Thursday, September 24, 2009

Isaac Bashevis Singer vs. Marc Chagall

Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Nobel laureate in literature who wrote in Yiddish, is my favorite author. In 1975, taking a break from my regular work as a journalist who specialized in business, I wrote profiles about him that were published in the New York Times Magazine and the now-defunct Harper's Bookletter.

As I disclosed in my previous blog post, I am now preparing to move from my home in New Jersey, where I have lived for nearly 25 years, to become a year-round resident of Florida. This involves the painful need to explore and discard decades of files no longer needed.

Among my discoveries were voluminous notes of my interviews with Singer in his Manhattan apartment. In the course of the interviews, I told Singer that he had always struck me as being a literary counterpart of painter Marc Chagall, who like Singer was an East European Jew, rendering in print what Chagall had done in paint.

Like Singer, I said, Chagall concentrated on his own "shtetl" (Jewish village) background for material. And in Chagall's surrealistic paintings--the fiddler on the roof always comes to mind--I told Singer that I find the same enchanting mystical quality that I enjoy in his novels and short stories.

Singer was not complimented by my comparison. A close friend of famed painter Raphael Soyer and others in the New York art world of that era, Singer regarded himself as something of a maven on painting.

For reasons I cannot recall, Singer's colorful response to my comparison failed to appear in my old articles. I now find it so provocative that I am belatedly publishing it here in my blog.

"I'll tell you the truth," Singer said to me in his Yiddish-accented English, "I'm not too hot about him. As far as I can see, Chagall is an artist who repeats himself already for 50 years. I don't admire him as much as I admire a Cezanne or a Monet.

"I don't think that when you paint a man, and you put him with the head down and the legs up, that you accomplish something, that this is real originality. Anybody can do it. [Chagall] has a feeling for color, but he's not really dabbling with the supernatural. He is stylizing all his life, and there is a limit to stylizing."

So much for the great Chagall, as the equally great Isaac Bashevis Singer evaluated the painter's work.


Blogger Sylvia K said...

Another delightful and fascinating glimpse at your life "before"! I know it will be difficult to eliminate so many memories that have been stored away. I'm sure many of them have come to life again as you prepare to discard them. Lovely, poignant post, Mort! And thank you, as always, for sharing another interesting part of your life.

Have a lovely weekend,


Thursday, September 24, 2009 4:34:00 PM  
Blogger Chancy said...

You are finding many. many treasures as you cull your possessions. aren't you Mort.

My trip down memory lane with boxes of old and more current photographs and keepsakes is proving to be an interesting one and liberating at the same time.

I had thought I would get all weepy seeing my grown children as babies and youngsters.The photos of trips we have taken and all the fun times in the past, but somehow that is not happening. I enjoy seeing their sweet faces and remembering the old days but I am able to let go and discard many of the photos. I have a test. Would my "heirs" care anything about this one. If not I toss it.
I am making real headway with this and also labeling pictures.

I know I should have been more "organized" through the years and kept photo albums but I am too right brained for such order.

I got more inspired yesterday when the burglar alarm service man came out. I had many photos and memorabilia spread out on the kitchen table. I showed him some photos and keepsakes, including an invitation to the White House and told him I was on a cleaning out jag. Just in case I "kicked the bucket".


He said his mother did the same thing and just in time as her eyesight has now faded with macular degeneration and she also has Alzheimer. She is not capable of undertaking this job now. He is thankful she did it back then.

So with this information I have an impetus to "keep on keeping" on with my project.

Best wishes Mort .

Thursday, September 24, 2009 9:48:00 PM  
Blogger joared said...

Love this story, and I'm with Singer, I prefer Monet.

Chancy's comment reminded me that my mother, who had been legally blind for many years, could still manage with her peripheral vision to see a little. She had started sorting through photos, but her vision became worse and could never finish -- she waited too long to start. So, I have pictures, some with names, some I can remember from years earlier her telling me who they all were, but their names and relationships or significance seems to be just beyond the reach of my memory -- too many of them.

Saturday, September 26, 2009 2:42:00 AM  
Blogger Darlene said...

It must be really difficult to eliminate old files; especially since they are filled with names of the illustrious people you have known. Perhaps a museum would like some of them to supplement the history of your era.

I have trouble throwing away the mundane notes I have kept so I admire you taking one this challenge, even if it is one of necessity. Good luck with that daunting task.

Saturday, September 26, 2009 4:26:00 PM  
Blogger The Daily Reviewer said...


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Monday, September 28, 2009 4:04:00 AM  
Blogger Lydia said...

Yeah, Mort! Yours certainly deserves to be one of the Top 100 Senior Blogs! Congratulations.

I really enjoyed this post. Learned from it, as usual. Hopefully, as you clear your files in the move you will share things as you did this one.

Thursday, October 01, 2009 2:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Hattie said...

Huh. I think I agree with you on the Singer-Chagall comparison.

Saturday, October 03, 2009 1:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post. A blog is such a great way to publish information like this.
As far as out with the old and there is no room for the new, I'm 50 and I am doing the same thing - getting rid of stuff. I only keep the items that I will enjoy looking at again. My test is will my children want this item with them when they are in their own homes. My answer is inevitably 'NO'. We all have TOO MUCH STUFF! Good luck with the sorting process and keep on blogging!

Saturday, October 03, 2009 10:28:00 AM  

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