Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Chaim Potok books

I AM THE CLAY, story takes place during the Korean War.

Old Men at Midnight, 3 stories in one book - first, a story about a Holocause survivor; second, a story about a KGB officer during WWI and WWII; and third, a story of a man writing his memoir and remembering forgotten pieces of his childhood. Excerpts from this book are below.

p. 74 Davita (one who gathers stories) speaking to former KGB officer.
"...But I would never put anything in writing."
"Then your stories will die with you."
"So they will. Who needs stories of yet another Jew?"
"I need them. Without stories there is nothing. Stories are the world's memory. The past is erased without stories."

p. 268 (speaking of the ram in the story of Abraham and Isaac)
Davita is talking to the man in the third story. She first made a comment about the ram in an earlier conversation and he brings it up again.
"You know about rams."
She turned to look at him. "My stories are about what the world is like when there are no rams. Benjamin, as a person whose specialty is war, doesn't the ram interest you?"

(Thinking about the ram in a battle situation is quite profound.)

At the end of the book there is a conversation with Chaim Potok. The book is about the tensions Jews faced in their transition from a war-torn Europe and an emerging American society. He makes this comment (which as a sociologist I quite enjoy).

"I think I have inadvertently stumbled across a cultural dynamic that I didn't quite see clearly myself until sometime toward the end of the writing of The Chosen. I think what I am really writing about is culture war. The overarching culture in which we all live is the culture we call Western secular humanism...Within this culture there is a whole spectrum of subcultures. The basic characteristic of the over-arching culture is what I call the open-ended hypothesis; that is to say, nothing is absolute in any kind of permanent way. A model is a shifting or temporary absolute on the assumption that additional data will be discovered that will impinge upon a given model. That model must be altered. So there is a constant search for new knowledge that is built into the civilization that we live in, this overarching civilization. But embedded inside this civilization we have a whole series of cultures which come into this world with givens, with models that are fixed absolutes. If they are alterable, they are alterable only under inordinate pressure. What happens is that these subcultures clash in a variety of ways with the overarching culture, as somebody from this subulture grows up and encounters elements from the outside model."

Yes. This is not only the case with "displaced" people, but this idea can be applied to various subcultures within our country. A mormon leaving a small mormon community, an amish teenager leaving the community, adjusting to a new school/religion/family; and, we could even go so far as to say that anyone who has been isolated in any way will one day face this model when introduced to a new idea or even a new discovery. With the speed of technology we may find people facing this model as they try to keep up with a culture that feels as if it is racing away from them.

carry on.

1 comment:

Jeff F said...

I love that quote from Chaim Potok. I have really enjoyed reading his books and although I have little real understanding of the history of the Jewish people, I have always been able to fully relate with his characters. I love the Asher Lev books and often recommend them to my advanced students. Thanks for sharing this...