Notes on “The Idiot” – Part I

The interest in the holy fool or the simpleton is common to Yiddish literature and Russian literature. The secularized schlemiel that we see in both literatures, arguably, has roots in the holy fool. Ruth Wisse herself notes that we can find the roots of the schlemiel in Yiddish literature by way of Rabbi Nachman of […]

Too Much…Life: On Eric Santer’s “Psychotheology of Everyday Life” – Part I

Many Continental thinkers discuss “excess.” Besides Friedrich Nietzsche, the most notable exploration of excess can be found in the writings of Georges Bataille. He loves excess and his writings exude what he calls “expenditure” and “waste,” which, to his mind, is what life is all about. His book, Inner Experience is one of the most […]

Walter Benjamin’s “Dream Kitsch”

Like Robert Walser, Walter Benjamin, from time to time, wrote in very small script.   According to the editors of the Walter Benjamin Archive, Benjamin’s “miniaturized script is reminiscent of Robert Walser’s ‘pencil system’, which he used to help him write”(50). But unlike Walser, who “learnt to ‘play and poeticize’, in the small and smallest details, […]

Damaged Childhood: Fools, Self-Destruction, and Reclaiming Youth

The destructive elements of the American schlemiel cannot be understood apart from the innocent aspects of this character – its childishness.   Likewise, one cannot understand the “destructive element” in Walter Benjamin without understanding its relationship to innocence, childhood, and youth.   Benjamin’s intense interest in childhood and in the daemonic from early on in his life […]

The Schlemiel as Prophet (Take 1)

R. Johanan said: Since the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from prophets and given to fools and children. How given to fools? — The case of Mar son of R. Ashi will illustrate. He was one day standing in the manor of Mahuza4  when he heard a certain lunatic exclaim: The man who […]