half-closed windows — each of them representing the personal climatic preferences of an individual employee. The moving and slanting of the louvers is accomplished through a computer program installed in the workers’ computers and mobile phones.
Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Jake Marmer introduces three poems by Alicia Ostriker.
Alicia Ostriker, winner of the 2009 Jewish Book Award in poetry, has many voices. From one work to the next her tone may leap from angry and confrontational to lyrical and gentle, meditative to brash. She’s well known for her feminist poetry and criticism, as well as for her work as an inventive midrashist and a spiritual thinker. I am particularly partial to what I’d call her nostalgic Jewish poems — humorous family recollections, in which Ostriker’s affection for old-world Jewish characters is most endearing.
In the first poem featured below, the previously unpublished “Beck and Benny in Far Rockaway,” the vision of two ageing Jews, “warty as alligators,” is simply irresistible. In the second poem, from her 2005 collection “No Heaven,” Ostriker presents a very personal and peculiar vision of poet Allen Ginsberg, mythologized and glorified by fans and critics who thought of him as a guru but were unaware of his “ailing… neurotic” side.