The Final Notes of Irving Howe and Ruth Wisse’s Epistolary Exchange over Sholem Aleichem

The last three letters exchanged between Irving Howe and Ruth Wisse over Sholem Aleichem’s fiction and its meaning show us the subtle differences between these two important thinkers and literary critics.  As I pointed out in my last blog entry about this dialogue, Ruth Wisse suggested that Aleichem was, in contrast to the Yiddish writers […]

Laughter through Tears or Tears through Laughter: Irving Howe and Ruth Wisse’s Dialogue over Sholem Aleichem – Take 3

Irving Howe initiated his letters to Ruth Wisse about Sholem Aleichem by staking his main claim that, based on his own experience of Sholem Aleichem’s stories, he must go against the grain and state that they, like all stories of the Schlemiel (from Chelm to Hershel Ostropolier), have “their undercurrents of darkness.”  Throughout Howe’s letter, […]

Laughter Through Tears or Tears Through Laughter? Irving Howe and Ruth Wisse’s Dialogue over Sholem Aleichem’s Humor – Take 2

In their epistolary introduction on Sholem Aleichem,  Irving Howe sets the tone for his declaration of Jewishness by noting that he has an “uneasy feeling” that he has discovered a Sholem Aleichem that has “seldom been encountered.”  Howe says what no-one wants to hear; namely, that Sholem Aleichem “turns out to be imagining, beneath the […]

Laughter Through Tears or Tears Through Laughter? Irving Howe and Ruth Wisse’s Dialogue over Sholem Aleichem’s Humor – Take 1

Do we laugh through tears or do we cry through laughter?  The answer to this question or perhaps the question itself are, for Irving Howe, the crux of Jewish identity.  For Howe, the few Jews who really “scrutinize” themselves, the Jews who “dare to know” (so to speak), will come to this very question.  Howe […]

Larry David, the Schlemiel, and Holocaust Humor

Larry David’s opening monologue for SNL – which included a joke about picking up girls in Concentration Camps – was contested by many on Twitter and elsewhere.  The harshest criticism came from Thane Rosenbaum in his piece for the Los Angeles Journal entitled “Larry David Goes One Cringe Too Far.”   Reading some of these articles […]

“The Alpha-Pussy” – On Marc Maron’s Reframing of the American Schlemiel

The events of last week with Harvey Weinstein have prompted many powerful articles (good, in terms of prompting awareness of violent sexual actions that were an “open secret” in Hollywood, and really bad, in terms of prompting anti-Semitic remarks and insane conspiracy theories).   After reading Mark Oppenheimer’s controversial Op-Ed piece for Tablet, entitled “The […]