Friday, July 30, 2010

Yet Another Author I Recommend

While reading an anthology of female Israeli authors, I chanced upon a marvelous story by Shulamit Hareven, titled "Twilight" in its English translation. The story was bleak but beautifully written, calling to mind the magical and fantastical bent of 1000 Nights and the nightmarish surrealism of Agnon and Borges. No there weren't any vampires.

So I checked out a collection of her short stories, and really enjoyed the story "Emissary" as well, her writing very much in the shadow of Agnon, but with female protagonists.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

words I love

Check out the Word of the Day index on the blog Yesterday's Salad for a list of cool words:

My favorites: virtuating, obambulate, gustatory, seraglio and veridical.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Words I hate part 1

I find it annoying when reading a short story and the author uses the word "akimbo." Why does it bother me? That the word isn't used in everyday speech? Why should literature follow the register of common speech? But that's just it--the narrative is usually written in an everyday educated register, the narrative presents itself as natural speech, so that "akimbo" becomes as jarring as if they had revivified a word of forgotten Chaucerian. It creates a Brechtian alienation effect--one is absorbed in the mimesis then this word reminds us we are reading a constructed text of an author, who probably learned to use this word in a creative writing class.

Another word I hate to see in fiction. "Situation." Too overused on television and movies.

"Energy." Unless reading a physics text.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Gus Ginsburg vs. Modern Poetry

Jacob Appel gave me several literary journals. Many of them contain poetry. And I swear 90% of it is dreadful. Worse than the Vogon poetry of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's least the Vogon poetry featured new words and imagery...

With the expulsion of rhyme and meter, what makes a poem a poem? The mere fact that we chop up the lines? Most of the "poems" I've read of late would easily pass for crappy flash fiction if you integrated the lines into paragraphs. Clever wordplay seems passe these days as well. Ah for medieval times, when poetry was poetic...yes, some of it was dreck--for instance, Gersonides' poems about his new astronomical invention The Revealer of Secrets (Jacob's Staff). It was a fantastic invention, used by astronomers, navigators and surveyors until displaced by the sextant. But his poems about it were little better than our modern flash fiction poems. Yet some of the works of other medieval poets exude beauty, depth and cleverness. Samuel Ibn Naghrela ha-Nagid's poems about his dead brother moved me to tears...Judah Halevi penned a very nice piece in which he describes a woman's chest, using a variety of Biblical allusions and metaphors...

If modern poets have done away with rhyme, at least give the piece a good rhythm. And pay attention to beauty. Don't end lines with the word "that." It's ugly and dadaist.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fictitious Book Blurb 4

Through a Reflective Speculum: The Gynecological Kabbalah of R. Isaac b. Shimon of Gerona
Elliot Wolfbane
SUNY Press

R. Isaac b. Shimon of Gerona (fl. late 13th century) was a polymath. One of the translators in the court of King Alfonso X “el Sabio” of Castile, he was part of the team who rendered Ibn Sina’s voluminous medical classic Qanun fi’l-Tibb into Latin, as well as the lesser known and lost treatise by Isaac Israeli (9th Century physician of Qayrowan) On the Loathsome Parts of Women. Specializing in feminine ailments, R. Isaac served as the physician to the ladies of the royal family both under Alfonso X and his successor Sancho IV (r.1284-1295).

Yet, Rabbi Isaac had grown up among the mystics of Gerona prior to his departure for a medical career, and remained in contact with them throughout his life. Deeply influenced by the kabbalistic idea of matrimonial conjugality theurgically inducing sexual congress between the female and male parts of the Divine, Isaac discovered what he thought to be the reason for Israel’s downfallen state, its Diaspora and servitude among the heathen nations: the Shekhina, or feminine part of God, was on Her period. Contra the other Gerona kabbalists, who in the their work The Zohar advocated frequent marital relations to stimulate Divine Happiness, R. Isaac advocated abstention, as one does not approach one’s wife for pleasure when she is menstruating. His prescription instead is for kind words, sympathy and songs of praise for the Deity and for the readers’ wives, and to look forward in joy to the day the Shekhina goes to the ritual bathhouse to wash Herself clean and restore relations with Her beloved Israel.

Wolfbane’s study illuminates the thought of this long forgotten kabbalist with a close phenomenological and eroticized reading of R. Isaac’s epistles. He concludes with a poignant analysis of the failure of movements of sexual asceticism among Jewish mystics.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fictitious Book Blurb 3

The Complete Jewish Literature
Jacob Neusner
Ktav Publishing

Noted for his rapid translation of voluminous classical Rabbinic works into English, Neusner has turned his attention to the entirety of Jewish literature, publishing the whole multi-millennial literary corpus of the entire Jewish people. Eschewing the more labor-intensive translation styles of both Adin Steinsaltz and Artscroll publishing which render the texts into comprehensible English with ample contextual information, Neusner’s translations of all these millions of works are rendered in the same terse word-for-word style as his previous translations of the Mishnah, Midrash and Talmud.
In the last century and a half, a substantial portion of the Jewish literary corpus was composed in English. With these English works, Neusner re-renders them, employing a draconian economy even stricter than his word-for-word translations from Hebrew and Aramaic. Neusner eliminates adjectives, adverbs, unnecessary clauses and speculative or conditional sentences. Observe the efficiency of his version of the first page of Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint:

“I thought of her. All teachers are mother. I ran home. She was in the kitchen. She served milk and cookies. I feared her.”

