Wednesday, May 21, 2008

This is my Private Life on the Outside

I've spent a good bit of the day in the time honored tradition, popular among both Jews and antisemites, of looking for hints of Jewishness in a particular Jew's artwork. When the artist is highly assimilated, though, this can be maddening. Perhaps what seems to be Jewish really comes from some other influence. In fact, many of the more common themes, like the performance of normality, are also common in the works of gays and almost inherent in any artistic sensibilities.
Christian nation, make us alright
Put us through the filter and make us pure and white
My mind has wandered from the flock you see
And the flock has wandered away from me
Let's talk of family values while we sit and watch the slaughter
Hypothetical abortions on imaginary daughters
The white folks think they're on the top ask any proud white male
A million years of evolution, we get Danny Quayle
Even when there are more or less explicit references (often to not being Christian rather than to being Jewish), we can't even be sure that it isn't Jewishness serving as a metaphor for alienation. All we can be certain of is that the themes could stem from a Jewish identity. That uncertainty, tentativeness, like my 'whiteness,' almost becomes the very mark of Jewishness. Sometimes there's an attempt to transcend assimilation by reaching back for the ghosts of a Jewish heritage, but what to make of such a reconstructed Jewish identity?
"My strongest link to my Jewish background is musical," he said. "I found myself drawn to Russian and Eastern European musical roots. I got into Gypsy music, and I discovered that the difference between that and klezmer was very narrow. It's very much a part of my consciousness. I feel a kinship with Russia, even though I've never been there."
And if we find that missing piece, how will we feel if it reappears?
You can tell a dirty story
In the old conservatory...

But don't go in the basement!

You can make a scene
On the mezanene

But don't go in the basement!
And where does it get you to mimic those others? To risk overdoing it? Could we be the schlemiel whose every attempt at self-improvement (assimilation) is pathetic? Or worse?

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