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April 5, 2013     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, APRIL 5, 2013 PAGE 13A The image of a prewar Torah scholar was part of Shimon Attie's 1991exhibition in the former Jewish Quarter ofBerlin. By Debra Rub'm Images"a recent programspon- New Jersey Jewish News sored by Rutgers University's Bildner Center for the Study of In his video, performance JewishLifeandtheMasonGross art and photography, Shimon School of the Arts. Attie reminds viewers of the In addition to presenting way history imposes on the the annual Abram Matlofsky present--and demands that Memorial Program at the Dou- they confront the past. glass Campus Center in New Whether depicting the dev- Brunswick, during his campus astating effect of the Holocaust stay, Attie also worked with on Berlin's Jewish community MasonGrossgraduatestudents, or the human side of the Israeli- critiquingprojectsandspeaking Palestinian conflict, the Los at a photography seminar. Angeles-b0rn artist turns to his He also addressed students of craft to transmit images of loss a graduate seminar on cultural and shared dreams, memory, Jewish studies and his- "The common theme is tory taught by Bildner director displacement," said Attie dur- Yael Zerubavel. ing "Art and Memory: Moving In one. talk, Attie showed In a 1991 exhibition, Attie superimposed an image of a prewar Jewish bookstore onto the building it once occupied in the Jewish Quarter of Berlin,. - Debra Rubin Artist Shimon Attie autographs a book of his artwork for an attendee at his March 6 program at Rutgers University. images of his projects around squarefromMr.Jacobsin1938Y the immigrant groups who had to discover the similarities the world. As a young artist in When the artist inquired if lived in the neighborhood--as in wording and aspirations the early 1990s,justafter the re- he knew what happened to Mr. if, he said, "a ghost was writing expressed. unificationofBerlin, he livedin Jacobs and his family, the man on thin air" in Mandarin, Span- "IliveinNewYorkCity, where what hadbeencommunistEast replied, "Of course. He was a ish or Yiddish. there are 150,000 Israelis and Berlin. The rundown neighbor- multi-millionaire who moved In a recent production,100,000 Palestinians who have hoodha'doncebeenthethriving to NewYork." Attie "reimagined" the seem- this shared secondary hybrid Jewish Quarter. While some of the Berliners ingly unsolvable Middle East identity of being a New Yorker In an effort to recreate the thoughtAttie'sintentionwasto conflict. In his 11-minute and shar~ng the same oxygen," lost lives and culture, in 1991 "lay claim"to their property, he video "Metro.PAL.IS," Israe- he said. heprojectedphotographsofpre- said, the reaction to his artwork lis and Palestinians in New Attie said he wasn't trying to WorldWarIIJewishbookstores, was largely positive, especially York includingfalafelsellers', create a "kumbaya piece" but shops and synagogues onto the among young people, transitworkers, hipsters anda rather was aiming to reflect buildings that stand there now. - Several years later, after "PalestinianJerseygirt"--read "the shared humanity of the "The response of the people returning to New York, he cre- from a hybrid of Israel's 1948 conflict." who lived in those buildings atedasimilarproject,"Between Declaration of Independence, Debra Rubin is Middlesex was not uninteresting," he said. Dreams and History," in which and a Palestinian Declaration bureau chief for the New Jer- "Onemancamerunningoutof he projected onto buildings on of Independence written in seyJewish News, from which one of the homes, yelling, 'My the Lower East Side images of Algeria in 1988. this article was rdprinted by fatherboughtthishousefairand songs, prose and memories of Attiesaidhewas"astonished" permission. By Danielle Berrin Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles The camera opens on a frazzled Philip Rothl He is futzing with the horse- shoe of hair he has left, rubbing his face and furrowing his un- ruly brow as a look of supreme unease settles over his face. For a manwho recently announced his retirement, he seems a bit stressed. And for a writer-who has spent the better part of his life projectingoutward, Roth, at first, squirms under the scrutiny of the camera's gaze. "In the coming years I have two great calamities to face," he announces at the beginning of the documentary "Philip Roth: Unmasked" for the PBS "American Masters" series that aired March 29. "Death and a biography, Let's hope the first comes first." From the outset of his de- nouement, the newly minted octogenarian Rothturned80 on March 19--has been in the news alot lately. In November, he told a New York Times reporter, "The struggle with writing is over," which sent shockwaves through the literary world and effectively commenced his retirement. "And over the past few w~eks, he made headlines yet again for the many birthday celebrations being h.eid in his honor--in Newark, where he grew up, andNew York, where he resides part time, there has been aliterary conference, amuseum toast, hometown bus tours and even a photography exhibit devoted to his life and oeuvre. Now comes the documentary, also timed to his birthday, which features a chatty and reflective Roth looking back on a life lived through words. In it, he is as candid, open and charming as ever. Quoting the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, Roth observes the truth of his life: "When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished." It follows then that Roth's most faithful relationship has been to his work. Other than two brief and really disastrous marriages, he has remained at-least-legally unattached and has never fathered children. In 1983, he told People magazl~e: "I can't talk casually about home and family, about good marriages and bad marriages and the relationship between men and women and children and parents. I've devoted a life to writing about these things. These are my subjects. I've spent years trying to get it right m fiction. As many presume is the case With his novels, Roth appears in the film as both narrator and narrative. He is entirely in his element as he recounts tales from his childhood and career trajectory for Italian journal- ist and French director Livia Manera, and