This economy enabled Neusner to present all of Philip Roth’s works in a single book in his 175,000 volume set. Economically bound in standard academic lavender hardback, The Complete Jewish Literature, with a value far beyond rubies is a bargain at $1.75 million for the entire set, or even at the $20 per volume rate, for to purchase all the books in their other editions would cost well over $50 million.
Neusner exhibits no false modesty for his unparalleled prowess as a translator. He says “I have achieved more in one year than Steinsaltz could do in twenty million years.” Lucky for us.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fictitious Book Blurb 2

Biblical Redaction from the Book of Ibid.: The Evidences
The Reverend Dr. Jebediah McDowell

Reverend McDowell, when examining a volume of the Soncino Babylonian Talmud in English, noticed a large number of references to a book of Ibid. in the footnotes. Knowing a thing or two about Semitic linguistics, he realized that the title of this work derives from the Semitic root ayin-bet-dalet, a morpheme which means to worship or serve, hence the Book of Ibid. should be translated as the Book of Worship. His search for the book Ibid. yielded nothing, so, convinced he had seen references to a lost work, he proceeded to reconstruct the text as much as possible from the citations and references. From his painstaking reconstruction of fragments, he noticed a startling similarity of the fragments to the text of the Bible. Familiar with the Wellhausen hypothesis of Biblical redaction from plural sources, as well as the Bible’s own references to the lost books The Wars of the Lord (mentioned in Numbers 21:14-15) and Sefer Ha-Yashar (mentioned in Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:18), Reverend McDowell conjectured that the Bible is likely a redaction of the book Ibid. and a few other lost sources.
Reverend McDowell attempted to present his hypothesis to the academic community but was met with contemptuous ridicule, as no journal would publish his article. His query letters to various Biblical scholars went unanswered. He deduced a vast and secret conspiracy to cover up the true origins of the Bible, and expanded his article into a monograph. Yet neither agents nor publishers would give it due consideration. As self-publishing has become easier with the advent of e-books and marketing outlets for e-books, the Reverend Jebediah McDowell is finally able to share with the world the truth, unhindered by sneering academics and censorial publishers.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fictitious Book Blurbs

On Duotropes, a website which lists thousands of publishing opportunities, I saw a listing for a Potential Books Book, a book of abstracts for fictitious books. As I love parody and satire, I saw this as a wonderful opportunity. I wrote four of them. Here's one of them:

The Silence of the Trucks: Instrumentality and the Discourse of Hegemony in Israeli Cinema
Ella Shemer-Kronish

Having written about the representation of nearly every category of Other in Israeli cinema (Arabs, Ethiopians, Circassians, Armenians, Druze, gays, lesbians, occasional bisexuals, and transgendered Hassids), Shemer-Kronish here employs the same conceptual methodologies from critical theory and cultural studies to examine the shameful degradation of trucks. Pure vehicles for human pleasure and utility, trucks are denied their own voices and sympathy-inducing close-ups. Trucks, like the other Others are kept in the background while the filmic narrative foregrounds the colonizers, even ignoring their dialectical relations to their trucks which, as post-colonial theorist Homi Bhabha postulates, hybridize their thought and speech. A must-read for scholars of cinema, this book will also become part of the cultural studies anti-canon.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fiction Review "Brooklyn Noir" part 1

All told a worthwhile collection of stories. Here are my two cents on the stories I've read so far:

Pete Hamill "The Book Signing." What I like about the story: the narrator's observation of the changes in Park Slope after an extended absence. The description of aspiring authors at the book signing and their standard questions. What I don't like: the main story itself is a little unsatisfying, though the narrative voice itself is excellent.

Pearl Abraham "Hasidic Noir". Like many Jewish authors writing for a larger and mostly non-Jewish audience, the narrator's voice is inauthentic as the Yiddishisms and Hebraisms which would color his speech are minimized, and the Hasidic syntactical patterns are abandoned for more standardized English sentence structures. It is a common characteristic of literature for a non-Jewish audience. Nathan Englander and Shalom Auslander also do this. I have done this myself in my story of a Hasidic Vampire. This is really not so much a criticism as a fact: if we were to write a story the way that many Hasids speak, a non-Jewish audience would not find it very readable--the work would need copious footnotes to explain the terminology. I found two things dissatisfying with the story: 1)the surprise ending (which I will not ruin for you) 2) the idea that the villain character could manipulate everyone so easily against the good Rabbi, even his family. It makes the community look like a group of mindless fools.

Sidney Offit's "No Time for Senior's". Great narrative voice. Great humor. A disappointing and unlikely groaner of a twist.

Tim McLoughlin "When all this was Bay Ridge." Great story. Poignant ending.

Adam Mansbach's "Crown Heist." Brilliant and wicked.

Arthur Nersesian's "Hunter/Trapper." Also excellent.

Neal Pollack's "Scavenger Hunt." Very nice. Great narrative voice. Interesting plot.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I've hit the small time!

My short story "Declination" was accepted for publication in a forthcoming anthology of humorous sci-fi, to be titled Probing Uranus. Small press. But sells on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, so it should get some circulation.

Since my first venue was The Moose & Pussy, and my second published work appears in Probing Uranus--what outrageously titled publication will print my third story?