A House of Words: Jewish Writing, Identity, and Memory by Norman Ravvin

By Norman Ravvin

Targeting the way in which Jewish heritage - relatively the Holocaust - and culture tell postwar Canadian and American Jewish literature, this article deals readings of the works of influential writers resembling Saul Bellow, Leonard Cohen, Eli Mandel, Mordecai Richler, Chava Rosenfarb, Philip Roth and Nathaneal West. Norman Ravvin highlights the worries that those disparate writers proportion as Jewish writers in addition to areas their paintings within the context of the wider traditions of mulitculturalism, postcolonial writing, and significant conception.

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St. Urbairis Horseman is shot through with references to Mengele, Auschwitz, Dachau, and anti-Semitism, yet this thematic material is treated on an emotional and personal level - often with more than a touch of black comedy - rather than from a philosophical or theological perspective. The hero in Jake's fantasies of revenge is his elusive cousin Joey, whom he remembers as a tough and glamorous figure from his boyhood on St Urbain Street in Montreal. To relieve his feelings of guilt for having settled for success as a film director in London, Jake worships the memory of Joey as an avenging "Horseman" who is relentless in his pursuit of Nazis such as Mengele.

Edith's sudden transformation into a figure embodying both Isis and Catherine Tekakwitha is often seen as the novel's climactic sign that magic is afoot, that an alternative ontology is being affirmed. But Soderlind neglects to mention that Edith's claim of sacred transcendence is made immediately after the orgy that F. and Edith take part in with Hitler, which is followed by a bath using soap "derived from melted human flesh" (Cohen, Beautiful 194). Margaret Atwood's early, but influential Survival may well have set the stage for this curious avoidance of Hitler's presence in the 25 Writing around the Holocaust novel.

In his collection of essays, Soundings in Critical Theory, LaCapra suggests a rethinking of the relationship of certain Freudian concepts to the study of history, in order to enable, half a century after the event, a valid and creative response to the Holocaust. He does not advise the "application of psychoanalytic concepts to historical objects," in effect putting "individuals or groups from the past 'on the couch'" (32). He asks, rather, "how psychoanalysis can lead to a basic reconceptualization of historical self-understanding and practice" (32).

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