Writing in the Dark: Essays on Literature and Politics

Writing in the Dark: Essays on Literature and Politics

Recent essays on Israel, literature, and language from one of the country's most respected and best-loved voicesThroughout his career, David Grossman has been a voice for peace and reconciliation between Israel and its Arab citizens and neighbors. In six new essays on politics and culture in Israel today, he addresses the conscience of a country that has lost faith in i...

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Title:Writing in the Dark: Essays on Literature and Politics
Author:David Grossman
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Edition Language:English

Writing in the Dark: Essays on Literature and Politics Reviews

  • Lou

    In this collection of essays and speeches, David Grossman creates a powerful argument on creating peace between Israel and its neighbors. He speaks with a profound sense of wisdom and a deep understanding of Israeli psychology. I look forward to reading his other books.

  • Mariel

    Virginia Woolf 'The Waves'

    I kind of ruined this review for ever writing it by writing it in my head while I was doing other stuff like working or driving. Not the doing other stuff but that I took it down too many other paths to get back to where I had been. It's b/>Today

    Virginia Woolf 'The Waves'

    I kind of ruined this review for ever writing it by writing it in my head while I was doing other stuff like working or driving. Not the doing other stuff but that I took it down too many other paths to get back to where I had been. It's been months. In my head I loved when Grossman discovered that his father wanted to show him where he had lived when he gave him his favorite stories from childhood. I wanted to learn how to keep my heart in a world that is colder than the dry eye that springs up around the defeated Witch of the West. She has a lot of sisters. I relived being talked to like a person in chopped off talking heads nowhere land. Change the conversations, say what you mean, turn on the damned lights. The politics part I was relieved enormously like when someone is sane in a room of straight jacketed bull shit.

    I take a lot of words and feelings inside myself from what I read and hear to hope against the opposite ends of my anti-words that they will be enough when I need them. Ideas, something to play with and keep warm. The anti-words are not silence but what would drown out by taking away. I'll try not to hibernate inside of them if I eat too much but sometimes I do. I can go "quiet" and do nothing but read for months and months. It settles the dust on my confusion when it is too much when it works. I don't know what else works.

    Someone on goodreads who has helped me a lot without knowing it, really I would say fitting my loose parts I wouldn't have bridged alone, is Emilie. She has written my very favorite reviews and comments I have ever read on goodreads. If you could feel understood it is that kind of feeling. It has infinite value to me, this feeling. I have other favorites too (it could be just a shelf title and I'll find it oddly reassuring. That Eric put Rilke's book on his "hearts-laid-bare" shelf got me to thinking a lot about writers who make it "safe" for sensitive people, like I feel Rilke does, like making the world degrees warmer enough for survival. The smallest things can mean a lot to me on here). But my favorite is when Emilie said about Martin Millar in her comment thread for his Lonely Werewolf Girl(I would read this forever and be happy) that she felt that he was writing friends for himself. I have thought about this so many times since then. I have used it to explain feelings to myself about books. I have wanted to write friends for myself. It's more than that it is a whole self inside that will make enduring everything that needs to be endured happen. I have been afraid of writing friends for myself because it takes a lot of materials to be able to create in this way. You get tired. I feel afraid of forgetting how to do anything else. My feeling is that it has taken Martin Millar so long to finish writing the third Kalix book because of this. I stopped checking his blog for updates because it was painful to read about his addictions to some new video game. But I need you to write friends for me! If only someone else could do it for me. David Grossman has this world of scales in miniature and when you feel small like a kid again of writing for yourself. He gets it like no one else I know of but Emilie and probably Martin Millar have understood. You want to write it all, your outside and insides, and it is really scary because you know what you are missing and you can't do it all. The missing parts become the anti-words. Emilie once commented "Talk Ofer to Me" about what Grossman did in his novel To the End of the Land. If you could save someone else. It's when you want to write for someone else but it is really a hope about that missing part of yourself. You don't really want to be alone and you hope to be understood. I felt so much better when Emilie wrote about that because I struggle a lot to be understood. I used to ask "Does anyone else feel this too?" a lot on goodreads because I kinda secretly hoped someone would say they did. David Grossman understands this feeling. I know he does because he wrote about it in Writing in the Dark. I wish I could learn from him about how to remove the barriers in the building. Maybe let something be what it is instead of needing so much to live on.

