Attending to the ways in which the golem is being revived in a substantial body of cultural production over the past few decades, Elizabeth R. Baer focuses on the Jewish imagination and intertextuality to offer close readings of many of these texts. Baer builds on the body of scholarship on the golem, and while she focuses on the important studies by Gershom Scholem (1960), Byron Sherwin (1985), and Moshe Idel (1990), she figures The Golem Redux as a sequel to Arnold Goldsmith’s The Golem Remembered (1981). While it may be true that many of the novels that Baer examines have been published after Goldsmith’s study, including James Sturm’s graphic novel, The Golem’s Mighty Swing (2001), Baer does far more than simply update golem scholarship. Her approach, a finely tuned analysis of the deployment of intertextuality that runs through these texts, and her purpose, to seek and synthesize evidence of ways in which the Jewish imagination, the story, affords understanding of the Shoah make this a compelling study.
In its first two chapters, The Golem Redux covers the history of the legend, from the Book of Psalms to Rabbi Judah Lowe of Prague to its versions in the early twentieth century, particularly the texts and films that established its ongoing popularity. These are the tropes and plots on which contemporary writers draw in their appropriations. Baer then offers extended readings of texts by two important Jewish authors, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Elie Wiesel. Both titled The Golem (1982, 1983), these are texts that have not received the critical attention they deserve until now. Like Singer and Wiesel, Frances Sherwood also retells the golem’s history in The Book of Splendor (2002), which Baer also reads in the third chapter. In discussions of these three novels, Baer uncovers how these traditional retellings also employ changes and revisions that both reveal the author’s intentions and adumbrate the more recent retellings she discusses next.
From her rather idiosyncratic perspective of anti-idolatry, Ozick challenges the transcendent claims of the modern Western cult of literature/art in revealing the utopia of literary imagination as ultimately dystopian on the one hand, while on the other, endeavours to reconfigure the relationship between Jewish monotheism and its pagan other by narrating the story of the golem with much ambiguities and ambivalence.
I argue that these two intertwined stories, the dystopian utopia of the paradise and the birth and death of the golem, encapsulate the author's endeavour to wrestle with the idolatry of aesthetic culture and that of pagan nature.
From her rather idiosyncratic perspective of anti-idolatry, Ozick challenges the transcendent claims of the modern Western cult of literature/art in revealing the utopia of literary imagination as ultimately dystopian on the one hand, while on the other, endeavours to reconfigure the relationship between Jewish monotheism and its pagan other by narrating the story of the golem with much ambiguities and ambivalence.">
When her frustrated love life and yearnings for motherhood overstimulate her imagination, Puttermesser unintentionally wills into being a golem (named Xanthippe, after Socrates's shrewish wife), a creature that serves her impeccably, even orchestrating her initially successful tenure as New York's Mayor--until the golem, like her human creator, succumbs to the madness of love and must be destroyed.
(With dashing originality and in prose that sings like an entire choir of sirens, Cynthia Ozick relates the life and times of her most compelling fictional creation. Ruth Puttermesser lives in New York City. Her learning is monumental. Her love life is minimal (she prefers pouring through Plato to romping with married Morris Rappoport). And her fantasies have a disconcerting tendency to come true - with disastrous consequences for what we laughably call "reality."
Puttermesser yearns for a daughter and promptly creates one, unassisted, in the form of the first recorded female golem. Laboring in the dusty crevices of the civil service, she dreams of reforming the city - and manages to get herself elected mayor. Puttermesser contemplates the afterlife and is hurtled into it headlong, only to discover that a paradise found is also paradise lost. Overflowing with ideas, lambent with wit, is a tour de force by one of our most visionary novelists.
"The finest achievement of Ozick's career... It has all the buoyant integrity of a Chagall painting." -
"Fanciful, poignant... so intelligent, so finely expressed that, like its main character, it remains endearing, edifying, a spark of light in the gloom." -
"A crazy delight." -