an Invisible Commonwealth of Jewish civilization
— a non-profit cultural foundation dedicated to the study and
promulgation of Jewish Civilization in itself and in its relation to the larger
world. We will soon (within a year) be hiring people to assist
in number of projects; we are looking for people able to assist in website management, e-publication;
we need artists, writers and musicians and scholars.
Our work is twofold: to make accessible the under-appreciated productions of the past (primarily Yiddish modernist writing), and to foster and promote contemporary Jewish cultural productions.
What is Jewish Art? I'm a Jew, will you publish my poetry?
This is a sensitive subject on which opinions differ and tempers
flare. We will only assert that for our purposes, art may be meaningfully
defined as Jewish only if it makes use of the cultural vocabulary of the Jewish
people: their history, their symbols, their folkways or philosophical
principles. Just as important, to be Jewish art, it must also be art,
that is, have the quality of execution and cultural sophistication expected of
any legitimate artistic production.
Some concrete examples: Fiddler on the Roof, though patently Jewish, is not art but kitsch. The same goes for the late Chagall's dreadful unending acreage of windows. Matisyahu is third rate Rock and Roll. John Zorn's work, despite a laudable ethnic pride, is mediocre Jazz enlivened by musical tahini.
Work by great Jewish artists who did not engage the content of Jewish culture, such as Mahler, Woody Allen, Roy Lichtenstein, Mark Rothko, though pleasing to us, are not a very central concern. On the lower end of the spectrum, Peter Max, Philip Roth, the Jewish achievement in Hollywood and Comic Books, and the trivialities chronicled by Heeb magazine have value for as a source of amusement, but little more.
On the other hand, the work of non-Jews who engaged Biblical or Kabbalistic themes, such as Thomas Aquinas, the Christian Kabbalists, or Mohammad, are a legitimate component of our cultural domain. And in fact, the writings of Confucius and Lao Tzu, though without direct link to Jewish culture, are so consonant with (respectively) certain aspects of halachic thought and of later Kabbalistic philosophy, that they may be considered within our purview. This last point is particularly important, because we are not an ethnic club, but a three thousand year old civilization, having matter in common with the world's other most long-lived and venerable cultures (those of Egypt, China and India).
If you are involved in Jewish Art (visual, musical, literary, or other), we are indeed interested in seeing your productions and may well wish to promote and champion you. However it must be borne in mind that Judaism is a great civilization, spanning millennia, incorporating aspects of many of the cultures it has come in contact with during that vast time. If your knowledge of Judaism is limited to the delicatessen menu and a little Bible in English, your chances of impressing us may be less than average. And, it should be added, Jewish ancestry or religious identification is not a requirement — while participation in the culture is.
Modern Yiddish literature presents a marvelous fusion of Jewish
culture and modernism. One doesn't find this in American-Jewish culture, where
there was the option, almost always taken, of simply assimilating, and
being a "real" artist writer or musician, not "just" a Jewish one. Greats like
Allen Ginsberg and Philip Glass took the disgraceful further step of actually
converting to Buddhism so as to purify themselves of what they saw as an ethnic taint.
In the context of American culture it still seems as though the only choices for a Jew are to blow his brains out with the revolver of Orthodoxy, or embrace a secularism hostile to Yiddishkeit. The result is that there are virtually no American Jewish artists of any kind whose creations are more than superficially Jewish.
The same may be said of Israeli culture, motivated as it is by a determination to be as "modern" and materialistic — that is, as American as possible. The last half century of Israeli culture has been an inept imitation of its American model. The only cultural successes in Israel are to be found in writers like Bialik and Amichai, who were born in Europe, grew up speaking Yiddish, and in point of fact wrote Yiddish poetry in Hebrew.
The Yiddish writers, on the other hand, because theirs was a Yiddish audience, had neither the temptation nor the option of assimilation into a non-Jewish culture. Remaining true to their language, they remained true to their culture's symbolic and archetypal vocabulary as well, even as they engaged the most modern themes in the most modern of cities: Manhattan. Further, Yiddish is, it must be frankly acknowledged, a dialect of German, and its literature, to be fully understood must be also be viewed in the context of German culture. Nachman's stories have more than a little in common with the work of the Brothers Grimm, and the theology of Hasidism develops in parallel with German Idealism.
The New York Yiddish Modernists offer us the only true and successful synthesis so far of Jewish and Modern culture. Theirs is the paradigm to be studied and emulated.
our initial projects are
Yiddish Grammar and Syntax
updated July 17, 2014
A work in progress, this is the only such book to address the genuine complexities of the Yiddish verbal system.
Modern Yiddish Literature
We will be publishing free online editions of such writers as Kulbak, Margolin, & Halpern, in fully-annotated scholarly facing-page translation, as well as literary translations with critical studies. (The Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Verse is a good bilingual introduction to this material).
Jewish Occult Philosophy
There is a highly developed tradition of "Jewish
Hermeticism," fusing Aristotelianism (through Maimonides) with Neoplatonism
(through Kabbalists such as Luzatto.) Schneur Zalman's
Tanya is a particularly important moment in the development of this
thought, and his work parallels in many ways that of contemporary German
Idealist Philosophers (Fichte, Hegel, Schelling), which have like occult
roots in the writings of Boehme.
This material has never yet been assessed on its philosophical merits. We mean to promote and publish critical and comparative studies of this material. Persons interested in this area need to have a good background in Kant & Hegel as well as familiarity with the Zohar. (Daniel Matt's Zohar, The Book of Enlightenment, and the Kant through Schopenhauer sections of Copleston's History of Philosophy, and Zalman's Tanya provide an introduction to this material.)
The Caligula of Taste
writings on art, design & aesthetics
(become a Friend of Caligula on Facebook)
Book of Wonders
Meryl Gross, featured artist of the Invisible Gallery, operates this ever expanding tour of hallucinatory pop culture and product nostalgia gone awry
Even Unto China
Translations from Chinese and Essays on Chinese culture.
Words and Music
The Circus of Dr. Jake
my published works, as free PDFs, or for sale in hard copy