Jew­ish Writ­ing and the Deep Places of the Imagination

Mark Krup­nick; Jean K. Car­ney; Mark Shech­n­er, eds.
  • Review
By – April 2, 2012

The impe­tus for Mark Krupnick’s life­long study of the Jew­ish lit­er­ary intel­li­gentsia of New York, was to dis­cov­er how per­sons like [him]self — Jew­ish, of immi­grant ori­gins, liv­ing chiefly in their heads — con­trived to form a self-iden­ti­ty through their read­ing and in their writ­ing.” In this col­lec­tion, Krup­nick exam­ines the deep places of the imag­i­na­tion,” a phrase he bor­rows from Lionel Trilling, to inves­ti­gate and expose the inner lives” of Philip Roth, Cyn­thia Ozick, Lionel Trilling, Saul Bel­low, and Geof­frey Hart­man, to name a few. His essays echo his objec­tive and result in some of the most orig­i­nal rhetor­i­cal con­ver­sa­tions to date. 

Krupnick’s essays are first per­son chan­nels of con­ver­sa­tion sup­port­ed by tex­tu­al evi­dence and close read­ings. Read­ers need only exam­ine the essay enti­tled Cyn­thia Ozick: Embar­rass­ments,” to engage in Krupnick’s crit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion and analy­sis of Ozick’s work. Long a pro­po­nent of her anti­idola­try posi­tion and fic­tion­al focus on Jew­ish­ness,” here Krup­nick recon­sid­ers and argues that Ozick’s deep­est places of the imag­i­na­tion reveal her­self as a woman and as her main sub­ject. Even more, Krup­nick illus­trates Ozick’s self-con­scious con­cern with embar­rass­ment. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, the thread of humil­i­a­tion and embar­rass­ment appears in sev­er­al of Krupnick’s essays. 

Per­haps because he too expe­ri­enced humil­i­a­tion and embar­rass­ment as a Jew, as an aca­d­e­m­ic, and as a suf­fer­er of Lou Gehrig’s dis­ease, this col­lec­tion is socio-cul­tur­al­ly reflec­tive. Although Krup­nick died of ALS in March 2003, his pro­found insight remains with­in the pages of these essays.

Malv­ina D. Engel­berg, an inde­pen­dent schol­ar, has taught com­po­si­tion and lit­er­a­ture at the uni­ver­si­ty lev­el for the past fif­teen years. She is a Ph.D. can­di­date at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Miami.

Discussion Questions