Sec­ond Dias­porist Man­i­festo: A New Kind of Long Poem in 615 Free Verses

  • Review
By – February 20, 2012
The man­i­festo” of declam­a­to­ry state­ments about writ­ers, philoso­phers, artists, and art crit­ics, as well as dec­la­ra­tions regard­ing Jew­ish art, reads more as a poignant farewell than the provoca­tive col­lec­tion of thoughts about Jew­ish art and artists that it is, since the author, renowned artist R.B. Kitaj, passed away a month after its pub­li­ca­tion. Kitaj (pro­nounced key-tie”), who was born in the Unit­ed States as Ronald Brooks in 1932, made Lon­don his home for most of his cre­ative peri­od, return­ing to Los Ange­les in the last decade of his life. The book res­onates with his thoughts on God, the soul, kab­bal­ah, midrash, Holo­caust, and the par­tic­u­lar­i­ty of the Jew­ish artists whose con­scious­ness or sub-con­scious­ness of being Jew­ish influ­ence the sub­ject, con­tent and themes of their work. The First Dias­porist Man­i­festo was pub­lished in 1989 in prose form and began Kitaj’s rumi­na­tions on art as exe­ge­sis. (The form was inspired, per­haps, by the Dadaist man­i­festo pub­lished by anoth­er Jew­ish artist, Tris­tan Tzara.) Kitaj’s own feel­ings of exile (Amer­i­can expa­tri­ate in Lon­don) relate to his iden­ti­fy­ing the dias­porist ele­ment in Jew­ish art, but the 615 vers­es” cov­er much more than the sense of wan­der­ing. Rather, as the clos­ing line of the After­word, You’ve been read­ing a long unfin­ished poem called HOW TO DOJEW­ISH ART” (sic caps and under­line), states, the book tack­les ideas that are fre­quent­ly debat­ed in art crit­i­cism — and will, regret­tably, remain unfin­ished.”
Esther Nuss­baum, the head librar­i­an of Ramaz Upper School for 30 years, is now edu­ca­tion and spe­cial projects coor­di­na­tor of the Halachic Organ Donor Soci­ety. A past edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World, she con­tin­ues to review for this and oth­er publications.

Discussion Questions