Fridrix Gorenshtein and the Creation of Russian Jewish Literary Discourse

Marat Grinberg, University of Chicago

It is always difficult to speak critically of one's contemporaries and yet it is truly a wondrous experience when a critic discovers something unique in a contemporary writer. Fridrix Gorenshtein, who died in May of this year, was indeed a writer in and of today, heavily involved in political and ideological processes of his time, whose main interests, however, lay in metaphysics, eternity and its connection to the Word. Despite translations into other European languages, Gorenshtein's works were never translated into English and thus he remained somewhat a non-entity in this country, even in its Slavic circles.

In my paper, I shall discuss and analyze on the example of his major novel, The Psalm, Gorenshtein's features as a Russian Jewish writer. It is my contention that considering the history of Russian Jewish literary tradition, or the absence of such, Gorenshhtein can be seen to have single handedly created a Russian Jewish discourse by using devices known in the annals of European Jewish literature, yet unique in its Russian manifestation. Among such devices are his appropriation and commentary on the Scriptures, both Jewish and Christian, his treatment of Jewish collective memory, and his usurpation of anti-Semitic ideology as well as Christian theology. This paper will raise a broader issue of the possibility of creating a Jewish secular literary discourse in a non-Jewish language. While Gorenshtein's example seems to positively resolve the issue, the analysis of other writers from different periods, such as Brodskij and Mandel'shtam, challenges it. Ultimately, the essay will hopefully lay a ground for analyzing not so much historically, as philosophically, theologically and aesthetically, the presence of such discourse within the Russian literary tradition and what its existence might signify for the development of Jewish civilization in its secular and religious manifestations.