Writing in the Dark: Essays on Literature and Politics Paperback – 1 September 2009
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- ISBN-13 : 978-0312428600
- Paperback : 144 pages
- ISBN-10 : 031242860X
- Dimensions : 13.97 x 0.91 x 21.59 cm
- Publisher : Picador USA; Reprint edition (1 September 2009)
- Language: : English
- Customer Reviews:
"Grossman is more than just another talented writer: Like Václav Havel, he is a moralist, a man with a conscience whose words cry out for absolute truth and fariness." --Newsday
"One of contemporary literature's most versatile and absorbing writers." --San Francisco Chronicle
"No other Israeli writer so far has approached the touchy subject [os Israeli Arabs]] with such compassion, or looked at it with, so to speak, bifocal eyes, Israeli and Palestenian." --The New York Review of Books
"An extended rumination on the struggle and the thrill of shaping words in to stories and reclaiming their meaning and beauty." --The Nation
"The Israeli Orwell . . . [Grossman] is a writer for the world stage, and the world has much need of him." --The Buffalo News
"[Grossman] asks the most difficult and searching questions. . . . His words have a tremendous, forceful eloquence about them, from first to last. . . . A delight to read . . . powerfully humanistic." --The Independent (UK)
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WRITING IN THE DARK is not quite on the same plane as those three earlier books. It is a collection of six essays (or speeches) from between 1998 and 2007. As is almost inevitable with such collections, there is a certain measure of disjointedness or diffusion of focus. For the most part, they do not directly address the political situation in Israel or the schism between Israelis and Palestinians. The most "political" essay is the fifth (and best) one, "Contemplations on Peace", a lecture from 2004. In it Grossman considers how peace would help Israel develop normally as a state and society, perhaps even allow for the realization of a once fervently held dream of "a moral and just society, a society with a humanistic, spiritual vision, a society that would manage to integrate modern life with the ethics of the prophets and the finest Jewish values." Grossman fears that the protracted and constant state of war and anxiety will end up permanently stunting the development of Israel as a nation and that of its citizens as people. He also is concerned about rebutting in a meaningful way the view, among certain circles, "that the entire State of Israel--not only the settlements--is an act of colonial, capitalist injustice, carried out by an apartheid regime, detached from historical, national, and cultural motives, and therefore illegitimate."
Another theme of the essays, the predominant one even, is how literature -- both writing and reading literature -- can be a means for transcending the propaganda and dehumanization so prevalent in a nation or society in a state of war. The point is a valid one, but in these essays, as collected here in one book, Grossman belabors it and, at times, mystifies it. Much of the discussion is far too abstract, almost mystical, and at times the writing (when I do understand it) is too precious. Even so, the book is well worth getting just for the last three essays, especially "Contemplations on Peace."
The book is a short one, only 130 pages, and there have already been a couple of excellent reviews posted. But such is the richness, and density of his essays, that I think there is still much that can be said without being repetitive. Differences provide for the viability of horse races and stock markets. My colleague to my north, R. M. Peterson, and I differ somewhat on this book, perhaps only by nuance, since we both give it 5-stars. But my rating does not resort to "trick math," since I believe Grossman's best essay is the second: "The Desire to Be Gisella," and I am strongly impressed by the first as well. In the second essay Grossman describes being on a bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the news hour includes a report on his book, "See Under: Love." In the report they describe an extra pedal that Uncle Shimmik had installed on a sewing machine that Gisella uses. Grossman, who has written the story, cannot remember why he had the fictional character install the extra pedal! He says: "I was on edge for the rest of the journey." On arriving home, he re-reads his own story, and realizes, yes, I gave her the extra pedal because she was short. As a writer, he was able to enter his creation's life, and realize that because she was short, she would need an extra pedal at the sewing machine, something he subsequently forgot. In a word, he had empathy with his character, and this is a primary thought he has for "his characters," empathy for "the other"; or as he expresses it at the end of this essay: "And then, sometimes, we can also grasp--in a way we never previously allowed ourselves to--that this mythological, menacing and demonic enemy is no more than an amalgamation of people who are as frightened, tormented and despondent as we are. This comprehension, to me, is the essential beginning of any process of sobriety and reconciliation."
Words matter. A central Grossman theme as a writer. Do we call them "settlers," as the American media does, or "colonists" as the French media does, in referring to the Jewish inhabitants of the occupied West Bank (the last three words themselves are "loaded".) Grossman has a wonderful dissection of the following news report, from his days as a newscaster on Kol Israel radio news, in his first essay, "Books That Have Read Me": "A local youth was killed during disturbances in the Territories."
Anger? Well, he is only human, so he does have a bit of that as well. Consider in his final essay he says: "This may also explain the general lack of response to the heavy blow against democracy dealt by the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as a senior minister--the appointment of a known pyromaniac to run the national fire brigade."
Now that America is also adopting an ideology of endless war, Grossman's book is an excellent 5-star read for those Americans who seek an alternative from "cursing the darkness," and kudos to Jessica Cohen for an excellent translation.