Thursday, May 19, 2011

Michael Chabon (May 24, 1963)

--Michael Chabon on the Simpsons

"I saw my first golem in 1968, in Flushing, New York, shortly before my fifth birthday," Michael Chabon wrote in "Golems I Have Known...A Trickster's Memoir." The last sentence of this essay is: "And, naturally, I'm still telling lies." In the essay, Chabon describes his direct encounters with clay statues created by possibly practicing Kabbalists -- and also claims to be related to Rabbi Loewe of Prague, most famous golem creator. He also describes the progress of his awareness of both the Holocaust and the American civil rights struggle through his experiences with various people during his youth: these things are knit together in the memoir.

Chabon explains that a golem is among other things (and especially for modern or post-moderns) a metaphor for artistic and literary creation. Originally, the kabbalists made golems as an imitation of god's work creating Adam, also from clay. God animated the inert clay Adam; thus, the rabbis pretended or imitated him in the incantations they used over their statues. Of course the legends had it that they were sometimes successful, and the statues really came to life. After a childhood of encounters with golems, Chabon used the story of Rabbi Loewe and his golem in his Pulitzer-prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. The Holocaust played a role in that book, as it did in the memoir.

I'm a big fan of Chabon. Besides Kavalier & Clay, I loved his book The Yiddish Policemen's Union, an alternate, comic, ironic history of the Jews in the twentieth century where settlement in Alaska takes place instead of the Holocaust and the founding of Israel. His playful treatment of Jewish history and identity really appeals to me. I'm especially amused by the fact that the essay, which ends "I'm still telling lies" has been attacked for being false.

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