Martin Heidegger once said that a biography of Aristotle should be simple, saying “He was born. He thought. He died.” The rest, the German philosopher said, was merely anecdote.
Jacques Derrida says that he doesn’t agree with Heidegger’s position, although he can see the point of it. The famed French thinker, the father of deconstruction, admits there is more to his own life than that, even if he is unwilling to fill in a lot of the blanks.
Tim Blake Nelson is hardly the first person to have his life changed by reading the works of Primo Levi. The profound moral probity, intellectual integrity and artistic brilliance of Levi’s writings about his survival of Auschwitz have stirred anyone who has encountered his work. But Nelson is uniquely positioned to extend to Levi’s influence beyond his own life to that of others.
In the cultural history of the second half of the 20th century, few figures — and no Jews — are more influential or pivotal than Bob Dylan.
No other artist bestrides so many trends and streams of Americana; Dylan merges folk, blues, gospel, country, rock and modernist poetry (with strong ties to the Symbolists and Surrealists). And in his relentless shape-shifting and self-reinvention he is an archetype for the age of mass communications.
The aftermath of the Sago mine explosion captured my attention and rent my heart, the same as for millions of other Americans. It also drew me in as a journalist concerned with the history and future of social justice in this country.
The stories of the 12 miners killed in the disaster and those of their families are riveting enough, highlighting the human drama and consequences behind such a tragedy. But also riveting are the facts regarding the mine's many health and safety violations and how federal officials seemed to be missing in action.
The death this month of Emanual Muravchik, a lifelong socialist and the onetime leader of the Jewish Labor Committee, highlighted a world that no longer exists — much of it recalled at a memorial service at the JLC last Friday. It also put into sharp relief a contrast between two generations of American Jews.
When Florence Greenglass and Sol Dubner converted from Judaism to Catholicism during World War II, it was as though a gate banged shut; neither looked back. Embracing Catholicism zealously, they broke with their families as well as their religion; Dubner’s father sat shiva. The pair met and married after each had converted independently; they became Veronica and Paul Dubner. Decades later, their son Stephen, the youngest of their eight children, unlocked the gate, opening to a renewed Jewish future.
The one thing that most reviewers of E.L Doctorow’s new novel City of God (Random House) seem to agree on is that it’s an ambitious work. It’s an unusual, non-linear, non-smooth, rambling postmodern novel that takes on themes of God, science, religion, love, war, popular music, bird watching and movies; it’s also a novel about writing. Not always easy to follow, its several narrative lines and multiple speakers shift abruptly, and those readers who like their novels to have beginnings, middles and ends might find it difficult.