    I read these in October. Some I had read years ago (there are six essays over all) in other things before they were collected here in a book. Jessica Cohen translated again (she translated To the End of the Land). I checked out her blog not too long ago hoping she would post that she had finished translating Grossman's new novel (not yet sighs). I noticed several remarks from her about critics who seem to think that books translate themselves. I don't think that but sometimes I forget to mention the translators because I got self conscious about worrying about it too much in other reviews. I definitely include them in the force fields of understanding between one another. I cannot read Hebrew. I've read different translators working with Grossman's material. To me this is reassuring in a voice coming out no matter what brain mass lands it shores on. I'm afraid of trying to describe this voice to me that feels "safe" for me to be in. It is a home that I cannot always go back to because I don't have it unless I am reading someone else.

    Grossman writes about the books that have read me. That is title of the first essay. I really loved that title. He writes about the inner logic within himself from inside the stories that he has been in. That is exactly what it is like. The best feeling I have known is going inside a story and what happens in it takes on a reality that unfolds if you could understand your own life. Touch the people in it. That they would LET you touch them because they wanted you to know them. The context they take is mental braille words to touch and those words make you made enough to do the same when it really happens. It is better than a scar or a belly button from when they cut you when you were born. I feel like I'm a warmer person when I feel alive in this way.

    I can't remember now which part it even was because I stupidly didn't mark it for myself. Well, I didn't know this was what I was going to want to hold on to for mental stringing. Never mind, I found it. I had to find it. He writes about Bialik's poem "My Song" not using literary source of inspiration to describe his childhood bookshelves. He wrote about his mother's sigh about a cricket from inside the father's home after she has lost him. Grossman didn't use a literary source of inspiration because of a literary source of inspiration. I related to this so much, the way it informed and set him free the same love.

    He wrote about the inspiration of claustrophobia. (This was his inspiration for one of my favorite books, The Book of Intimate Grammar.) If you could be set free and love from the same source, to write and hold yourself up, then you could live in books and live outside of the books. It doesn't have to be a trap, maybe. You don't have to get stuck. I love that Grossman struggles with this too. I can't tell you how reassuring it was to me to read this when I was feeling so alone outside of the written word. I really, really didn't want to have to keep on writing friends for myself. Bless everyone who makes it feel less alone in those times. I can't thank you enough.

    So my feeling a couple of months ago when I started review writing this review in my head was literary examples. A lot of Virginia Woolf. Some of Grossman's favorite Bruno Schulz. No, Mariel, you're doing it all wrong! I was too depressed to try to write this review until I started thinking about just admitting that I need the words of other people.

  • Rachelle Urist

    Lucid and incisive, David Grossman is a Jewish force of conscience, thoughtful analysis, and remembrance. His essays include reminiscences of his precocious love for the writing of Sholom Aleichen at a time when his young buddies were playing ball and climbing trees. The world of the shtetl came alive for him, and only when he suddenly realized that those towns and its people no longer existed did the full impact of the holocaust hit home. He writes about the danger to the Jewish soul (and to Is

    Lucid and incisive, David Grossman is a Jewish force of conscience, thoughtful analysis, and remembrance. His essays include reminiscences of his precocious love for the writing of Sholom Aleichen at a time when his young buddies were playing ball and climbing trees. The world of the shtetl came alive for him, and only when he suddenly realized that those towns and its people no longer existed did the full impact of the holocaust hit home. He writes about the danger to the Jewish soul (and to Israel, as a democracy ruled by justice and compassion) that the current stalemate in the middle east has wrought. He flays the leadership of Israel that has allowed the situation to fester. He does all this with his writerly eye and his impatience for anything less than full and honest disclosure. His own grief - he lost a son to war in 2006 - adds weight and poignancy to every argument he makes, though he does not prostitute his mourning. He remains coolly and critically analytical. His writing is breathtaking.

  • Jaime Garba

    Un libro de extraordinarios ensayos sobre la escritura y la literatura en el contexto de conflictos políticos y sociales. Grossman habla de sus motivaciones y retos, sus voces narrarivas y experiencias, que sirven para proyectar al lector en su propia realidad.

  • Frances

    I picked this book up on a whim, having only read Run With Her and Sleeping On a Wire. I can't recommend this book enough. I thought the essays within so thoughtfully and beautifully written. What I appreciate about how Grossman talks about the conflict and Palestine's future is that his peacenik views didn't change after the death of his son, Uri, in the Lebanese War. I think this dedication to peace is admirable, but also recognize that, since I don't have children, or children who have died i

    I picked this book up on a whim, having only read Run With Her and Sleeping On a Wire. I can't recommend this book enough. I thought the essays within so thoughtfully and beautifully written. What I appreciate about how Grossman talks about the conflict and Palestine's future is that his peacenik views didn't change after the death of his son, Uri, in the Lebanese War. I think this dedication to peace is admirable, but also recognize that, since I don't have children, or children who have died in a senseless war, I can't really judge how people in that position react. Intergenerational trauma and loss can make people act in horrible ways.

