Monday, August 27, 2007

Go figure. Feel perfectly free to figure.

1. Amy Bloom's new novel, Away, is a harrowing, wrenching story in which the protagonist, Lillian, flees the pogroms in Russia, headed for an unknown relative who has an apartment in Brooklyn. At twenty-two, Lillian has already seen enough grief and misery to last a lifetime: her parents, husband, and infant child have been killed and she has barely escaped. In the New York of 1924, Lillian may have launched a new survival; we cannot yet call it a new life. She has thrust her way into a job at one of the major Yiddish theaters in the Lower East Side where, among other things, she has watched a moving rendition of Hamlet in Yiddish.

There is something mischievous about this, and as I read, I am aware of a smile creeping into my lant
ern jaw. It is not until the beginning of Hamlet's famed soliloquy being rendered in Yiddish that the smile explodes into full laughter. Tsu zayn, nisht tsu zayn... As with all true ethnic humor, it is the explosive connection of the dots within the template of tragedy and sorrow.
2. Somewhere on UTube is a long, remarkable scene from The Fiddler on the Roof, done by an all-Japanese cast. It does not make fun of the original nor does the Yiddish rendition of To be or not to be make fun. Each is the sudden splendid recognition of something discovered, a preconceived notion shattered abruptly.

3. Was it the same person who sent me The Fiddler? Or was it someone else who sent me, in of all things Icelandic, two men from the Middle Ages (although they were, indeed, middle-aged men), the one trying to explain to the other how a book works, using computer-based terms.
4. SLC was no slouch in picking up the various dialects he heard as a boy in slave-holding Missouri, and later as a steam-boat pilot on the great river. His ear was also acute to the music of pretension and sham. It is reasonable to see him becoming angrier by the minute at thoughts of his hated rival, Walter Scott, Sir Walter, if you please, and thus the combustion took place in Huckleberry Finn with the famed Duke and Dauphin segment, a set piece in which Huck runs into two bogus noblemen, taking on the code of chivalry and the high-flown regalia of courtly

5. Be on the look out for the unexpected, the untho
ught of juxtaposition, the uncorking of lightning in a bottle, the hidden icon or element that exposes hypocrisy and binds the rest of us together in a moment of cosmic rapture at the absolute daftness in our midst. There is nothing like an occasional dose of it to keep the blues away.

6. The Marx Brothers. A Night at the Opera. Animal Crackers. Duck Soup. They largely got their start in Yiddish theater, moved over to vaudeville, and in these short, iconic masterpieces, presaged Joseph Campbell. Go ahead, say it, Captain Spaulding as the archetype of The Hero on his journey. The Hero with shoe polish eye brows.

7. Go figure.


Lori Witzel said...

And I say:
"Hooray for Captain Spaulding!"


What a wonderful trip, this post -- and now I can't stop thinking of Joe Campbell and Groucho, caught in the same frame. Thanks for giving me a profound grin this morning.

John Eaton said...

Yes, indeedy.

A whole bunch of poets would love to sing as well as you do, Shelly.

To see or not to see.

The question lingers,


Anonymous said...

How interesting! So that's why ethnic humor can't help but be subversive in the context of the larger culture. Always. Subversive even of Hamlet!

lowenkopf said...

Lori, glad to be of connective tissue.

John, why is it I come away from some of your stuff looking for some music and a good meal?

Karen, all humor is subversive! The enemy is pomposity. All writers are drawn to pomposity thinking it a chance to get serious. All humorists wait for us like snipers. We need to not be serious, or as John would put it, listen to the Zen of unseriousness.