Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Woody Allen of the Pampas

Novelist Marcelo Birmajer is interviewed in the current Forward:

I.S.: In his writing, Singer was playful — a simpatico — but in his life he was a rascal. Just as I came across unpublished novels (some of which are illegible) and earlier editions of well-known stories, I also discovered that, on a daily basis, he was abrasive and violent, not to mention a liar. In other words, I learned to appreciate the extent to which a famous writer is also infamous at the mundane level. In your view, what difference is there between reading Singer or, perhaps, Philip Roth in English and in Spanish? Or, for that matter, watching a Woody Allen movie in the Hispanic world?

M.B.: Woody Allen is a Jewish director of universal themes, whereas Singer and Roth are Jewish writers of Jewish themes.

I.S.: What do you mean?

M.B.: Woody Allen has never done a film about the Shoah or about Israel. Instead, these themes are central to Singer and Roth. In Woody Allen’s movies, the characters happen to be Jewish. In Singer and Roth, there would be no plot if the characters weren’t Jewish.

I.S.: You’re quite attracted to the three of them, aren’t you?

M.B.: Woody Allen becomes a focus of attention of any narcissist like me. Singer and Roth are a diversion I enjoy because of their conflictive nature. They entertain me and attract me because they are neither boring nor sophisticated. They don’t make it easy for me to identify with them. What I like most about their oeuvre is the role doubt plays in it. For non-Jews, including those in the Hispanic world, Woody Allen, whom I admire, is a good Jew, a friendly Jew, while Singer and Roth are Jewish and that’s it! Not coincidentally, Woody Allen’s public statements against Israel during the first intifada had a repercussion as wide as that of his films. In contrast, Singer and Roth’s pro-Israel statements, literary and as a matter of opinion, are far less known than their books are. But let me turn the conversation around again: How to explain the fact that two Latin American-Jewish intellectuals are as fascinated with Singer, a Pole who lived in the U.S., as you and I are? Why are we interested in a guy who didn’t speak our language?

The final two sentences read like fodder for an Isagani Cruz post. Isagani?

No comments: