Ben Schrank and Joshua Furst Debate Judaism and Art

Two Authors Talk Shop Over a Couple of Beers in Brooklyn

The Old Bunch: Joshua Furst and Ben Schrank make themselves at home in Brooklyn.
nate lavey
The Old Bunch: Joshua Furst and Ben Schrank make themselves at home in Brooklyn.

Published February 27, 2013, issue of March 01, 2013.
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That the work is reasoned and considered?

No, that the work is argued and considered.

But a lot of English writers develop characters who are considered and argued.You look at Martin Amis characters, they’re about —

But Martin Amis wants to be a Jew!

He has historically said that. He would do better if he believed that safety is not an option. I think many immigrant cultures had to create characters who are populist and who are representative of something and are considered.

I don’t mean being considered, like thought through, I mean that there’s something talmudic in the style.

I have this anecdote where a woman who I had met at a conference more than ten years ago emailed me and she said: “I would love to review your book. Does it have Jewish content? If it does, I’ll review it for a Jewish publication; if it doesn’t, I’ll just read it.” So I had to spend some days trying to figure that out. My main character’s mother is Jewish. Her doubt and dubiousness about her own place in the world, and her dislike of the things in herself that she likes, and that revolving duality and doubt, is what makes her, for me, probably, culturally Jewish.

See, I want to reclaim this great tradition of European secular Jews who remade the world in their image.

I would argue that if a Jewish person doesn’t want to identify as culturally Jewish, they needn’t do that. I remember — I’ll never forget — I had a friend in high school who was like, “You’re not culturally Jewish.” He thought he was doing me some favor. And it was a very imprinting moment, because he was dis-identifying me with my culture. If I had embraced this favor, it’s like the ultimate leave taking. There are a lot of mediocre short stories about this. But at the same time, if I was with somebody else who was like, “Yes, I would like to renege on my culture,” I think you’ve got to let them go. It comes back to the Roth quote. Great writers get to disavow their groups and get free. They just become writers.

Well, they become individuals.

So, if Roth says that Faulkner is a regional writer and he’s a regional writer, he understands that they’re both universal writers who are free of any constraint you might put on them. So Brooklyn becomes just a kind of a meaningless category for a striving. A fictional striving.

Right. That’s my problem with contemporary Brooklyn.

I think that’s a fair problem.

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