    When he's not talking to a foreign audience, he talks directly to Israelis, encouraging them to see how, in addition to the horrors involved in keeping Palestinians in ghettos, denying them rights, taking their land, and killing them indiscriminately (including women and children), the conflict deforms Israelis. (He also does so taking into consideration that Israelis' defensiveness is not mere paranoia: history proves that, in fact, Jews have often been right in thinking that everyone is out to get them.) I think that if any change is to come, Israelis will have to encourage Israelis to think differently. Anyone outside that unique and harrowing world would not be taken seriously.

    This book also resonated with me as an American, as the United States is largely responsible for much of the world's misery, in Israel and many, many other places. It's easy to get discouraged, but if Grossman can look at Israel's flaws unflinchingly, so can we.

    In such a short volume, Grossman addresses an unbelievably wide array of subjects. Below are some quotes I particularly liked.

    "My generation, the children of the early 1950s in Israel, lived in a thick and densely populated silence. In my neighborhood, people screamed every night from their nightmares. More than once, when we talked into a room where adults were telling stories of the war, the conversation stopped immediately. We did pick up on the occasional fragment: 'The last time I saw him was on Himmelstrasse in Treblinka,' or 'She lost both her children in the first Aktion.' Every day, at twenty minutes past one, there was a ten-minute program on the radio in which a female announcer with a glum and rhythmic voice read the names of people searching for relatives lost during the war and in the Holocaust: Rachel, daughter of Perla and Abraham Seligson from Przemyśl, is looking for her little sister Leah'leh, who lived in Warsaw between the years...Eliyaho Frumkin, son of Yocheved and Hershl Frumkin from Stry, is looking for his wife, Elisheva, née Eichel, and his two sons, Yaakov and Meir...And so on and on forth. Every lunch of my childhood was spent listening to the sounds of this quiet lament."

    "I feel the heavy price that I and the people around me pay for this prolonged state of war. Part of this price is a shrinking of our soul's surface area--those parts of us that touch the violent, menacing world outside--and a diminished ability and willingness to empathize at all with other people in pain. We also pay the price by suspending our moral judgment, and we give up on understanding what we ourselves think. Given a situation so frightening, so deceptive, and so complicated--both morally and practically--we feel it may be better not to think or know. Better to hand over the job of thinking and doing and setting moral standards to those who are surely 'in the know.' Better not to feel too much until the crisis ends--and if it never ends, at least we'll have suffered a little less, developed a useful dullness, protected ourselves as much as we could with a little indifference, a little repression, a little deliberate blindness, and a large dose of self-anesthetics. The constant--and very real--fear of being hurt, the fear of death, of intolerable loss, or even of 'mere' humiliation, leads each of us, the citizens and prisoners of the conflict, to dampen our own vitality, our emotional and intellectual range, and to cloak ourselves in more and more protective layers until we suffocate."

    "My conclusion is that in many ways, we humans--social creatures known for our warmth and empathy toward our families, friends, and communities--are not only efficiently protected and fortressed against our enemies, but in some ways also protected--meaning, we protect ourselves--*from any Other.* From the projection of the Other's internality onto ourselves; from the way this internality is demandingly and constantly thrown at us; from something that I will call 'the chaos within the Other.' 'Hell is other people,' said Sartre, and perhaps our fear of the hell that exists in others is the reason that the paper-thin layer of skin that envelops us and separates us from others is sometimes as impervious as any fortified wall or border."

  • Karen

    Beautiful essays on writing, war and peace (not to be confused with Tolstoy's book on writing "War and Peace")*. Most are incredibly sad, especially those written after the death of Grossman's son in the second Lebanon war - a war that Grossman vehemently opposed from the start. As an Israeli, I came away from this book feeling pretty depressed and hopeless about the state of things in my country. But Grossman is definitely a "prophet of wrath" - he tends to make very harsh judgments about the c

    Beautiful essays on writing, war and peace (not to be confused with Tolstoy's book on writing "War and Peace")*. Most are incredibly sad, especially those written after the death of Grossman's son in the second Lebanon war - a war that Grossman vehemently opposed from the start. As an Israeli, I came away from this book feeling pretty depressed and hopeless about the state of things in my country. But Grossman is definitely a "prophet of wrath" - he tends to make very harsh judgments about the corruption of Israeli society, while idealizing the lifestyles and morals of people elsewhere (and elsewhen). Few people in Israel voice opinions like Grossman's, and Israelis need to sit up and pay attention to what he's saying - some serious soul-searching is definitely in order. However, there are many positive aspects of Israeli society (such as closeness with family, friendships, a sense of being part of a larger community whether you like it or not) that are sorely lacking elsewhere and shouldn't be trivialized.

