Often, when I mention Melanie Klein’s name, people roll their eyes and recite the only thing they’ve heard about her – “good breast, bad breast, it’s all the mother’s fault” – without giving this towering intellectual figure the slightest benefit of the doubt. In the most distilled terms, complaints against her work rest on the centrality of death and aggression in her approach to the human psyche. . . .
In December 2007, I visited Jerusalem for three weeks to collect material for Zeek: Russified, a volume of works by contemporary Russian-Jewish writers, poets, and artists. During that time, I was introduced to a wide circle of individuals. In a way, I was given access to the heart of one of the city’s cultural milieus. . .
Growing up, I’d always felt averse to politics and it took me years to realize that my difficulty had a lot to do with the role of Soviet history in my family’s history. The shift came while I was at the CalArts School of Critical Studies, studying writing and philosophy. . .
The Need to Talk
On Marguerite Duras’s
I first encountered Marguerite Duras as a teenager, not on the page but on the screen. I stayed up late one night to watch on cable television the infamously graphic sex scenes in The Lover, Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 1992 film adaptation of her 1984 novel. . .
Los Angeles Review of Books, July 20, 2021
Most people think of Ayn Rand as a philosopher and novelist of ideas—a proponent of laissez-faire capitalism and a theory she named Objectivism. But she was born Alisa Rosenbaum, the daughter of a Russian-Jewish pharmacist who grew up in St. Petersburg and who might have stayed in Russia had she not been disappointed by love. . . .
I first encountered Fyodor Dostoevsky through Alexei Nilych Kirillov, one of his characters in Demons—not in the novel itself, but in Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus, much of which grapples with the philosophical reasoning behind Kirillov’s decision to shoot himself.
It started with a flood. In early December, my wife and I were awakened in the middle of the night by the faint sound of clacking on our window. We got out of bed to investigate and found ourselves in three inches of water—at which point I opened the window and saw my downstairs neighbor outside.
It happened to be that I reread Salinger's "Perfect Day for Bananafish" – which I remembered as being a story about a couple’s trip to a hotel on the beach at the end of which the man kills himself – on the very same day that my wife and I went to spend a weekend at a seaside hotel.
As covid ravaged the world outside our homes, I sat down at my desk and thought of Erich Auerbach writing his masterwork, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, while waiting out the Second World War in Istanbul. As the rest of the world tore itself apart, he sat and analyzed the Western canon.
This year, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day fell on April 21, 2020. Since the Jewish calendar is lunar and observance starts on the evening before, the remembrance happened to fall—in a bitter irony too weird to be invented—on Hitler’s birthday. As the memorial siren wailed across Israel at 11 a.m., and many people all across the country stood up in silence to commemorate the millions of Jews exterminated during the Holocaust, the sense of mourning was diffuse. . .
For weeks, America burned again. For some of us, who grew up in urban Los Angeles, the memory of fires down the block, or buildings on the way to school still smoking, remained exceedingly fresh. I remember that, during the L.A. Riots, people who’d lived through the Watts Riots recalling their earlier experiences and lamenting that America had not sufficiently changed. . .
Black lives don’t just matter. For some of us, their influence is profound, shaping our understanding of ourselves as individuals -– and our place in American society. When I came to Los Angeles from Israel at the age of seven, reuniting with my dad after my parents separated, I also met my stepmom Pasha for the first time. . .
There’s no such thing as nonfiction. This might seem like the title of yet another essay on the merits of essayistic writing as its own genre and not just a negation of another. Dinty W. Moore has explained how essayists have responded to their genre’s moniker. His bottom line is, understandably, realpolitikisch: we’re stuck with the term. But I’d like to take another tack. . .
Being young sometimes feels like being an amateur translator. You have little life experience, but you read a lot of books and watch a lot of movies, and so you try to transfer what you see on the screen or the page to your experiences. You don’t know yet that translators don’t transfer, they reconvey. So the result is often clunky. . .
It’s a confusing year when you find the Anti-Defamation League calling out both Rashida Tlaib and Donald Trump for using the same anti-Semitic trope. In terms of political power, there is no parity between Tlaib and Trump, and while some in the press have defended Trump and his positions, others have defended Tlaib. But it’s the condemnations that stand out. . .
The first day I got to Grant High School, after being bussed out of Echo Park into the Valley, I met a girl named Meital. I was almost fourteen and she was the first Israeli I’d met since leaving the neighborhood of Jaffa D at the age of nine. She invited me to sit with her friends on the quad. I said I’d rather not. She asked why. . .
I moved to Los Angeles at the age of eight and a half and went into fourth grade, where I was asked to check off my ethnicity. I read the choices: Caucasian / Anglo-Saxon, African-American, Hispanic, Asian / Pacific-Islander. I had no idea what any of those meant, so I went over to the world map and looked for Israel, the country where I was born. . .
One of the first things I did after first buying Samuel Beckett’s so-called Trilogy—which consists of Molloy (1951), Malone Dies (1951), and The Unnamable (1953)—was to take a box cutter and slice the spine into three separate novels. I read the first two in New York in 2007, where I lived at the time, and brought the last part with me to Jerusalem in 2008. . .
As political camps grow increasingly extreme in their messaging – with Democrat and Republican views both turning less nuanced, with the Right and Left seeming to need each other in order to justify their political survival—it may be helpful to recall a person who tried to make a case for what he called the voices of silence. . .
Isaac Bashevis Singer—the famed Yiddish writer and 1978 laureate of the Nobel Prize for Literature—made his first trip to Israel in the fall of 1955. His relationship to Israel was complicated to say the least. He had been born into a strictly religious family of rabbis and rebetzins in Poland, for whom the land of Israel was the holiest of religious symbols. . .
It is often said that the work of a translator is thankless. What is less often recalled is that the work is endless. The written word, unlike the printed one, is never finished, at no point complete. When we look at the manuscripts of literary masters, we see the degree to which they made changes until the very last moment. . .
At a time of wholesale equivocation across social fronts—political, moral, religious—it is difficult to find a voice that is clear, knowledgeable, authentic, or complex. The chorus of shouts resounding from all corners of the cultural spectrum makes it hard to ground our convictions in solid perspectives not undermined by the severity of discourse rising around us. . .
In the early throes of composing The Plague—as the Second World War cut him off from his wife in Algeria and exiled him in France—Albert Camus jotted down in his notebook that "the problem of art is a problem of translation." In this way he suggested that literary composition, like translation, involves the transformation of source material into target material. . .
Bruno Schulz has sustained a premier yet often unrecognized position in the mythology of twentieth-century literature, famously inspiring authors and artists from Philip Roth to the Brothers Quay despite the fact that, since his mainstream English introduction in 1977, only his first publication has been consistently available. . .
When the exhibit "Andy Warhol: Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century" opened at the Jewish Museum in New York in 1980, critics asked where Warhol's sudden interest in Jews had come from, with some even suggesting that this "random" choice of subject was "exploitative". . .
© Copyright David Stromberg