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 […]

Notes On Jean-Paul Sartre’s Reading of Jewish Inauthenticity (Self-Hatred), Self-Consciousness & the Jewish Body

In 1946, in the wake of the Holocaust, Jean-Paul Sartre published Reflexions sur la Quesion Juive. The collection of essays was renamed, translated as Anti-Semite and Jew (my edition is from 1965, Schocken Books). Sartre’s book was reprinted over twelve times, and in many languages. The book presents a reading of anti-Semitism and the anti-Semitic […]

Some Thoughts on the Schlemiel’s (Political) Body and Benjamin Balthaser’s Recent Essay: “From Schlemiel to Super Hero: Volodmir Zelensky and the Price of Western Inclusion”

As the crisis in the Ukraine has grown, I – like millions of other people – have become very interested in the meaning of Volodmir Zelensky’s journey to becoming the hero of the West in the drama of war. What interests me most, as a scholar of the schlemiel and a schlemiel theorist, is the […]