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Blogging While Jewish8

9 pages

It’s not that I avoided the topic of Judaism when I blogged about dogs; I discussed it on several occasions. I was even considering having a Bark Mitzvah for my dog, Frankie, when he turned 13 earlier this year, but he objected to the yarmulke and having to learn the long arf-torah and I respected that. Generally, however, my Jewishness and Frankie’s – he is extremely circumcised, I should mention — were not central to the discussion there.
Freudian Lit: PW Talks with Goce Smilevski
Lucian Freud, Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau)
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Blogging While Jewish: A Rosh Hashanah Reverie
Posted on September 16, 2012 byEdie Jarolim
This is my first Rosh Hashanah blogging as a Jew.
It’s not that I avoided the topic of Judaism when I blogged about dogs; I discussed it on several occasions. I waseven considering having a Bark Mitzvah for my dog,Frankie, when he turned 13 earlier this year, but he objected to the yarmulke and having to learn the long arf-torah and I respected that. Generally, however, my Jewishness and Frankie’s – he is extremely circumcised, I should mention — were not central to the discussion there.
Not Frankie, but a reasonable — and more cooperative — facsimile.
It’s different on this blog. It doesn’t matter whether I’m religious or whether my family was. Jewishness became the central issue of their life in Vienna — as it did for Sigmund Freud, avowed atheist. Other people are going to define you, no matter how you define yourself, whether you like it or not. Occasionally it works out to your benefit — for example, when people think you’re more sophisticated than you actually are because you grew up in New York City.
More often than not it doesn’t.
Disorganized Religion
My parents weren’t especially observant, though they followed the outlines of the faith: no mixing milk and meat, no pork or shellfish in the house. We lit candles for Hanukkah and ate matzoh on Passover — except for my father, who ate it other times of the year but, during the holidays, claimed it gave him diarrhea. (Dr. Freud?)
Looking back, I don’t think either my mother or father found any joy or comfort in the rituals, though they probably tried to observe them for the sake of their two children and because it’s what they knew growing up.
After my father died, my mother became more vocal about her loss of faith, assuming she had faith to begin with. She didn’t think the Holocaust could have happened if there was a God. By the time she made these assertions, I had nothing to offer in rebuttal.
As an adolescent, I’d been very interested in Judaism. I had been sent to a Yeshivah junior high school because the neighborhood of the public school I was slated to attend had deteriorated. We studied Talmud, which I loved for its spirited parsing of rules and laws. I wanted to go on to read theKabbalah, the central text of Jewish mysticism; that sounded like the really good stuff. I gathered it would require many years of studying the torah as preparation but I was willing. Then I learned that girls were not permitted to study Kabbalah –gnidnatshtiwtonanndoMa— no matter how much prep time they put in. That didn’t seem fair.
I like being able to say that I had a feminist loss of faith, though it probably would have happened for another reason eventually — such as not wanting to spend several years studying the torah. Instead I went to graduate school, where I spent several years studying non-Jewish texts.
But although I’m not keen on any organized religions, including the one I grew up with, there’s no question that I’m culturally Jewish. Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing what’s traditional at this time of the Jewish calendar, looking back meditatively.
A friendly rebellion
I’ve alluded to the fact that I grew up not knowing anything about other relatives who were alive, except the ones who were overseas. I also grew up with parents who didn’t have any friends, though my sister remembers one couple, the Naumanns; the name is familiar to me but I don’t recall ever seeing my parents socialize with them or anyone else.
My form of rebellion, I think, was to become social with a vengeance. I don’t mean popular in the mean girl sense, or that I didn’t spend lots of time reading. But I also reveled in the company of others.
My early friends were almost all Jewish, because that’s who lived in my immediate Brooklyn neighborhood. I was friendly with some Italian kids in my grade school class, but mostly hung out with girls who were within walking distance. (This brings back a memory of shouting up
from the sidewalk to get them to come downstairs from their apartments — literally calling for them. We lived on busy streets. Wouldn’t it have been too noisy to hear?)
Until I went to high school, I didn’t know there was another Christian religion besides Catholicism. Seriously. Protestants were not in the picture… and fuggedabout Protestantism’s different denominations.
This is what I mean about a New York City upbringing being no guarantee of sophistication, no matter what others think.
So you were expecting maybe a slum?
I had a fairly mixed group of friends in Madison High School and Brooklyn College, though primarily Jews and Catholics (I was still in Brooklyn after all). It wasn’t until graduate school at NYU in Manhattan that I had a close friend who was Protestant, and not until I went to San Diego to do dissertation research that almost all my friends were gentile.
Over the years, including those spent in London and now in Tucson, I made several friends who were Jewish. But by virtue of the demographics and my aforementioned avoidance of organized religion, more were not.
My new extended family
As I wrote inI See Live People,the research for this blog led to the discovery of a world full of Kornmehl family members I didn’t know I had. It’s very exciting; I hope I’ll get to know many of them better. One has alreadycontributed a post to this blog,which has made her an immediate friend.
Does that mean there is no place here for non-Jews?
