Latest Posts

Tel Aviv’s Comics Knock-Out

June 18, 2012 | , ,

Paris is generally a great city for readers of comic strips, or what the French call bandes dessinées. But this spring, the City of Lights truly outdid itself, offering major museum retrospectives of the careers of two great American cartoonists: Art Spiegelman, at the Centre Georges Pompidou; and R. Crumb, at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. (more…)

Non-Jews Telling Jokes

June 13, 2012 | ,

If old Jews telling jokes is a timeless phenomenon, it’s also one that, at the moment, offers very little insight into either the current state of comedy or the place of Jews within that field. This wasn’t always the case, of course: Jokes told by Jews in the 1940s, in Europe and America, were anything but trivial, and the puns swapped by assimilated fin de siècle Viennese wags assisted Freud in developing his theory of wit.

But I hereby submit that if you want to understand what today’s comedy reveals about Jews, the people to consult aren’t the ones retailing in-jokes to heymishe audiences, but rather our masterful goyishe comedians and the jokes they tell about us. (more…)

Tropical Storm

November 11, 2011 | , , ,

This fall marks the half-century anniversary of the first Grove Press paperback of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, the edition through which that notorious dirty book, first published in Paris in 1934, finally reached hundreds of thousands of American readers rather than handfuls. (more…)

Bride Shipped from Shtetl to South Dakota

September 29, 2011 | , ,

The Little Bride
Anna Solomon
Riverhead Books, 320 pages, $15

In her classic 1912 memoir of immigration to the United States, “The Promised Land,” Mary Antin notes: “A long girlhood, a free choice in marriage, and a brimful of womanhood are the precious rights of an American woman.” Tell that to Minna Losk. (more…)

Yiddish Icons, Portrayed in Cartoons

Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular & the New Land
Edited by Harvey Pekar and Paul Buhle
Abrams ComicArts, 240 pages, $29.95

People don’t admire paintings they haven’t seen, or dance to music they haven’t heard, but they do all sorts of crazy things with languages they don’t speak. This is what Rutgers University scholar Jeffrey Shandler described in his 2005 book, “Adventures in Yiddishland” (University of California Press), as “postvernacular culture”: Just because people don’t know a language doesn’t mean they won’t hold intense beliefs about it, long for it or revile it, and, in ways both brilliant and bizarre, put it to use.

“Yiddishkeit,” an anthology co-edited by comics great Harvey Pekar, who passed away last year, and leftist scholar and non-Jewish Yiddish-speaker Paul Buhle, does not attempt to teach its reader a selection of Yiddish words, unlike Michael Wex’s and Leo Rosten’s best-sellers. And it is not a history or an analysis of Yiddish culture, nor a collection of Yiddish literature translated into English. It’s weirder, more puzzling and more difficult to describe: We might call it a postvernacular tour de force. (more…)

What Is Jewish Literature? Dan Miron’s Authoritative Answer

November 29, 2010 | , , ,

From Continuity to Contiguity: Toward a New Jewish Literary Thinking
By Dan Miron
Stanford University Press, 560 pages, $65

Dan Miron’s “From Continuity to Contiguity” is a work of Jewish literary theory — an exceedingly erudite one, and in some ways the most important to appear in recent decades — that reads a little like a mystery novel. The book begins with the idea that “continuity” is dead as a model for studying Jewish literature, and Miron, the Leonard Kaye Chair of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, even tells us who killed it: “the so-called Tel Aviv structuralist school of poetics.” (more…)