Friday, September 09, 2005

Radical Jewish Poetics

I've gotten a couple of emails in response to my lists of questions and my sketches of the various ways that "secular Jewish culture" and "radical poetics" might intersect, and a nice comment from Rachel. I don't have a lot of time, but I want to post them up here, in paraphrase at least, and respond as best I can.

By the way, since it's a mouthful to keep saying "Secular Jewish Culture and Radical Poetics," I hereby declare that the proper phrase, the brand name, the denominational nominative, the shorthand (at least) for the whole shebang will from now on be RADICAL JEWISH POETICS.

Ahem.

So far everyone seems to think that my first broad definition of Radical Jewish Poetics was indeed, too broad and too weak to be useful. Hmmm.. What I said was "In the broadest and weakest sense, the Jewish poet--secular or religious--can write a poem about anything (love, war, wine) that forms a part of the vast secular overlapping between Jewish and non-Jewish culture, and thus write a "secular Jewish poem"; this may be "radical" if the form or language or import of the poem is in some way “radical,” regardless of its Jewish purview or lack thereof." I had in mind here something like those wine songs of Andalusia, or maybe a Yiddish poem about a Japanese garden: that is, a poem where the "Jewishness" could be found, or had to be found, in the poet or in the language he or she wrote in.

It's broad and weak, but I suspect it's the definition that an awful lot of this discussion actually starts with. Then the critic moves on to discover (ta-da!) something "Jewish" in the approach or idea or alientation involved. In other words, to borrow from Rachel's comments, the "Jewish" in "Jewish poet" starts out descriptive--hey! Richard Howard is Jewish? Who knew?--in a way that is, as Rachel says, "pleasant but ultimately not all that useful as a category." It then turns, in a sort of critical shell game, more or less impressive, more or less convincing, into a prescriptive term: here's a Jewish poet, and look, she's doing something Jewish! (I think here of my friend Jonathan B's essays on Maxine Kumin as a Jewish poet, for example.)

Now, Norman also observed that "some poems are definitely Jewish whether or not a reader is looking at them Jewishly or feeling Jewish or what have you," which suggests that there may in fact be some sort of content we agree on in that "Jewish" label, or at least there ought to be. But what might that content be? Can it be faked? That is, does a Jewish poem have to be by a Jew? Certainly a Christian poem doesn't have to be by a Christian. Must an American poem be by an American? Willard Spiegelman says somewhere--I think it's him--that Milton has a better claim to being the "first American poet" than Anne Bradstreet, and I know that I've seen some of Malamud discussed as being deeply Christian fiction, despite Malamud's overt Jewish identification. Grrr...

Finally, about Yona Wallach's "Tefillin," I need to turn up a copy. It's in The Defiant Muse anthology of feminist Hebrew poetry, I know, but I won't have a copy of that until Sunday--I promise I'll post it then, if no one emails it to me sooner. Every version on-line seems to be suddenly unavailable, as though cursed. You don't think....? Nah.

Must run. More soon. E

2 comments:

Rachel said...

By the way -- not sure if I mentioned this before, or if you'd find it remotely useful, but I wrote a paper that tried to define what makes Jewish literature Jewish, back in grad school, and it's online here (pdf for download).

The paper failed, I think, but I hope it failed in interesting ways. :-)

Anonymous said...

You alone and GOD


Is there a god? is there not a god? is there one god? or are there many gods? The world, with its many religions and billions of people, embraces all of these. Is there a right answer and can it be known with absolute certainty? The answer is yes, and you have the opportunity and the ability starting right now to know. And you must know, because where you spend eternity will depend on it!!

Yes! There is a GOD. And HE is ONE: MOST HIGH, MOST HOLY and JUST, ALMIGHTY GOD who is from everlasting to everlasting, by whom and for whom all things were created: The universe and everything in it (consider for a moment how it, the universe, is made with only a little over one hundred individual, infinitesimally small building blocks that man calls atoms; assembled in incomprehensible quantities and ways beyond man's imagination or understanding—both the animate and the inanimate).

But this most wonderful creation would be meaningless without intelligent life to be aware of it in awe and wonder and to explore, enjoy and use it.

But God also created mankind in His own image, i.e., also with ability to create and He entrusted man with a free will to do whatever he chose (even if it meant denying the very one who created him). And to perpetuate himself, procreation was also given him, but interestingly, one individual was not enough; two were required (male and female). Each with different rolls and responsibilities, but totally dependent upon the other for the purpose of perpetuating life.

And God said, "Come; walk with me; abide under my shadow and live forever." But mankind decided to go its own way, thereby limiting its lifetime and having it filled with uncertainties.

Now, the stage is set: Mankind has the ability and the environment to make the most of the lifetime given it; including the most important venture of all and that is the one to reunite with his creator, Almighty God.