    Oh, and many, many thanks to Hannah for the proof!

    *Sorry DG, your book deserves far more serious treatment but I just couldn't help it.

  • Heather Richardson

    Thought-provoking collection of essays from Israeli writer Grossman. 'The Desire to be Gisella' has particular lessons for fiction writers: Grossman unpicks his approach to inhabiting his fictional characters, and bringing them properly to life.

  • Άννα Μακρή

    Η λογοτεχνική αξία αυτών των κειμένων ανεβοκατέβαινε από πολύ ψηλά έως μέτρια επίπεδα, αλλά η ανθρωπιστική τους αξία έμεινε σταθερά στην κορυφή, από την πρώτη λέξη ως την τελευταία. Για 'μένα, το μεγαλύτερο ενδιαφέρον (γι' αυτό το αγόρασα κιόλας) είχαν οι σκέψεις πάνω στη δύναμη της γλώσσας και πώς χρησιμοποιείται από τους κονσερβοποιούς των ανθρώπων. Και πώς μπορούμε όλοι μας να τη χρησιμοποιήσουμε για να ακουστεί η δική μας φωνή, η προσωπική, ατομική φωνή του καθενός.

  • Rick

    Grossman, the brilliant Israeli novelist, presents six essays (or speeches) written between 1998 and 2007, the first four on the intersection of literature and politics and two others more exclusively on politics. The politics, of course, is that of Israel, where Grossman was born and raised, a land that has known no peace or settled borders since long before its founding. Grossman has served in its military in multiple wars and lost his 21 year old son in another war. He doesn’t question the ne

    Grossman, the brilliant Israeli novelist, presents six essays (or speeches) written between 1998 and 2007, the first four on the intersection of literature and politics and two others more exclusively on politics. The politics, of course, is that of Israel, where Grossman was born and raised, a land that has known no peace or settled borders since long before its founding. Grossman has served in its military in multiple wars and lost his 21 year old son in another war. He doesn’t question the necessity or rightness of a Jewish homeland. His study of literature and Jewish and world history underscores both. He does not underestimate the influence of anti-Semitism in the world, or in the embattled region in which Israel sits. Whether peace ever comes, there will be, he notes, much for the world to do to eliminate hatred of the Jews—witness in the US how the far right is home to both strong pro-Israel and anti-Semitic beliefs and hysteria.

    Grossman

    question the actions and decisions of Israel’s government that have contributed to endless conflict and an existential standoff, where absent settled borders Israel exists only by denying its founding principles and ever more ruthlessly oppressing the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Grossman does not believe this is sustainable. His optimism has been weakened by the reality of recent history—the assassination of Rabin, the breakdown of the peace process, the dominance of Netanyahu and his extremist policies. Yet the alternatives are unthinkable.

    The more literary essays are entertaining and insightful. He writes in “Books that Have Read Me” about books that had influenced him and how that influence surfaced in his own writing. His traditions go back to the Yiddish literature of central and eastern Europe (Over There) and, of course, Hebrew language and literature as well. Grossman’s father emigrated to Palestine in 1936 and the author was born in Israel in 1954. As a boy Grossman knew nothing of Yiddish literature or of life of Jews in Europe but then, at age 8, his father gave him a book by Sholem Aleichem and the connection was immediate even if the understanding came later. In the meantime he inhabited two realities, one of Israel in the 60s and one of Over There back when. The two came together when, during a Holocaust Remembrance Day, “It struck me all at once. Suddenly. The six million, the murdered, the victims, the ‘Holocaust martyrs,’ all those terms were in fact my people. They were Mottel and Tevye and Shimele Soroker and Chavaleh and Stempenyu and Lily and Shimek. On the burning asphalt of Beit Hakerem school, the shtetl was suddenly taken from me.”

    From here, in this fabulous essay, Grossman advances to his work and how the questions provoked from the loss he felt with this epiphany were the ones he wrestled with in his work—“the arbitrariness of an external force,” for example, citing four of his books with a different external force:

    it was Nazism;

    and

    it was a self-described enlightened military occupation; and in

    the victim is the soul and the external force “the unequivocal quality of flesh” it inhabits. But this essay and the ones that follow it do not stop there but discuss other influential works and animating ideas in his catalog. It is fascinating reading. Grossman is a master of world literature blessed with a questioning soul and a commitment to the liberal humanism shared by others, including Clive James and Marilynne Robinson and others. A small book of 130 pages,

    will keep you thinking and coming back to it for as long as your soul inhabits this sad and beautiful world.

  • Erika Dreifus

    My review of this book appears on

    .

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