A new take on the Fourth of July

What was happening outside of the 13 colonies on July 4, 1776?  Historian Claudio Saunt tells us: https://www.facebook.com/notes/early-americanist-blog/july-2014-schedule/654355344647841

What Did Hitler Read? (and what did he burn?)

The Weekly Standard finally gets around to reviewing Timothy Ryback’s book “Hitler’s Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life,” (Vintage, 2008). All in all, the review’s just fine. It gives the basic overview of what Ryback reports: basically, that Hitler was a voracious reader, if an uncritical and self-serving one.

A good portion of the 16,000 books Hitler owned–a collection currently housed in Russia and the Library of Congress–reads like a Who’s Who of early 20th century racial theorists, bunk eugenicists, and crackpot political theorists. Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Paul Lagarde, and America’s own Henry Ford were, therefore, lining his stacks.

To be fair, Hitler dabbled in literature, architecture, and what was then considered respectable history. But our reviewer, Michael McDonald, goes along with Ryback’s main point: that nearly all of the things Hitler read simply confirmed his opinions. Nary a word seemed to challenge them.

But here’s something I noticed, both in Ryback’s and other reviews, like the New York Times’ (in January, 2009). Critics keep pointing out the facile irony, that Hitler “may be better known to posterity for burning rather than cherishing books.” It’s a small point they make, admittedly. But it is seems an entirely false irony in any event. If one takes Ryback’s point seriously–that Hitler kept a horrendously dogmatic, selective, and self-serving collection of book, no matter how many–then it stands to reason that once he had the chance, he’d be just as selective with what went in his countries’ libraries too. He wasn’t against books, just certain kinds.

And on the last point: the books Hitler banned. I came across what seems like a reliable survey of the book-banning campaign under the Nazi regime at the University of Arizona’s library Web site. Apparently the library organized an exhibit in 2001 based on the the scholar Leonidas Hill’s book “The Nazi Attack on Un-German Literature, 1933-1945.” There’s a link to several scanned lists (and translated too!) that Nazi-approved groups made, too.

And worth noting, a list published by in 1935 by Die Bucherei, the official Nazi journal for lending libraries:

No “literature of Marxism, Communism and Bolshevism,”
No “Pacifist literature,”
No “Literature with liberal, democratic tendencies and attitudes, and writing supporting the Weimar Republic.”
No “historical writings whose purpose is to denigrate the origin, the spirit and the culture of the German Volk, or to dissolve the racial and structural order of the Volk, or that denies the force and importance of leading historical figures in favor of egalitarianism and the masses, and which seeks to drag them through the mud (Emil Ludwig).”
No “Books that advocate ‘art’ which is decadent, bloodless, or purely constructivist.”
And No “Literature by Jewish authors, regardless of the field”

What’s It Like to Be Raised by Socialists?

I asked that question to Said Sayrafiezadeh, who was raised by committed members of the Socialist Workers Party. He wrote about the experience in his breathtaking debut memoir “When Skateboards Will Be Free,” recently published by Random House. Here’s my interview with him, published in The Jewish Week, because he’s Jewish–on his mother’s side, nee Finkelstein.

Ron Arad Comes to MoMA

And I wrote about it, twice.
For The Jewish Week, and for The New York Observer.

Asher Roth, Not a Jew

The rapper delights in questions about his conspicuously Jewish name. But he’s not, he told me, in a story I published in last week’s Jewish Week. Though “Roth” comes from his father’s father, who was Jewish, Asher’s father does not consider himself Jewish, nor did he raise his kid that faith either. But here’s the curve-ball, “Asher” is Scottish, and pays homage to a relative on his mother’s side: last name, McConnell.

What’s more, the Roth’s today celebrate Christmas. Definitely not a Jew.

From Yale to YIVO: Why a Publishing Kingpin Took Over a Struggling Jewish Archive

Read about it here, my story in this week’s Jewish Week.

Emanuel Gat Comes to New York

The Johnny-come-lately of Israeli dance, Emanuel Gat, comes to the Lincoln Center Festival this week. He was all but sure to become a conductor until, at 23, he tried out for a dance company on a whim. Now 40, he’s one of the dance world’s stars to watch, and with two new works being staged at the Lincoln Center, people will want to. One is a ballet, aptly named, “Silent Balent,” which has no music. And the other riffs off his resounding 2004 success, “Winter Voyage”; it’s titled “Winter Variations.” The male duet features Roy Assaf and Gat himself. Read my story about Gat and his New York shows in this week’s Jewish Week.

Sammy’s Menorah Doesn’t Sell, and, Do Jews Rock?

Two new stories in The Jewish Week: One on the auction of Sammy Davis Jr.’s menorah, which didn’t sell. Too bad, it’s a nice one, but now it goes back to the electrical contractor who owns it.
And a story about revisionism in Jewish punk rock history. The Jewish punk rockers on a panel last week at YIVO–Tommy Ramone, Lenny Kaye, Handsome Dick Manitoba (ne Richard Blum), and Chris Stein of Blondie–couldn’t agree on whether their Jewishness influenced their music. Much to Steven Lee Beeber’s chagrin, author of “The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGBs: A Secret History of Jewish Punk.”

Louise Gluck Poses a Problem

I read this poem a couple days ago, new on Slate, by Louise Gluck, a former U.S. Poet Laureate. I love her stuff, but this one’s stayed with me a while, more so than usual. I read it again today and thought I’d share it. (Here’s the link.) It’s more than Gluck’s usual deeply probing poems, written in her straightforward, unfussy style. It also poses, I think, a real challenge to our society’s focus on “the self.” Here’s what I mean:

The unnamed friend in the poem seems to live a happy existence. With each new love of his, he fully inhabits that person’s mind, learning to think, act and feel exactly as she would. But the flip-side (not necessarily a down-side, based on my reading) is that he loses any ability to develop his own personality, his own sense of self. When he moves on to another lover, he simply becomes someone else.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that he’s somehow “fake” or disingenious; not at all. He’s just mastered the skill we all more or less sharpen when we love someone, romanticly, or as friends, family, or otherwise. He’s gone beyond empathy, beyond sympathy even, and reached an utterly un-self-conscious kind of understanding. A real transcending of the self, and all the crap that comes with it — pride, temerity, caution, selfishness. He no longer views the person he’s with objectively either, and thinks entirely as she would. To his lover, this could make him unreliable of course, being of no use when she asks for honest advice. But he is happy, always discovering something new.

One challenge this kind of person poses is that he leaves no trace on his peers. When his former girlfriend’s brag to their new boyfriends about this old flame, Gluck writes, the new boyfriends “tolerate this, they even smile. / … they know this man doesn’t exist.” He embodies no qualities that his peers can look up to (or be jealous of), that they really admire about him. That is besides, of course, the happiness he’s learned to acquire through constant transformation.

Would you want to be him? Or, if you’re less enthused, do you even like him?

Just a thought.

The Rh Factor, I.B. Singer with Puppets, and a Feud Between Freud and Jung

Some recent work from The Jewish Week: A theater festival of Jewish ideas in New York, and What Orwell Would Say about plays like “My Name is Rachel Corrie,” “Seven Jewish Children” and “Wall.”