Arguing the Modern Jewish Canon
Essays on Literature and Culture in Honor of Ruth R. Wisse
Edited by Justin Daniel Cammy, Dara Horn, Alyssa Quint and Rachel Rubinstein
Harvard University Press, 750 pages, $75.
In September 1976, Commentary printed the letters of three novelists who had taken umbrage at appraisals of their work, in a previous issue, by a relatively unknown Yiddish professor named Ruth Wisse. Cynthia Ozick, the most fervent of the respondents, judged Wisse guilty of a “fundamental (and, for a good reader, unforgivable) critical error”: confusing literature with sociology.
This old contretemps bears recalling less for its substance — authors and critics have bickered about the relationship between fiction and life for centuries — than for what it reveals about Wisse’s personality. (more…)
On June 1, 1955, Sam Astrachan graduated from Columbia. On June 2, he moved into a room at Yaddo, the famed artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs. He was 21, one of the youngest writers ever to be so honored, and he had been invited thanks to his professor, Lionel Trilling, at that time the country’s foremost literary scholar. (more…)
Breadowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %&*!
By Art Spiegelman
Pantheon. 72 pages. $27.50.
Publishing a literary masterpiece can be a little like creating a golem, it seems: first you’re just proud you were able to create it, then you’re astonished to see how powerful it becomes, and then, suddenly, you’re scared you can’t control it. That’s been Art Spiegelman’s experience, at least, with Maus, one of the finest comic books ever printed and among the great literary achievements of the past quarter century. One panel of Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! – a recent series of Spiegelman’s brief autobiographical comics – makes this clear: “It’s no use…,” Spiegelman’s avatar says, glancing back at a monolithic mousy representation of his father: “No matter how much I run I can’t seem to get out of that mouse’s shadow.” (more…)