expounds on his foremost passions and preoc'- cupations, which, over eight decades, haven't changed much: reading, writing, Jewishness and sex continue to ensorcell him. "God, I'm fond of adul- tery," Roth says at one point, during a discussion of his 1995 book "Sabbath's Theater" (his personal favorite). "Aren't you?" The author of 31 books, among them at least a dozen bestsellers, is also the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, the Man Booker Prizel the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, to name a few. But amongwriters of contemporary fiction, perhaps no one is more closely associated (or confused) with his characters as much as Roth. "People have always as- sumed his characters are him," writer Nicole Krauss observes in the film. And Roth offers some deli- cious and illustrative anecdotes: In 1969, with the release of his career-making "PortnOy's Complaint," Roth recalls, "Ev- erything people perceived in Portnoy, they then perceived in me." One day as he walked near his home, a man shouted at him from across the street: "Philip Roth: Enemy of the Jews!" Roth admits his own life has served as fodder for his fiction, but he prefers to think of this journalistic element as "invent[ing] off of something." He was influenced in this by another American (Je~4ish) writer, the incomparable Saul Bellow, who he says, inadver- tently gave him permission to draw from his own experience. After reading "The Adventures of Augie March" as a college student, Roth fel[free to plumb the depths of his background. But it wasn't exactly an exer- cise in memoir: "I'd have to fight my way to the freedom of draw- ing upon what I knew," Roth says. "Life isn't good enough in some ways. If it was just a mat- ter of putting things down that happened toyou, or happened to your friend or happened to your wife,youwouldn'tbeanovelist." But balancing between truth and fiction can be tricky. He isn't fondofbeingcalledanAmerican Jewish writer, for instance. "I don't write in Jewish. I write in American," he says. But that may be a defensive position taken after enduring years of public criticism. From the time "Defender of the Faith," his first shortstorywas published forThe New Yorker, readers held Roth responsible for popularizing Jewish archetypes. "It caused a furor," Roth remembers of the 1959 publication, "I was being assailed as an anti-Semite and a self-hating Jew. I didn't even know what it meant." Even author Jonathan Fran- zen admits he had a "moralistic response" when he first read Roth. He thought, "Oh, you bad person, Philip Roth," though he added, "I eventually came to feel as ifthatwas coming out of envy. I wish I could be as liberated... as Roth is. Here's a person who's decided he does not care what the world thinks of him. He is not shame-able." The widespread perception of the wanton sexuality associated with many of Roth's novels is a source of some frustration for the author, who spends some time on camera defending specific characters who have been charged with being "sex obsessed." "In nine books," Roth begins, outlining the plot of each one, "there is virtually no sexual experience." And yet, the char- acters, he says, "are described repeatedly as sex-obsesse& Well, that's because Rob is." In matters of sexual appetite, at least, his art im~tes his life. To that end, he r~ounted his favorite line from .lines Joyce's "Ulysses," which crees during a scene when th character Leopold l~loom ~alks to the waterfront to wata a girl and masturbate. "Joye tells you what's goirig on, ht you don't getit until the net paragraph, Joyce goes:. 'At it aain.' I loved it. I think it shoul be on my tombstone." As Roth wrote n the 2001 novella, "The Dyiig Animal," "Sex is all the elchantment required." Roth's candid ant sometimes contradictory take ,n himself, is given added conte. by friends and colleagues, rom fellow writers like Franzeland Krauss to actress Mia Faruw. But the most intelligent aTd insightful comments come fom his biog- rapher, New Yorke: critic Clau- dia Roth Pierpont no relation), whose book "Rotl Unbound" will be published il November. It was Kafk.a, sh points out, who'said, "We shodd read only those books that bte and sting us," adding that, fo" her, Roth is that perfect dose of~ainful plea- sure."Ifthe booky(.u're reading does not rouse you with a blow to the head, then why read it? I think that Roth'writes books that are meant to rouse you with a blow to the head." Roth's pugnacious prose, however, is fueled by a rather that he suffers from chronic ordinary and peaceful private back pain, and, like other great life. He splits his time between writers before him--Ernest New York City and a country. Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, home in Connecticut, where, Primo Levi--he admitshe has when he is writing, he writes contemplated suicide. '~Nriting "every day" standing up, with turns0uttobeadangerousjob," "lots of quiet...lots of hours.., he says. But, "I don't want to lotsofregularity.'Atnight;sur- join them." rounded by his books, the faint Before he dies, though, he- silhouette of t~ees swaying still plans to reread the authors he visible through darkened win- admired gr6wing up, among dows, he likes to read for several them Conrad, Hemingway, hours and listen to music. Once Faulkner and Kafka.And~vhile .or twice the camera intrudes he swears he's through with upon him as he listens to opera writing himself, hardly any of or Mahler's Third Symphony his friends--or fans--believe and listens intently, with his him. whole body, much the way he Near the end of the film he reads. And it is sheer delight telisofarecentwalkhetooknear when the camera invites us to his Connecticut home when he watch and listen as Roth reads happeneduponawoodensignin passagesthroughoutfromsome a tree that said: "BRING BACK of his best-loved works, adding PORTNOY." new volume to the voice on "It was wonderful, hilarious the page. moment," Roth recalls. "I actu- His quieter moments are ally thought about it for rest of morefrequentnow, asRothcon- the walk: Why don't I do that?" frontshismor:taJity.Hesaysheis Danielle Berrin is a staff afraid of death, but not enraged writer at The Jewish Journal of by its coming. What is hard is Greater Los Angeles. 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