Wednesday, October 25, 2017


My new GOLDEN CITY is up at Tablet and it's part of their 100th Anniversary of the Soviet Revolution week. In my column I talk about how younger artists have started to engage with the hopeful, utopian aspects of the Revolution, taking a playful approach to history. 

For almost 10 years [Psoy] Korolenko and [Daniel] Kahn have been bringing all kinds of revolutionary songs into their slightly mad dialectic. As the Unternationale, Korolenko and Kahn set Zionist, Bundist, and Communist anthems against each other. No longer matters of life and death, 20th-century anthems become just another text, to be mixed and remixed with a ruthless 21st-century playfulness.

Keep in mind, that playfulness has only recently become available as an artistic position. Insofar as the Cold War is over (if it is), we're only now starting to see what Yiddish studies, and new Jewish art, might look like without the fierce gatekeepers of anti-Communist hegemony on guard. What if we could talk about Jewish Communists without constantly relitigating the battles of the past?

In their superb introduction to the new translation of David Bergelson’s Judgment, Harriet Murav and Sasha Senderovich tackle a thorny problem, not just for readers of Bergelson, but for students of Yiddish history and literature: how Cold War politics warped the reception of Soviet Yiddish art in the West. 

In 1952 Bergelson was murdered on Stalin’s order. A decade later he suffered another execution, this one in the West, as his literary legacy was made and remade according to the politics of the day. Judgment, published in 1929 and untranslated into any language until 2017, became the boundary for the “acceptable” Bergelson. Murav and Senderovich note, for example, that in 1977 the hugely influential anthologists Irving Howe and Eliezer Greenberg introduced Bergelson to English speaking readers, but as regarded the last two decades of Bergelson’s work, it was “better to leave in the past.” For Howe and Greenberg, there was no point in translating any of it. 

Having recently read Judgment, a penetrating, darkly funny, and nuanced tale of shtetl Jews caught in the post-Revolution Civil War, the willingness to discard such an important work in deference to politics strikes the contemporary reader as bordering on literary malpractice....

Read more over at Rokhl's Golden City...

No comments:

Post a Comment