Friday, December 16, 2005

Split Selves and Red Yidn

A nice comment this morning from Bob on my "split self" post:
Hey. Whoa. I didn't want to call disinterestedness or the kind of split we get from it a necessarily bad thing. I suppose I gave the big 'bad' example b/c I thought the 'good' side (setting aside prejudice, acting professionally, etc) was pretty clear. I mean, the kind of split we get from disinterest is amoral in itself. It can lead to good or bad things. And neither I nor Rosen (the anthropologist at Princeton) claim that the different subjectivity in Iraq is better than the split self (I suppose the word "whole" is loaded, but still...).
Maybe Mark and I did pile up on you, Bob, but my sense is that disinterested aesthetic pleasure, like so many other products of the Enlightenment, is in fact under attack these days, if not necessarily by you. Think of Bourdieu, whom you cited, whose work sets out to debunk the notion of disinterested pleasure. To him, such pleasures simply mask the true social pleasure at stake, which is the pleasure of reaffirming one's place in the educated bourgeoisie. Alas, such turns in intellectual history have consequences! My students, for example, have mostly been trained out of their natural-born curiosity; they profess no affection for books that aren't "relatable," which is to say, books in which they can take no interested pleasure. A true loss, and one worth mourning.

On a related matter, an interesting book review this morning in the Forward. There's a new anthology out that must be warming Cary Nelson's red, red heart: Proletpen: America's Rebel Yiddish Poets, edited by Amelia Glaser and David Weintraub, and translated by Amelia Glaser.
(It's a U of Wisconsin book.) To call these poets "rebels" is lamentable at best. They weren't rebels against the US so much as they were lackeys of Moscow, woodenly hewing to the Party line when their fellow Yiddish leftists--anti-Soviet socialists, and rebels worth the name--were doing their best to draw some fresh progressive water from the rapidly freezing Marxist well. Says the reviewer, Zachary Sholem Berger:
On the occasion of the Hebron pogroms in 1929, which the American Communist paper Di Frayhayt described (following Soviet orders) as a heroic Arab uprising against capitalist Zionism, many of Di Linke did not extract themselves from the Soviet embrace. (Katz's characterization of the "anti-Soviet" response, which condemned the riots, is tortured: "[T]he need to support the Jewish cause in these circumstances was metamorphosing the whole attitude toward Zionism from positive to negative.") Again, after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, some of the poets in this anthology still didn't distance themselves from Soviet diktat. Katz wonders, in a faux-naive vein, why anyone would criticize a poet for leaving Di Linke (i.e., the Communists) at a later rather than a earlier point — that is, for admitting later rather than earlier exactly what Soviet ideology entailed. But isn't this just the political decision that defined these Communist poets? And if political affiliations mean anything at all, isn't it because they are at the foundation of actions that we can discuss and (whisper it) even judge after the fact? In avoiding an explicit analysis of the politics of Di Linke, this book tries to de-emphasize what these Communist poets found important about their lives: communism.
Berger makes some nifty comments about the poems themselves, and tosses of a useful reminder or two about political poetry on both left and right: "ven those who make grave political mistakes can achieve the occasional aesthetic success."; "Yiddish poetry also has its geniuses on the right-wing end of the spectrum of political mistakes: The work of Uri Zvi Greenberg is both hateful and virtuosic."

(Is pleasure in virtuosity interested or disinterested?)

A book to know about, especially if you're interested (so to speak) in poetry of the 1930s, but I'm not sure it's high on my Channukah list. For an introduction to Yiddish American poetry, you'd be better served by Jackie Osherow's recent essay here, which I'll blog about over on my Big Jewish Blog this afternoon or tomorrow. See you there!

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