Sunday, August 4, 2019
Ginsberg and Roth Choosing Their Own Judaism :: Allen Ginsberg
Ginsberg and Roth Choosing Their Own Judaism Ã Ã Ã Ã I take these things for granted. Tradition and cultural awareness to me is another thing I can shrug off like too much homework. To my generation it's fashionable to embrace other traditions: mendhi tattoos for the Italians, matzo ball soup for the Pakistanis, McDonald's for the Nigerians. When did we learn to borrow from everyone else? When did I learn to come to terms with my own identity? The Civil Rights movement started it all. In quick succession, Asians demanded recognition, Native Americans wanted to carve a place back into their country, women wanted to burn their bras. Why not the Jews in America? Allen Ginsberg used his own tradition and his mother's death to establish that identity, while Philip Roth used a fictional narrative to tell the story of a Jewish family in America. Why compare these works at all? Both are creative accounts of Jewish American culture, one through poetry and one through a fictionalized self. Both use Judaism to express feeling to eith er tradition or memory. Both are literary works in the 1960s that deal with Jewish self-identity rather than black, white, or other identities. But I'm getting ahead of myself... Allen Ginsberg says his own work "Kaddish" is "finally, completely free composition, the long line breaking up within itself into short staccato breath units - notations of one spontaneous phrase after another..." (Allen 417). "Kaddish" is a prayer of atonement, making its point through rhythm, repetition and incantation. Ginsberg uses "Kaddish" to express his understanding of his own identity, and also to put that identity into the framework of Judaism. Ginsberg's mother Naomi went through a series of mental hospitals and psychological outbreaks from Ginsberg's childhood, eventually receiving a lobotomy and dying shortly thereafter. The Ginsberg family never held a traditional "Kaddish" because too few men were present to do so. Two years later, Ginsberg performed the ceremony with then friend Zev Putterman, and later wrote his own version of "Kaddish" (Asher). He starts his "Kaddish" incanting the spirit of Naomi by pulling up memories of her and her identity. "I walk toward the / Lower East Side - where you walked fifty years ago, little / girl - from Russia, eating the first poisonous tomatoes of / America - frightened on the dock" (Allen 195). In Part IV, Ginsberg then goes on to chant to his mother with the phrases "O mother," "with your," and "with your eyes.