Of course not. This blog wouldn’t exist without them. My friend John was the one who googled “Freud’s butcher” and discovered the connection with the Freud Museum that spurred me to write Freud’s Butcher. Lydia found my cousin’s book on the Kornmehl family that led to us all knowing each other; she also helped me with genealogical research. By coincidence, a student of Lydia’s at NYU worked on a film calledAuf Wiedersehen: ‘Til We Meet Againabout Jews in Vienna during World War II. Through the filmmaker, Linda Mills, I’ve been corresponding with Lothar Hölbling, the non-Jewish archivist who helped process the vast reserve of Jewish files discovered in Vienna and detailed in the film. He has been immensely helpful to me. I’ll write more about the film and about Lothar soon.
And I’ve never discussed religion with my wonderful web designer,Laura E. Kelly, but I’m thinking Kelly is not so much a Jewish name.
Freud and meat, the other topics I’m covering, are nondenominational.
My Jewish friends and family members understand certain things about me that no one else can; they’re essential things, but they’re not everything. My dog-loving friends get why I can no longer travel as much as I used to — something Jews who don’t have pets would consider meshuggenah. Other friends know the writer me, the foodie me, my single-without-children side…. And some understand many of my personae (hi Clare!)
We contain multitudes.
So happy new year and thank you to all who have enriched my life, Jewish, non-Jewish, real and virtual, those I know through my dog blog and social media but have never met. I’m looking forward to expanding my horizons even more.
Goce Smilevksi. Photo by Igor Todorovsky.
Freudian Lit: PW Talks with Goce Smilevski By Ann MayhewSep 17, 2012
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Following in the footsteps of 2006’sConversation with Spinoza, Macedonian writer Goce Smilevski plucks an individual from history and brings her to life. ForFreud’s Sister, Smilevski chose Adolfina Freud, Sigmund’s youngest sister who was killed during the holocaust.
Why do you think it’s important to investigate history’s “forgotten” characters, and why Adolfina?
InThe Art of the Novel, Milan Kundera wrote that “historiography writes the history of society, not of a man,” while the art of the novel has the ability to examine “the historical dimension of human existence.” Historiography remembers only the influential people; its selective memory neglects the lives of ordinary people. Adolfina Freud is one of those billions of forgotten people, and we are certain of just a few facts of her life and death. We know nothing about her joys and sorrows. On the other hand, many things about her brother Sigmund have been well recorded, including those that are trivial, such as where he bought cigars. Writing a novel narrated by a relative of one of the most influential people in history was, for me, a symbolic act; I was giving a voice to one of those forgotten people whose lives, happiness, and tragedies have been lost.
What kind of research did you do to reimagine Adolfina’s life?
My main research was about 19th-century and early 20th-century life, the Holocaust, psychoanalysis, and her brother’s works.
How did Sigmund Freud’s work influence how you novelized his sister’s life and death?
The fictional Adolfina’s notions of life, death, madness, love, dreams, and women are often juxtaposed with those of Sigmund Freud’s. For example, Freud was, in a way, a misogynist— he wrote that the personality of each female originates from her penis envy. Adolfina gives us a different perspective—in the novel, she suggests that women’s personalities originate from sources other than penis envy.
Madness is a recurrent theme in Freud’s Sister, and Adolfina and her brother have differing views on it. What is your personal take on madness?
I believe that madness has to be studied and cured scientifically, but we should never forget the pain it causes to the ones that suffer from it, nor should we forget the differences in each of these sufferings. We are reminded of this with the opening sentence of the chapter in the mental hospital: “All normal people are normal in the same way, each mad person is mad in his own way.”
More ?
Lue,dFrniaucStanding by the Rags
uLnaicerF,duLarge Interior,W11 (after Watteau)
Lucian Freud: Portraits
Jul 01, 2012 - Oct 28, 2012
Lucian Freud is widely considered the greatest portrait painter of the twentieth century. His visceral renderings of people from all walks of life have a painterly and psychological drama that is unparalleled in contemporary art. For much of a century—from the late 1940s until his recent death in July 2011—Freud made the living human presence his subject. The Modern’s chief curator, Michael Auping, remarks,“ While numerous generations of artists working in the genre of portraiture have come to rely on the photographic image, Freud always insisted on being in the room with his subjects as he painted. His portraits are not only the result of the artist’s intense observations, but often subtle interactions between painter and subject. His paintings represent these relationships, as well as the unique people they portray.”
Freud’s subjects range from neighbors, friends, lovers, family, art world personalities, and royalty. His paintings are, in essence, a visual biography. The exhibition will be divided into broad thematic groups that concentrate on particular periods; groups of sitters; and formal considerations, demonstrating the development of the artist’s painting techniques.
Organized by the National Portrait Gallery, London, in association with the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the exhibition will consist of approximately 90 works, dating between 1943 and 2011. Fort Worth will be the only U.S. venue. A major book will document the exhibition, and will include essays by Auping, Picasso scholar John Richardson, exhibition curator Sarah Howgate, and a series of interviews between Freud and Auping.
This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.