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The writers on the roof

Study discusses the marks of Judaism on our literature

Exile, crossing frontiers, silences, a fragmented scripture, infinite interpretation, God’s name: here are some themes that arise, unusually intertwined, in the book by Berta Waldman. Its theme explains the unprecedented – amongst us – nature of its approach: the question of Judaic tracks and marks in Brazilian literature. Not only the themes and approaches are surprising, but also the geographical displacements and approximations, of the “Paris, Texas” kind: Xingu in Bom Retiro (A Jewish neighborhood in São Paulo), Ukraine in Rio de Janeiro, Israel in Porto Alegre.

The first three parts of the book Entre Passos e Rastros [Between Steps and Tracks] are dedicated to specific authors: Clarice Lispector, Samuel Rawet and Moacyr Scliar. In the one dedicated to Clarice, Berta – without confining Clarice’s work to the ghetto – reveals to us, in the author’s thematic universe and linguistic strategies, Judaic elements that the specialized bibliography has up to now had difficulties in outlining. Clarice’s tense relationship with her Jewish origins does not in any way mean a rubbing out of the past. For Berta, “albeit without her knowledge”, Clarice’s text “is concerned with this [Jewish] tradition that develops from a silence, an absence”.

Clarice’s relationship with this past occurs by means of an unconscious learning. Citing Hanna Arendt, Berta emphasizes that the repressed traditions are those that most guide us and weigh with us. We only feel a lack of a study about Clarice’s fearsome – Kafkian – humor. In the other items and subitems, the author also analyzes the novels by Roney Cytrynowicz, Samuel Reibscheid, Bernardo Ajzenberg, Jacó Guinsburg and the poems of Lucia Aizim and Moacir Amâncio. The last chapter contains a study about the foreign prostitutes who emigrated, as personages of Brazilian literature, highlighting three works, by Hilário Tácito, M. Scliar and Valêncio Xavier, who focused on this theme.

One of the best surprises in the book is the presentation and analysis of the poems by L. Aizim. Her poems “Súbito Além” [Sudden Yonder], “Pastoril” [Pastoral] and “Gênese” [Genesis] can be counted amongst the best ones published in recent years. Here, the question of “deterritorialization” and “reterritorialization” reaches deep and complex layers of the theory and history of literature. This study by Berta – marked by a fine style of writing – is linked both to the most recent research into immigration in Brazilian literary production and, more specifically, to an internal movement towards Jewish studies, within which important works by authors like Nelson Vieira and Regina Igel have now been made public.

It is worth noting that the trend towards an intercultural approach to these works – based above all on Cultural Studies – has also characterized researches by many Modern Literature Departments in our midst. This is a recently discovered vein that makes possible an original contribution to the researchers working on the “periphery” in institutional terms.Berta is trying to work with a dynamic, not hypostatized, conception of “culture”: a veritable challenge to any study that is born within a discipline that is traditionally underpinned by the notion of the “particular” character of a culture (in this case, the Jewish culture), as occurs in all studies of the genre, as in “Germanistic”, “Hispanistic”, etc.

One conclusion that we can draw from this instigating book by Berta Waldman – who rightly claims that “emptiness is the overall mark of our existence” and is not an exclusive attribute of the “Judaic” tradition – is that, as authors of the stature of a E. Lévinas, G. Deleuze (speaking of Kafka’s literature as exemplary “minor literature”) and J. Derrida have already shown us, there is an “exemplarity” in the diasporic situation of Judaism, in its tradition of cultural underpinning, of a “blotting paper” identity (to speak as J. Guinsburg when referring to Yiddish), which makes it possible to expand this model to our post-traditional Western situation.

Márcio Seligmann-Silva is the professor of Literary Theory and Compared Literature of the Language Studies Institute (IEL) at Unicamp
Entre Passos e Rastros
Berta Waldman
Editora Perspectiva / FAPESP / University Association of Jewish Culture
200 pages
R$ 30.00