Marriage, Fate, and a Bathroom Epiphany in Sheila Heti’s “How Should a Person Be?”

Irony often plays on the gap between expectation and reality. The gap between is a commonplace in much schlemiel fiction.   Playing on the main motif of How Should a Person Be? Sheila Heti, the main character and author of the novel, casts the other as her teacher. She looks for ethical and artistic models of […]

The Postmodern Chelm, or The Artistic Community in Sheila Heti’s “How Should a Person Be?” – Part I

I can remember the first time I ever heard a story about the Jewish fool otherwise known as a schlemiel.   What struck me about the story, when I first heard it (when I was six or seven years old), was that the schlemiel wasn’t an independent agent. He lived amidst other schlemiels – in a […]

The Other is My Teacher: First Thoughts on Sheila Heti’s “How Should a Person Be?”

When I first started reading Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? I was struck by the title, the first words of the novel, and their speaker, the main character, who is an amalgamation of fiction and non-fiction: her name is Sheila Heti.  Her book, published in 2012, has received great reviews by The New […]

Should Jews be Normal or Exceptional? Hannah Arendt and Gary Shteyngart’s Reading of the Schlemiel and Normality

Judith Butler has, on many different occasions, pointed out that she is taking on the legacy of Hannah Arendt.  And by this she means Arendt’s legacy vis-à-vis her work on the political.  One of the terms Butler uses in her political vocabulary – which also pops up in her work on sexuality – is “normalization.” […]

Almost Communicating, or What Happens When a Middle-Age Schlemiel Falls in Love With a Korean Girl – Part I

Over the last decade, we have seen countless films about “middling” or aging schlemiels. Think of Ben Stiller’s roles in Meet the Fockers (2004), Greenberg (2010), or The Heartbreak Kid (2007), Seth Rogen’s Neighbors (2014) or Guilt Trip (2012), or of Judd Apatow’s 40 Year Old Virgin (2005), Knocked Up (2007), or This is 40 (2012).  Apatow, […]