Pajama Boy, The (New) Schlemiel, and Obamacare

When I woke up this morning I noticed an article by Politico (which is not a right-wing publication) that registered a high frequency on my schlemiel radar.  The words that caught my attention were in its headline: “Pajama Boy, An Insufferable Man-Child.”   The article was written in response to an ad tweeted by “Organizing for […]

The Meaning of Failure: A Word or Two on the Trailer for Gary Shteyngart’s New Memoir

I recently stumbled across a trailer for Gary Shteyngart’s new book – Little Failure –  which will hit the streets on January 2014. I came across the trailer by way of an article in Slate. The title of the piece, “Gary Shteyngart’s Homophobic Little Failure of a Book Trailer,” suggests that the trailer, because it […]

Neo-Hasidic Magical Realism and the Revision of the Hasidic Schlemiel

In his book Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Hetrosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man, Daniel Boyarin has a chapter where he looks into how some of the stories of the Baal Shem Tov, the father of Hasidism, evince a new approach to Jewish masculinity.    Boyarin prefaces this reading by arguing that Jews, traditionally, […]

I.B. Singer on the Schlemiel (a.k.a. “Little Man”)

In a 1968 Paris Review interview with Harold Flender, I.B. Singer, the Nobel Prize winning Yiddish writer, was asked about the schlemiel.  However, the name schlemiel wasn’t used in Flender’s question.  Rather, Flender uses the word “little man.”   His question to Singer and Singer’s response are telling as they suggest a break in the tradition […]

Are all Schlemiels Humble or Just Ridiculous? Kafka on Humility, the Language of Prayer, and Striving

We all love the simpleton.  Her ways are awkward, yet graceful. For all their simplicity, they are the ways of goodness.   But they come to us, as Avital Ronell says in her book Stupidity, by way of the “reliable generosity of the ridiculous” which is not innate and must be “publicly exposed.”  Perhaps Hollywood inherited […]

The Schlemiel and the Sabra or Portnoy’s Final Complaint

In The Schlemiel as Metaphor: Studies in Yiddish and Jewish American Literature, Sanford Pinsker devotes an entire chapter to the work of Phillip Roth.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  Although the chapter is dedicated to Phillip Roth, the majority of the chapter is on Roth’s most popular and controversial novel, Portnoy’s Complaint.  For Pinsker, the […]

Who of the Four Sons is the Schlemiel?

I.B. Singer and Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav both refer to the schlemiel as a “Tam,” which is Hebrew for a simpleton.  Tam also means a person who is “complete.” But this doesn’t make sense. How could a simpleton be complete?  Isn’t the simpleton lacking intelligence, wit, and independence?  How could these “lacks” constitute the simpleton’s […]