Sunday, April 25, 2010

Musings on Direct Encounters

How many hours have I been here? I've written nothing! Nothing! I'm finding it impossible to pick a Jewish American writer. I'm surrounded by Allen Ginsberg Journals, Howl, Kaddish, and some dude who wrote a narrative beat poem about Allen Ginsberg. Of course this dude was a Guggenheim Fellow and received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Whatever. It makes my stomach take a nose dive. I keep reading bits and pieces---unable to synthesize the information in a meaningful manner. In the Introduction to Howl, William Carlos Williams compares Ginsberg to Christ. Damn. This is thesis material—maybe? One line does not make thesis material. One line. One line. Ginsberg's use of words like copulate and snatch, and granite cocks make me squirm and cringe like a prude. Words I might use under other circumstances to make other people cringe. And then, and then I turn the pages to a Supermarket in California. " I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing grocery boys." I love it. I wrap my fingers round the tiny poetry book and sigh. Maybe it's not Ginsberg that makes me so uncomfortable. Maybe it's the words of others. Maybe, just maybe, I need to, as the Cultural Historian said me, have a direct encounter. Ginsberg--can I write about you without writing about your life? Can I write about you by simply reading your poetry? I'm fearful if I write my thoughts alone, I'll miss some vital component by some legendary beat writer or philosopher or literary critic. I'm fearful, I'll miss the point.

I seemed to have more courage a year ago when I wrote of Y.L. Peretz's encounter with God. Anyone who read his work or knew him personally said he was Godless poet: a man who wrote simply for the people. When I read his work, I saw God in every crevice and corner. I saw God in his politics. I saw God in his short stories. I argued that he felt God deeply. It worked. And now, a year later, hundreds of pages of writing later, I cannot seem to gather such arguments. I can't find what to write. Is it Ginsberg? Is it Adrienne Rich (a non-Jew, whose father was Jewish, yet she wrote about Jews.)? Is it Dani Shapiro who fits neatly into the path of the confused assimilated Jew who desperately wants to find her Jewish place in the world? She seems like the perfect place to start. I've read her memoir Devotion and two of her novels in one week. I devoured them and looked at them with skepticism. Then, I looked at her website. Every time I clicked on a link a new picture of her beautiful face popped up. It seemed so self-indulgent. Her memoir seemed so self-indulgent. And yet, is she any more self-indulgent than my own writing? Can I blame her desire to travel on a spiritual journey in search of God and a sense of peoplehood? Her novels are intense fast reads; however, her novels are simply extensions of her life with different scenarios: one Jewish parent, a crazy selfish mother, a worshipful husband, an only child, a frightening medical condition, glimpses of New York City, and crumbling houses in New England. I can't remember which scenarios are fact and which scenarios are fiction.

Why can't W.H. Auden be a Jewish American Poet? Instead, he's the whitest guy ever. At least, he was gay. "He was my North, my South, my East and West/My working week, and my Sunday rest." That's poetry I can cleave to. Ginsberg talks about Auden in his journals, "Description of Auden's apt. Clutter and dirt…Liked Auden's Nones…." Quite frankly, if you read Ginsberg's journal you can't even tell if he's writing about a conversation with William Carlos Williams or Auden or both. Back to Ginsberg. Back to something.

I could write more on Shalom Auslander. I tried to find out why so many NPR hosts and reporters are Jews. I wish there was some Jewish American writer who wrote about his/her encounters with orthodox boys. If I've gleaned any bit of information this semester on the Jewish-American- American-Jewish cultural experience it is through those boys and their youth and their new found love of God and rules. If I've learned anything about the Jewish American experience, it's that sometimes Jewish schools just need warm Jewish bodies so they can continue being Jewish schools. And sometimes those same Jewish schools are filled with brilliance. I've watched an Orthodox boy give a presentation on the Marx Brothers and neglect to mention their Jewishness. I've watched a 612er give a presentation on Hassids who don't even live in America and then bring Hassidic Hip-Hop in at the end. Why didn't he just stick to Hassidic hip-hop? Why not just stick to all 613 commandments or at least all the ones that don't involve Temple ritual. These boys are my direct encounter with Jewish Culture. I'm not sure you could have written a better script…


  1. Hang in there... it'll come (and if it doesn't, there's always the option to run away to Vegas).

  2. If Vegas looking for a fat showgirl?