Archive for the ‘jewish’ Category


Tolstoy’s Fables and Fairy Tales

October 23, 2007

I have been interested lately in fables and fairy tales for their simplicity of image and layered beauty. In contrast to Tolstoy’s grander work like War and Peace or Anna Karenina, I am intrigued by the economy and directness of his fables. Most of the writing in Fables and Fairy Tales was originally written as part of primers he created for the school he set up on his estate for neighboring peasants. The fables teach life lessons in a simple format, and although frequently didactic or dogmatic, the clear elegance of the stories shines through. Among other things these stories are peopled with talking animals, kings, hermits, and peasants. With these fables Tolstoy sought to enlighten those around him with his humanitarian dreams and goals of social justice.

Some of the fables are deceptively straightforward showing things aren’t always as they appear. Holes are frequently poked in cleverness. They teach one must do the work if one wants to earn the outcome; one can’t simply jump to the end. In Three Rolls and a Pretzel, the faults are contagiously shown in a peasant’s false clever logic.

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Pressburger in Plato Land

June 1, 2007

In Plato’s Republic, Plato explores the idea of a cave that unenlightened human consciousness inhabits. Through this metaphor Plato looks at the effects of education on the soul, while demarcating the path individual consciousness travels as one experiences a perception shift. Giorgio Pressburger’s story The Law of While Spaces in his collection The Law of White Spaces can be read as a metaphor for a soul’s journey escaping from a similar cave. Over the course of Pressburger’s story, the main character comes to discover that meaning is not found in the dark letters on the page, but that “Everything is written in the white spaces between one letter and the next. The rest doesn’t count” (Pressburger 38). The white spaces in Pressburger correspond to Plato’s notion of light. The lesson is to turn away from the shadows cast on the cave wall and turn towards the light emanating into the cave’s mouth. Plato’s imagery of the cave is evocative and he sets up the idea with:

Imagine human beings living in an underground, cavelike dwelling, with an entrance a long way up, which is both open to the light and as wide as the cave itself. They’ve been there since childhood, fixed in the same place, with their necks and legs fettered, able to see only in front of them, because their bonds prevent them from turning their heads around. A fire burning far above and behind them provides light. Also behind them, but on higher ground, there is a path stretching between them and the fire. Imagine that along this path a low wall has been built, like the screen in front of puppeteers above which they show their puppets (Plato 186-187). Read the rest of this entry ?


Pressburger’s Law of White Spaces

May 31, 2007

Giorgio Pressburger’s The Law of White Spaces was the perfect book for me to read at the perfect time. Acquiring the book had been an elusive challenge for some reason. I ordered a copy from one bookseller who emailed me a couple weeks later to tell me that the book had been somehow misplaced from their inventory. They apologized and told me how embarrassed they were, and how this never usually happened. I then promptly ordered a copy from Amazon with a repeat of the same scenario. I finally obtained a copy from a third source, but after reading it just noticed that Amazon now has multiple copies available for sale. That is the world of The Law of White Spaces. Things happen for mysterious and unknown reasons, but they happen for a reason. Read the rest of this entry ?


Tales of the Hasidim

April 6, 2007

One of the first things that appealed to me when reading Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim was the familiarity and depth of the imagery. I had heard a number of these tales before in different forms, but had never been told that they were attributed to the Baal Shem Tov and the hasidim. One example is from the Baal Shem’s early years, in which he is a teacher’s assistant. Every morning he went out and rounds up all the students and walks them to the school. They hike through the fields and forest and on their way he rejoices in the birds and animals and sings songs. Bringing all this joy and celebration into the world catches the attention of the Opponent who turns himself into a werewolf and attacks the party. All the parents were afraid to let their children go with the Baal Shem the next day, but he convinces them, and the next time they are set on by the werewolf, he strikes it between the eyes and kills it. The version I had heard before was about the Heart of Darkness and illustrated the evil eye. The main character in that version was simply a nameless rabbi who is escorting a group of children to school, and is attacked by a wild man who was born without a soul (a void inside) or the Heart of Darkness. The Heart of Darkness manifested as the evil eye that the rabbi must ward off.

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