Yes; you have one life to live, as you choose. It may be long one, but even one hundred years is but a speck in time when compared to eternity. Then, according to the Word of God, you will come before Him to be judged as to how you received Him or if you even had a desire to know Him.

And yes, there is a way you can know Him, and that as intimately as you want, it is your choice. And the relationship that you can have with the ALMIGHTY is not dependent upon anyone else—or any religion—or anything other than your own desire.

It is vital that you realize that you are a unique individual (very special) and that He gave you (like everyone ever born) a way and the ability to commune with Him, one-on-one. Therefore, when you come before Him to be judged, you will not be able to blame anyone or any religion (or its beliefs or teachings) for misleading you.

You have the right and a great privilege, from Him, to come directly to Him with all of your questions and for all of their answers. And if you don't understand as well or the same as the next one, that is not important. What is important to Him is where your heart is and and that is how you will be judged.

It is imperative that you trust no one, but Him, for your eternal salvation. But because you have sinned, you are separated from Him and until your sin is removed you are in a state of darkness and uncertainty, easily led further and further away from Him by any notion or thought that comes to you or through someone else or some religious movement or philosophy that seems right to you.

Don't be fooled or deceived! The only way for you to trust Him is to know Him, and the only way to know Him is to go directly to Him to know that your sins can be removed completely. There is a way, and it is for you, and once taken you will begin to see and understand just how much He loves you and desires to give you all things. You are very important to Him and loved by Him as much as anyone ever born. But, unless you turn to Him, you will be forever separated from Him—and lost through all eternity. There is a way, and it's simple, but it is His way and not yours. How do you know which way is His? You ask Him!

He said, "Ask and you will receive; Seek and you will find; Knock and it will be opened to you." If you believe this, and act on it with the simple faith of a child a whole new life and world will open up to you. It costs you nothing to ask Him, He wants you to try Him and prove Him whether He is real or not; whether He is the living God and not some figment or perversion of man's imagination as proclaimed by most of the world's great religions.

How and why have these great religions come into being? Because man has done everything he can do without doing the one thing he must do, to have his sin removed. There is only one way and that is the way prepared and given to man by the living God (the one who knew mankind would sin and would desperately need a way to be delivered from it).

He said, "Seek and you will find." It is not only important to ask, but to search for Him with all of your being. Never ceasing. He said, "If you misplaced a valuable item would you not search, diligently, for it?" And in another place, He said, "If you search diligently for me with all of your heart you will find me. But if you are not interested in finding me you will be separated from me and lost—forever." He wants very much for you to find Him (for your sake), but He will not force you to do anything. He wants you to be free from any form of bondage or enslavement.

He said, "Knock and it will be opened to you." Be persistent in your quest for the truth, as measured by Him, and all things will be revealed to you.

This you can be certain of, that He is true and faithful to His Word, and He will never leave you or forsake if you call to Him. His door is always open if you go to Him in a humble and contrite spirit, desiring to know Him.

God is a spirit, a most holy spirit, and man if he goes to Him, must go to Him in spirit and in truth.

Certainly God knows whether you are sincere or not. He knows everything about you. He knows every sin and transgression you have ever committed, and they are all tallied against you, waiting to be revealed at your time of judgment unless they are removed (washed away completely) before you die. And they can be, by the way prepared by Him, and only that way.

Not by works, ever, as promoted and practiced by most of the world's religions or by man's sacrifices, no matter how great or good they may be.

"Think about it!" Your eternal salvation depends on it. Think how most of the world's religions have and keep man in bondage by their regimens of good works, service and forms of worship. All in the name of or for the purpose of reconciling man to God and delivering him from his sin.

There are many good things achieved through these efforts, but they can't and will not, ever, in themselves, wash away your sins. They can be another type of bondage that the living God wants man to be free from so that he may freely walk with Him and serve Him.

He loves you, He wants to wash away your sin, but you have to desire Him and go to Him and accept His way, for it to be done.

Submit, and commit yourself to Him, only, and totally, with no reservations; cry out to Him to open your eyes and show you how He, and He alone, paid the price for your sins to be washed away. Time is running out for you. Only you can perform this act, no one else can do it for you. But be assured that if you call to Him, in sincerity, He will hear you for He is the living God.

Be aware, also, that the god you serve may not be the living God, or worse, the religion or its teachings that you are involved in may have so polluted or diluted the message of salvation that you are still in your sin and have never experienced true salvation. But you must find the truth, for your eternal salvation is the price you will pay if you do not! Don't hesitate any longer. Fall to your knees, now, and ask Him to come into your heart and show you the way to salvation before it is too late. His answer may be immediate or it may be given to you over a period of time, but never stop seeking the truth from Him, for His way is the only way. "Ask; Seek; Knock:" You can trust Him.


And Almighty God, your Heavenly Father, Creator of all things will richly bless you.