It is certainly one of the most enduring archetypes. One that even Jung could not extricate all the wrinkles, folds and complications from….
It’s called the hybridized biography. Imagined conversations of the mothers of famous men who happen to be Jewish. How to make sense of this collective neurosis? Natalie David-Weill’s book brings together these famous mothers in one room in a long group therapy style session. Does the overly abundant, you could say intense and often extreme, perhaps radical and unconditional love of a Jewish mother help propel her child to great heights? Unconditional you say? There has to be some ambiguity somewhere. Ambivalence but rarely indifference. Its a new book, not yet translated into English, and maybe that’s a good thing. On the one side, the book reinforces behavioral stereotypes: the mother tends to be overbearing, emotionally manipulative, and persists on interfering in her children’s lives long after they’ve become adults; which allows non-jewish readers to project their own identity issues within the context.
On the other hand, in Judaism, there remains a stubborness in accepting aspects of modernism and its collateral damage of a dehumanizing condition. There is a certain throwback to the pathos of the human being rooted in antiquity or earlier. Yes, guilty of excess feeling, but also a search for an equilibrium of feeling without denying the extremes of intensity and its effect on the historical, disruptive sense of the tragic. Odd juxtapositions seemingly absurd: the nonsensical with a reasonableness that is compellingly eminent and the capacity to be crazy and beautiful at once in a confusing twisted journey where conventional temporal-spatial relations are collapsed.
Amalia Freud, Jeanne Proust, Pauline Einstein, Minnie Marx, Louise Cohen, Mina Kacew, Nettie Königsberg :these are the women in question that Weill has convened. Its a clever literary structure and the meeting takes place in paradise. I don’t know if the sofas had plastic on them, but we do get to know their personalities and she created a fictional character, Rebecca, who is just recently deceased and her young prodigy of a son has not yet become a known and celebrated quantity.
All in all, a study on conflicting emotions; adorable,vampiric, admirable, tyrannical, devoted body and soul, anguished and annoying, an inability to separate history and myth. In short, our famous celebs were, with regard to their mothers, stuck between a rock and a hard chase. Weill’s book does remind of Nathaniel Hawthorne and his last novel the Marble Faun. The Jewish character Miriam is etched out with parallels to Biblical Judith; split set of ambitions and motives. The wholesome all-American gal who wants the comfortable home and the white picket fence, who can transform herself into a duplicitous schemer and murderer, the quintessential in French “fin mouche.”
The Jewish paradox is that in essence, it is a pure, spiritual people. Fortunate or not, the people, who discovered the unity of god, his singular oneness, the core of the sacred. But that doesn’t pay the bills. So, they have felt to be compelled to achieve material security to survive. Although humanity as a whole extolls spirituality, an empty homily, our society is unwilling to accept instinct controlling our lives. Instinct is a litmus test of being and experiencing the human drama.Being a spiritual being. Logic and reasonableness control the till. So, a spiritual consciousness tends to bring with it a sense of unity of the self. What do these Jewish mothers want; a kid in Yeshiva, or stuck in an Ashram or going to law or medical school?
The accepted wisdom then is that Jewishness provides the basis for an enduring respect for human experience; a strength to resist a total submission to the appearance and experience of mere form. As an example, in the art world, Cubism could be considered form. A modernist formalism with a built in obsolescence, an expiry date since its objectives are of short duration and limited. However, a jewish interpretation of the human is far older that modernist convention. Like Fiddler on the Roof: Tradition! It sucks sometimes, but it keeps the franchise together. It may suggest why a Soutine or Chagall, though influenced by Cubism, never made the formal leap. It does imply a certain sense of the nostalgic.
It can even be postulated that sentimentality gives off the perception of softness and the naive. A slight overdose is downright tacky and kitsch. Like a John Lewis commercial. But, the hardness and emotional frozenness of formalism, just think Italian futurist painting, implies an abject humanity, seemingly beyond repair. Ultimately, how can sentimentality be defined except as a strong indicator of the need, the necessity of love. Viktor Frankl’s love through a will to meaning. It signals the need for love — and both Chagall and Modigliani are among the few modern masters who admit to the need and attempt to represent love (not simply sexuality, as Picasso does), and who even manage to convey a loving attitude to the human subject (as Picasso radoes) — however stymied the need, ironically by the needy sentimentalist himself.
It might be accurate to term our post-modernism as a behavior guided by a series of transactions, a cold formality as opposed to sentimentality as an experience and an investment of sorts in emotion. A calculated risk, at the least. But a sentimentalist wish to feel loving, of possessing that experience as a loving individual rather than loving another person can be equally dyfunctional and ultimately as empty and meaningless as any other alternative. After all, the overly sentimental person is a narcissist, as since Jewish people, and the mother being the incarnation, have historically been oppressed, victims, which tends to favor narcissism, there is a preponderance of situations where this mother-son dynamic Weill delves into revealing more interest in a sensation of loving, a fascination with process, rather than in authentically loving someone in particular. A true complicity. In Cervantes Don Juan or even a Picasso ultimately, they were sentimentalists. That is, unable to hold a relationship with women except for in and out sex; with, forget about loving and caring. Where it gets complex is that a Jewish artist like Chagall, and even Modigliani towards the end, were not sentimentalists, as their relationship to their loves reveals. They were true lovers, able to navigate the differences between sex and love.
Stephen Marche:No. For day-to-day affairs, Jewish society is run by the bubbes. And while the rabbis disapprove of intermarriage, for the most part the bubbes have made peace with it. And they are who matter….Read More:http://www.tabletmag.com/life-and-religion/60294/intertwined/