Saying too Much, Or Not Enough: The Schlemiel, Speech, and Bad Timing in Malamud’s “The Assistant”

More often than not, schlemiels miss opportunities. They are often too late or too early; they either speak too much or too little. Schlemiels do things that make them the odd one’s out. Andy Warhol, an unlikely candidate for the schlemiel, finds a good idiom to express this endless bungling when he points out how, […]

It’s All in the Timing: A Brief Note on Kairos

After responding to Jeffrey Bernstein’s piece on schlemiel temporality, I have been thinking about the relationship of messianic time (the Augenblick) to schlemiel temporality.  Are they, in fact, opposites?  The key term that Bernstein brought to the discussion was Kairos.  As I noted in the last blog entry, this term was used by Paul to […]

Yiddish for Parrots or Pirates? On Gary Barwin’s “Yiddish for Pirates”

In a brilliant essay on literature and music, Milan Kundera argues that the “history of literature” can be understood in terms of “two halves.”  The first half of literature is comic.  He associates it with Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Francois Rabelais’ Gargantuan and Pantagruel.  In contrast, the second half of literature is realistic and historical.   […]

“Sweetness is the Final Word of Skepticism”: Roland Barthes on Skepticism, Sweetness, and Stupidity

When I first ask my students about the meaning of skepticism, they often give me answers that confuse it with pessimism, bitterness, and negativity. Roland Barthes argues the contrary: that skepticism has nothing to do with bitterness. According to Diogenes Laertius, the 3rd century biographer of Greek philosophers, “sweetness is the final word of skepticism.” […]