Monday, June 22, 2009

hungry hearts, hungry minds

I really like the strange tension involved in a recommendation blog that: 1. Has no consistent audience and 2. Leads to nobody actually experiencing my recommendations.

It's almost Borgesian, so before I break out my eye patch, I'll recommend you something that totally exists!

So today's recommendation is listening to me blather more about Anzia Yezierska in my characteristically clumsy way, because I totally had a really, really frustratingly great entry written in a notebook that's in a suitcase I haven't seen for 6 days and am, apparently, not supposed to mention here.

Please, send a hairbrush, or something.

Anyway. Yezierska.

I'm going to talk more about "Where Lovers Dream," and I'm going to avoid, hopefully, the blather that has always annoyed me about how critics have discussed it in the past. I will also hopefully not exceed my own attention span in my eagerness to post this.

Much of my *vague pretentious air quotes* research involves historiography. The narrative cultures construct about history and how it changes over time. Part of my fascination with this story involves its own historiography, the way it exists in two separate times and discusses them without it being heavily linked to stereotypes regarding discrete times and years.

This story starts with a simple, nearly postmodern fragment: "For years I was saying to myself - just so you will act when you meet him. Just so you will stand. So you will look on him. These words you will say to him."

As we used to say in happier days, in classrooms overlooking the sea discussing books, let's unpack that.

It's a pretty intriguing opening for a story that, again, has been dismissed as token, pat example of Jewish-American pulp writing in the early 20th century.

These sentences work in several ways, and that's stunningly elegant. On the one hand the speaker is referring, literally, to how she had planned for years to speak "just so" to the unnamed him (we learn later that it is the man she almost married, who rejected her because her family was poor). On the other hand, we can emphasize the just. JUST so you will stand. JUST so you will act. JUST so you will speak. These words you will say to him. It's almost an epigraph, a performance. A rehearsed litany, perhaps. Left with nothing else, able to represent herself with nothing else, the speaker unfolds her tale, building a space wherein she had once dreamed with words, evoking their power to construct nationality, identity, and social class.

She is at once external and internal to this time: she speaks from a space completely divorced from the space and time she had once built with the love she had had; yet the memory and nostalgia for it allows her to construct this space / time (diegesis) fully and vividly. Without fetishizing the poverty, without simplifying the problematics of young love, Yezierksa

Of course, nothing that happy is sustainable in America - that's really the larger message in her work (a collection of one of Yezierska's short stories is called "How I found America"; like much of her work, you can read it in 2 ways).

Perhaps some of the reason I find such affinity with Yezierska is the intellectual tradition of voluntary poverty from which she comes; her father was a Talmudic scholar who was supported by the village. The character of the non-working intellectual holy man father is a recurring one in her stories.

As someone who is desperately indebted to the life of the mind (and I mean that financially, not emotionally or anything), I guess I relate more and more every day.

Anyway, so that's your daily dose of my Yezierska evangelism. Will I write more tomorrow? Will I recommend something else? Heck, will THOM recommend something? Only time will tell! Tune in tomorrow for more!


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