Monday, July 30, 2012

Isaiah Berlin and Hugh Trevor-Roper

OLD POLYMATHS NEVER DIE -- a recent article on "the unstoppable legacies of Isaiah Berlin and Hugh Trevor-Roper" offers an overview of the popularity and continued publications by these two authors.

Author Adrian Wooldridge says: "Isaiah Berlin, the political philosopher, died in 1997, aged 88; Hugh Trevor-Roper, the historian, died in 2003, aged 89. But in death both men have been more prolific than when they were alive." The contrasts and comparisons of the two men are quite interesting. Berlin's Jewish roots in Eastern Europe were mentioned, though they are not explored in this article. I would eventually like to see a further exploration of the influence on him of this background.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Elias Canetti (July 25, 1905)

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1981 was awarded to Elias Canetti "for writings marked by a broad outlook, a wealth of ideas and artistic power" -- from the Nobel Prize website.

I have read parts of Canetti's famous memoirs, because I wanted to know about the Bulgarian Jewish community in which he grew up. I've not really figured out why he's considered a great writer. Evidently there's no consensus on that, as illustrated by Clive James in "Canetti, Man of Mystery." He finds Canetti vastly overrated! Here's a sample of what he has to say:
"While living in Britain, Canetti wrote three books of memoirs about his life in pre-war Europe. He wrote them in German. (All three volumes are now available in English, although readers are warned that the translations lose some of the effortless pomposity of the original.) ...  
"Canetti spent the last part of his life in Zurich. In his last year he was at work on his memoir about London. (Now, in Elysium, he is probably working on his memoir about Zurich.) The unfinished book, Party in the Blitz, is the story of his years in and around Hampstead during the war and just after. We are fortunate that there is no more of it, lest we start wondering whether Canetti should not have received another Nobel Prize, for being the biggest twerp of the twentieth century. But a twerp must be at least partly stupid, and Canetti wasn’t even a little bit that. Instead, he was a particularly bright egomaniac, and this book, written when his governing mechanisms were falling to bits, simply shows the limitless reserves of envy and recrimination that had always powered his aloofness."

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Natalia Ginzburg (July 14, 1916)

Her upbringing: Atheist. Her adopted religion: Catholic. Her politics: Communist. Her birthplace: Palermo, Sicily.

During World War II she was persecuted and her husband killed for being in the resistance in Italy as well as for being Jewish (on her father's side). Though there are Jewish characters in her novels, she’s one of those universalists who Jewish critics struggle to assign a morally Jewish point of view. I've enjoyed several of her prize-winning novels.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bruno Schulz (July 12, 1892)

From a review of a biography in the New York Times:
"Anyone who has read the stories of Bruno Schulz, the collection called 'The Street of Crocodiles,' or 'Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass,' will know this writer as one of the strangest literary figures of the century. The stories are weirdly beautiful, evocations of a world where, as Jerzy Ficowski puts it in this biography of Schulz, a 'general fluctuation of the laws of nature' operates, where time itself loses its inevitability and even death can be undone. When Schulz was gunned down by the Gestapo in 1942 in Drohobycz, the Polish town (now part of Ukraine) where he spent his entire life, literature lost a voice as unusual in its way as Kafka's."
I have read "The Street of Crocodiles," and I'm not sure I am as enthusiastic as this reviewer, but I am highly aware of the great regard in which Schultz is held by others.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Camille Pissarro (July 10, 1830)

I love the works of Camille Pissarro. Last year, I wrote about him in August because that was the date of an interesting review of an exhibit on his work. Here is a duplicate of that post:

In the New York Times: a review of an article and slide show about an exhibit of paintings by Pissarro: Populating the Landscape With Idealism.

Pissarro was a powerful influence on the Impressionists, but very much an outsider in France: 
"He was born thousands of miles away from Europe in 1830, on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, then a Danish colony. His father was a dry-goods merchant from Bordeaux, his mother a Caribbean-born daughter of French parents. Both sides of the family were Sephardic Jews. Pissarro himself chose to remain a Danish citizen all his life.

"Even on St. Thomas his status was outside the norm. His parents were unmarried when he was born, bringing censure from Jews on the island. As a child he went to a local Moravian school with Afro-Caribbean children, where he spoke English instead of French."
He was also a political outsider, "deeply immersed in revolutionary politics, specifically in anarchist thinking that espoused a radically egalitarian, anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian society." 

His attitude towards others was generous: 
"Pissarro’s idealism was insistent. Because he wanted his projection of a better future to be realized, he tried to work it out in the present, through his own practice of ethical generosity, firm in the face of political censorship (he was closely watched by the French police because of his anarchist ties), anti-Semitism (he forgave this in Degas) and professional isolation as an artist who was neither born French nor had French citizenship...." 
Above all, Pissarro was a fabulous artist. I've not seen the reviewed exhibit, but I love his paintings that I've seen in Paris, Chicago, and a number of other places.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Jews in Orientalist Art

Very fascinating review of an art exhibit at the Jewish museum in Paris:

The Ghosts of Edward Saïd: A provocative Paris show of Orientalist art charts the European encounter with Sephardic Jewry

Actually the exhibit has nothing to do with Said, but the author of the article chose to use his ideas on Orientalism to highlight the themes of the exhibit. I wish I could see it!

Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Joseph gardien des greniers de Pharaon, 1874. (Dahesh Museum of Art, New York)