Hold It All

Category: World Literature

Dedication

Nathalie Vanderlinden takes a passion for Proust to a new, public level!

Though Proust had a Jewish mother, he seems to me neither Christian nor Jewish. His wisdom is his own, and though it has an analogue to Shakespeare’s detachment, I think it is indeed closer to Hindu philosophy. There is a curious difficulty here. All of Proust turns upon erotic relationships, yet in time all of these are renounced or abandoned. And yet, without them, In Search of Lost Time could not have been composed. Marcel observes that Albertine fertilized him through unhappiness.

Harold Bloom, Possessed by Memory: The Inward Light of Criticism, 480

Trying To Be One-Pointed

In the autumn, on retreat at a mountain temple

Although I try
to hold the single thought
of Buddha’s teaching in my heart,
I cannot help but hear
the many crickets’ voices calling as well.

–Izumi ShikiboT
ranslated by Jane Hirshfeld, with the aid of Mariko Aratani, The Ink Dark Moon

Arise with a Brave Heart: Six Translations of the Gita, 2:3

It does not become you to yield to this weakness. Arise with a  brave heart and destroy the enemy.
—trans. Eknath Easwaran

Don’t yield to impotence!
It is unnatural in you!
Banish this petty weakness from your heart.
Rise to the fight, Arjuna!
—trans. Barbara Stoler Miller

Yield not to unmanliness, O Partha. It does not become thee. Shake off this miserable faint-heartedness and arise, O Parantapa.
—trans. unknown, from Mohandas Gandhi’s Gujarati translation from Sanskrit original

Yield not to this unmanliness, O Partha [Arjuna], for it does not become thee. Cast off this petty faintheartedness and arise, O Oppressor of the foes [Arjuna].
—trans. S. Radhakrishnan Read the rest of this entry »

What To Do

“The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live everyday, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

“What Will Become of Yiddish?”

Chava Rosenfarb, Confessions of a Yiddish Writer and Other Essays Edited by Goldie Morgentaler McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019 Scholar and professor Morgentaler has gathered an impressive collection of writings by her mother, Chava Rosenfarb. A survivor of the the Lodz ghetto and Auschwitz death camp, Rosenfarb eventually moved to Canada and spent her adult life practicing remembrance through her novels, stories, and poems. In these personal and literary essays as well as travel writings, Rosenfarb gives us a glimpse of the vicissitudes of the Yiddish world from her youth to the end of her life. Included in this volume are reflections on Sholem Asch, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Paul Celan, as well as explorations of feminism and translation. In what follows, I share passages which reveals this writer’s insight, commitment, and passion, which may lead us to deeper understanding of some of our own contemporary crises.

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[When asked what message she has as a result of her experiences in Poland] The only answer I am capable of giving is to echo the passage in the Passover haggadah, which says that, in every generation, each individual must regard him or herself as having personally come out of Egypt. I would say that, in every generation, each individual must regard him or herself as having personally survived the Holocaust, and each person should transmit this awareness to the sons and daughters of the next generation. 24

The Nazis had not succeeded in wiping out the Jewish people, but the passing of time had made it ever more obvious that they may very well have succeeded in eradicating the Yiddish language and the culture that it nourished. After all, the majority of Jews who perished in the Holocaust had been Yiddish speakers. That generation could not pass on its language to its offspring—and without transmission from parent to child, a language is doomed. 186

[The Yiddish writer] creates in a vacuum, almost without a readership, out of fidelity to a vanished language, as if to prove that Nazism did not succeed in extinguishing that language’s last breath, that it is still alive. Creativity is a life-affirming activity. Lack of response to creativity and being condemned to write for the desk drawer is a stifling, destructive experience. Sandwiched between these two misfortunes struggles the spirit of the contemporary Yiddish writer. 190

I bore witness in the belief that there is no future for mankind if it refuses to face itself in the mirror of the Holocaust, disturbing and horrifying though that mirror may be….if we forget the Holocaust, we deprive ourselves of the knowledge of the human soul, with its hidden resources of love and care, of dignity and courage, for these were in fact the qualities that the humiliated, spat upon, doomed Jews displayed every day of the tortured lives they led between the barbed-wire fences of the ghetto. 21

But I have an account to settle with Germany and with the Germans of my generation. I do not know when my account will be settled. It is my personal account, and not one I propose that anyone else should keep, not even my children. 123 Read the rest of this entry »

The Chasm between Them and Us

Kadya Molodovsky, A Jewish Refugee in New York: Rivke Zilberg’s Journal
Translated by Anita Norich

The accomplished Yiddish writer Molodovsky wrote this novel in serialized form in 1940-41, knowing obviously what was happening at the time to her friends and family in Europe. But it was impossible for her to imagine the eventual enactment of a “Final Solution.” We readers in 2019 know what was to happen in the years following Rivke’s arrival and year of adjustments in the U.S. This makes the author’s portrayal of American superficiality even more piercing and jarring. Yet this theme of clueless nonchalance also interrogates also our present: Besides the consistently awful headlines each day, what unimaginable catastrophe is looming around the corner?

