Contemporary Lit prompt: Foer is part of what many critics call a “new guard in Jewish-American writing” alongside writers like Nathan Englander. This “new guard” builds from a tradition of Jewish-American authors like Philip Roth and Bernard Malamud. Critics like Lisa Propst contend that the variety of voices in Everything Is Illuminated is attuned to this role as “new guard.” She writes: “Yet far from resting on a unified view of the past, for both Englander and Foer the acceptance of a shared history involves a concomitant willingness to respect conflicting narratives. This acceptance of disparate voices belongs to a long Jewish history. As Vincent Brook puts it, ‘a Jewish tradition of multivocality may be traced back to the Torah, whose ambiguities invited a host of heterogeneous views in the Talmud and the Midrash,’ the rabbinical commentaries on the Jewish Bible (2). The Talmud exemplifies respect for opposing views by listing dissenting opinions alongside the prevailing arguments in debates.” Here she is suggesting that the “multivocality” of the text (the many present and dissenting voices) both unify the story and provide dissent and disruptions within the text. She also suggests that this is a Jewish tradition dating back to the Torah, the Talmud and the Midrash. All of which I agree. But, I wonder, too, if this collective but un-unified voice, this multifariousness isn’t also contemporary. In any case, comment on the host of voices that appear in Foer’s text. Do you believe they unify? Or are they in conflict? Does it matter that a single author constructed them? Does the multiple readings of a divergent audience change that fact?

My Response: I believe that in some ways the many voices telling the story could be considered one and could be considered unified but in other ways separated, un-unified, and disjointed. They are all different points of view in which the story is told and told from different points in time but they all lead back to one unifying author telling one single story in one certain way. The one author that they all lead back to is Alex in current times explaining how he and his family came to live the way and the where that they do. This unifies them because he is telling the story for all of them, his whole family, but he is telling it from each persons point of view. The way they tend to be disjointed and separated in ways that they are told by the same author from their own points of view so that he may not truly know what they experienced, it how they experienced it, who was really there, or what really happened during the birth and life of his “great-great-great-great-great-grandmother”. Does he truly know what the people in her life really felt or experienced, or what she felt and experienced? Is he truly writing from their point of view and not his own skewed way of seeing each of their individual points of view? One example of this would be with Yankel with the adoption of Alex’s “very great grandmother”, his wife leaving him and his never wife. According to the author “He couldn’t bear to live but he couldn’t bear to live, but he couldn’t bear to die. He couldn’t bear the thought of her making love to someone else but neither could he bear the absence of the thought.” How could the author truly know that this is how Yankel felt about his wife leaving and the note she left? They were two separate people in two completely separated times. The author is Alex a young teenager in 2005 while Yankel is a middle-aged man in 1791. How did Alex know that this man’s wife truly left him and this is not some version of the events that have been skewed, twisted and changed over the two centuries that occurred between the two people and their lives? The events that the author is talking about could never have happened the way he is telling them and they might have happened in a completely different town in which he is placing them. Another way that they can be disjointed and unified is his own point of view of the present. How do we know that the way that he is talking about his family members is truly what they are like and the way he wants them to be, or thinks that that they should be. This is all show that is could go either way.

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