Katharine Weber On Literary/Religious Identity (and Muriel Spark)

My report on a literary evening at Makor brought another demurral, on points large and small, from Triangle author Katharine Weber:

I did not say “cramped,” but crammed.

My mother being raised in a Protestant identity bubble
by her Protestant mother, despite being a Warburg in
New York City, does signify and pertain to the
question at hand, who is a Jew, how are we identified,
and by whom?

Though apparently the name Warburg
(Warburg! Warburg!) has some special resonance for
you. The Jew Mu was uncle Felix’s house, yet rabbis
insist she was not a Jew, I am not a Jew, my daughters
are not Jews, though we are all the daughters of
Jewish fathers. And yes, and yet, the Third Reich
would have shoved, crammed (and then I am sure it
would have been cramped), all of us into a cattle car.
To say this is certainly not disingenuous
Holocaust-dropping by the privileged, no matter what
acerbic words of Muriel Spark about fireside martyrs
may come to mind for you. (She was, incidentally,
someone it was my privilege to know, through letters
back and forth, and her words of approval offered out
of the blue for my second novel, which is where we
began, mean a great deal to me. Muriel Camberg
meanwhile had her own exquisitely tortured
relationship to her Jewishness.)

This issue of labels and identities is precisely what
the panel was about, what Maya Gottfried wrote and
spoke about so compellingly.

My daughter’s boyfriend has a rubber, not metal
bracelet, with the words LIVE JEWISH. A tiny detail,
to be sure, but one of several little elements to
which you added meaning.

My essay was written for this anthology. It was my
good fortune to sell it to the NYT Op-Ed,
subsequently, and so it appeared there before the book
was published. Laurel Snyder did not ask me to write
about spiritual issues, and it was her choice to
include my esay in her anthology. The collection, as
is true of the panel, is about what it is about. It
was not about what it was not about. And if the lack
of spirituality in my essay and in the discussion that
evening made you feel that you did not get your
money’s worth (although spirituality was simply not on
the agenda, if you had raised your hand to ask a
question about it, perhaps the discussion would have
taken this up in a compelling and interesting way —
we will never know), then I offer now, as I did in my
vanished post last week, to refund your money out of
my own pocket with unWarburgian dollars I have earned,
because, alas, I do not have the Warburg fortune you
presume comes with the name. (Why I don’t have the
money has to do with my grandmother’s big romance with
George Gershwin and the subsequent family upheavals,
but now I have uttered another name that probably
resonates for you far beyond the meaning at hand for
me in my family history.)

My general policy is, Let readers have the last word. I might quibble with a couple of characterizations by Weber and Laurel Snyder , but I’ve had my say, they’ve had theirs. Years ago when I read Melville’s comment to his editor after Mardi was savaged in the press—”I shall no more stab at a book (in print, I mean) than I would stab at a man”—I had great sympathy; it’s hard for writers to criticize other authors, especially if you’ve felt the lance. Now I begin to think Melville’s comment entitled (as so much of his experience was) and wonder if a little mutual criticism isn’t just part of the territory…

Also: Weber will be reading at Rocky Sullivan’s in New York on Wed. night, July 12, at 8 p.m.

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