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Introduction to Half-Remembered Stories
There’s something startlingly appropriate about thinking about Jews and their culture in halves: after all, there may be no other culture that seems so peculiarly riven, where division is so central to identity. A people whose identity was formed in diaspora, neither being of their local, home land nor of their traditional homeland; a people who wrote, and spoke, in ways that balanced internal strains and external influences, writing Hebrew poetry influenced by Arabic meters and Yiddish novels with more than a nod to Dostoevsky; the result, perhaps inevitably, is one where the essence of belonging was also a sense of outsiderdom.
This is, as it turns out, a pretty good definition of an artist, too: someone on the outside looking in, never at home in his or her own place. So when you have young Jewish artists reflecting not only on their Jewish identities, but on stories – the very stuff and essence of art – it’s not surprising that there’s all sorts of common ground to be found on the notion of division, and of memory. Art is about remembering and forgetting simultaneously. If you don’t have influences and inspirations, your art’s narcissistic and sterile; if you obey them too slavishly, it’s reductive and imitative. Creative betrayal, fighting the anxiety of influence, creating a usable past – there are many different terms in the literature, but the fact of the matter is it’s about what and how to remember, a process Jews have been fighting about since the time of the Bible. (Think about how quickly the Jews in the desert wanted to forget the travails of slavery in Egypt, and how anxious Moses was to remind them.) For these Jewish artists, half-remembered stories are the best kind, and each of the talented students that are presenting in this exhibition take on those stories – from their own past, from their families’ past, from the Jewish past, from pasts that might have been but weren’t – in their own exciting way. Enjoy your encounters with these artists’ projects – it may lead to some half-remembering of your own.
- Jeremy Dauber, Director, Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies, Columbia University
Jeremy Dauber is the Atran Associate Professor of Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture at Columbia University, where he is also the director of its Institute of Israel and Jewish Studies. He’s written several books on Jewish literature and articles and essays on topics ranging from late medieval Jewish demonology to the American Jewish graphic novel, and is currently working on a book on Sholem Aleichem. He has given lectures on Jewish literature and popular culture around the country and abroad (most recently Australia), and is delighted to be working with the NJFP and such a talented group of young filmmakers and artists.