Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Quote of the Day (Isaac Bashevis Singer, with One of His Reasons for “Why I Write for Children”)

“They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other such obsolete stuff.”—Isaac Bashevis Singer, “Why I Write for Children,” printed in his Nobel Lecture (1978)

He really had over 500 reasons, Singer explained, “but to save time I will mention only ten of them.” Each of the items in the Letterman-style “Top 10 List” is as short and hilarious as the one I’ve just given.

The Nobel Prize laureate for literature had originally prepared this statement for his acceptance of the National Book Award in 1970, but it was later read as well to the guests at the Nobel Prize banquet for him at City Hall in Stockholm eight years later.

Like Mark Twain—who, in Huckleberry Finn, cagily disclaimed any pretense for moral seriousness ("PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished”), Singer hid his essential seriousness behind a master entertainer’s voice.

Nearly a decade ago, at the Chautauqua Institution, curious about this writer, I took a course that examined his short stories. I loved the ones I read, and hope, sometime soon, to read even more of his work.

One that enthralled me particularly was “The Last Demon,” which looked at one of the less-remarked-upon evil consequences of the Holocaust: the near-destruction of Yiddish as a language, as so many of its speakers were executed by the Nazis. “There is no further need for demons," the demon-narrator says toward the end. "We have also been annihilated. I am the last, a refugee. I can go anywhere I please, but where should a demon like me go? To the murderers?”

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