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The women talked a lot about themselves and didn’t give me the slightest opportunity to tell them how I came to be a refugee. 2

When he dances [like Benny Goodman] all I can think about is that my mother was killed by a bomb, and I don’t know what’s happening with my brothers, although I’m sure they’re not dancing now. I have no idea what’s become of my father either. I’d go to the ends of the earth to avoid Marvin’s dancing, but where can I go? 8

I thought they were getting ready for a Purim ball, but they explained that they were planning an event for war victims. I couldn’t believe how happy they were. They joked and talked and ate [cake]. No matter what’s going on, there’s always cake. If they’re having a card party—cake; a birthday—cake; collection for those suffering in the war—more cake. 12

And on top of everything else, I was upset with Red. When he came, I told him about my father’s letter. “You’re here, not there,” he answered. I could see in his face that he wasn’t the least bit concerned. Red saw that it upset me, and so he added, “What can you do?” I don’t know if Americans are heartless or they just pretend to be. I have no idea. They’re probably pretending. 50

“What are relatives nowadays. Once upon a time an aunt was an aunt, I brought everyone of my nieces and nephews to America. So now they make an appearance only if they need something.” 53

I’ve learned at least one thing in America. Whether things are good or bad, the first thing you have to do is smile. 65 Read the rest of this entry »

Medicine for the Sick

The Dalai Lama: We should have this [compassion] from the depths of our heart, as if it were nailed there. Such compassion is not merely concerned with a few sentient beings such as friends and relatives, but extends up to the limits of the cosmos, in all directions and towards all beings throughout space. The Bodhicaryavatara, xxiv 

 

Recently, I have read several books by the articulate proponent of Secular Buddhism, Stephen Batchelor. As a young person committed to the Dharma, he produced a translation from the Tibetan text of Shantideva’s classic, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. I went back to a translation from the Sanskrit by Kate Crosby & Andrew Skilton on my shelf, The Bodhicaryavatara: A Guide to the Buddhist Path of Awakening. Perusing it, I found the following verses*, to inform and inspire my slacker self…

1.8.  Those who long to transcend the hundreds of miseries of existence, who long to relieve creatures of their sorrows, who long to enjoy many hundreds of joys, must never abandon the Awakening Mind. 

1.28.  Hoping to escape suffering, it is to suffering that they run. In the desire for happiness, out of delusion, they destroy their own happiness, like an enemy.

2.37.  Everything experienced fades to memory. Everything is like an image in a dream. It is gone and is not seen again.

3.6-9. With the good acquired by doing all this as described, may I allay all the suffering of every living being.

I am medicine for the sick. May I be both the doctor and their nurse, until the sickness does not recur. Read the rest of this entry »

Back to the Brothers?

A friend with whom six years ago I did a reading group of  Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, is serious about returning to it sometime soon. Ah, to be re-acquainted with Mitya, Grushenka, Kolya, Markel, Rakitin, Grygory, Snegiriov, Madame Khokhlakov, Ivan, Zhuchka, Katerina, yes, even Smerdyakov!

A Gift from Brooke

Earlier this summer I corresponded with Brooke and mentioned I was learning Yiddish.  She kindly  mailed me the following…

 

Hadji Murat and Noam Chomsky

1.

“… when we came to the camp, Hamzat led the khan into the tent. And I stayed with the horses. I was at the foot of the hill when shooting began in Hamzat’s tent. I ran to the tent. Umma Khan lay face down in a pool of blood, and Abununtsal was fighting with the murids. Half his face had been cut off and hung down. He held it with one hand and held a dagger in the other, with which he cut down everyone who came near him. In front of me he cut down Hamzat’s brother and turned against another man, but here the murids starting shooting at him and he fell.”

Hadji Murat stopped, his tanned face turned reddish brown, and his eyes became bloodshot.

“Fear came over me, and I ran away.”

“Really?” said Loris-Melikov. “I thought you were never afraid of anything.”
“Never afterwards. Since then I always remembered that shame, and when I remembered it, I was no longer afraid of anything.”

–Leo Tolstoy, Hadji Murat, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

2.

I remember when I was about six, first grade. There was the standard fat kid everybody made fun of. I remember in this schoolyard he was standing outside the school classroom and a bunch of kids outside were taunting him. One of them brought over his older brother from third grade, a big kid, and we thought he was going to beat him up. I remember going up to stand next to him feeling somebody ought to help him, and I did for a while, then I got scared and ran away. I was very much ashamed of it. I felt, I’ll never do that again. That’s a feeling that’s stuck with me: You should stick with the underdog. The shame remained. I should have stayed with him.

–Noam Chomsky, interview with David Barsamian, Chronicles of Dissent