As this is, to some extent, a blog concerning my particular writing exploits, I thought it necessary to introduce when new works of mine get published. Rather than simply post a calling and link for people to rush away from whatever they’re doing in favor of reading literary fiction that even my wife considers, “too sad,” I figured it would be more interesting to talk about the piece in a contextual sort of way.
I’m happy to announce that Rowan University’s literary journal Glassworks has graciously published my short story “Threads” in their Spring 2015 issue.
I have blond hair, blue eyes, and a red(ish) beard. I was raised Catholic, was confirmed, and am fair-complected enough to require SPF above the 50s. But my last name is Markovitz. For the first twenty years of my life, that meant nothing to me. Wrought perhaps from an estranged relationship with my father and his side of the family, I adopted a very real admiration and classification with my maternal Irish-ness. All out. Celtic cross tattoos, unhealthy moshing at Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys concerts, four trips to Ireland, etc. I even forced myself to try black-currant Guinness. I even went by Jeff Mark when publishing my first novel. I didn’t think much of it then, but removing the “ovitz” from my name, removing my paternal ancestry, removing my Jewishness seems to me now an unconscious commitment to neglecting any Otherness in my own person. As an adult, I’ve dedicated a lot of my writing life to finding out why.
Now, in my thirties, my hair is thinning, my eyes red with deep-day tiredness, my beard freckled with wayward grey; I am no longer a Catholic. I avoid the sun in general. And more and more, I want to explore my Jewishness. That isn’t to say I am a spiritual Jew; I have no real deep interest in the Torah or Temple, etc. What I am interested in is first: my ancestry and second (perhaps more so): why it was so important to me to deny myself a very real piece of who I am.
I don’t intend on going into a lengthy discourse on race and Otherness, though perhaps one is warranted. Rather, as I age, I’ve tried to discover the Jewishness in me through literature. That is, through my own literature. In researching my second novel, I spent time in Germany and at Auschwitz, in Poland. And this past summer, I took a graduate class in Holocaust Literature. The course, a grueling array of victims’ journals and accounts, a historic tracing of Antisemitism, and Nazi justifications; was a very difficult class to consume emotionally. The daily readings, films, and assignments were enough to bring classmates to tears and bring me closer to understanding my own apprehensions about my Jewishness.
The class was based on the concept of witnessing witnessing. That is not a type-o. The term suggests that there were those who directly witnessed the Holocaust, aka: victims and victimizers. Then, there are those who witness the testimonies of these people, aka: us. The questions become, how can we interpret the events of the Holocaust when we are losing the first witnesses? How can the way we interpret the witnessing actually skew the weight of the event itself? And mostly: what role does the creative writer play? Do they have a right to even attempt considering something like the Holocaust, if they’ve never experienced it?
My professor, a wise woman whose mother survived Auschwitz, decried much of the popular literature of the Holocaust: Life is Beautiful, The Diary of Anne Frank, etc. She and I, in our personal discussions about our exclusive travels to the death camp, talked about how a creative writer can attempt to develop responsibilities in writing about the Holocaust and its consistent aftermath. I modeled the mother character in “Threads” off of her mother and much of what appears in the story is from discourse from that class.
I have no idea how she would react.
I wrote “Threads” as the first of two stories to examine how I understand my own Jewishness and how Jewishness–the pejorative–is understood throughout the world. The second story, “Flowers for Tikkun Olam” is coming out later this year. I’m grateful they’ve found homes in places people can read them. This does not mean I’ve fully comprehended what it means to be a Jew by blood, or what it means to feel guilt in ignoring that for decades. All it means is that I’ve got a very little utility in this world and that writing, for better or for worse, is how I explore. It is my ship, my vessel, my only hope to call into the past and wait for echo. Nothing about my Jewishness takes away from my agency; I am very much a straight, white, man in a world that fosters these traits as if they were divinely ordained. But I resist the agency nevertheless; I do not deserve what I have, especially considering what I’ve given up: my ancestry. I want to take it back, not to claim a home in a marginalized people, but to understand how I marginalized that part of myself and how that is indicative of how culture overall does the same thing, to a great many, everyday. It all connects: my self-abolition of my Jewishness and the ancient setup of hierarchies humans use to disenfranchise an Other. And though I don’t think I’m heading for a Bar Mitzvah any time soon, reclaiming my Jewishness feels right. It feels like the right direction.
My name is Jeffrey Scott Markovitz.
Despite my studying, despite my writing, I have absolutely no sense of what the Holocaust means or why it has to be a part of us. But, I suppose, the “no sense” is the most appropriate reaction to such a thing. Holocaust writing is immediately and always problematic; it is a witnessing that flirts with spectacle and, therefore, misrepresentation. For this, I must apologize for my part in it. But, as I am a human, it is my duty to put myself there, as Charlotte Delbo suggests in the novel mentioned in “Threads”: Essayez de regarder. Essayez pour voir. Try to look. Try to see.