A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘popular literature

[URBAN NOTE] “Toronto’s Yiddish Playhouse”

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Torontoist’s Kevin Plummer had a nice feature looking at one locus of Yiddish-language drama in Toronto.

As an expression of a new, secular Jewish culture, “Yiddish theatre served an important psychological function for the Jewish immigrant” in Toronto, historian Stephen A. Speisman writes in The Jews of Toronto: A History to 1937 (McClelland & Stewart, 2005 [1979]). “[I]t was a place where he could laugh uproariously after a day in the factory,” Speisman continued, “where he could rise out of the indignity of his existence as a rag-picker to heights unattainable outside the fantasy of the stage, where the catharsis of weeping simultaneously over one’s own lot and over the tragedy of the fictional character was to be had for ten cents.”

In Toronto, the centre of Yiddish comedy and drama was on the northeast corner of Dundas and Spadina, the site of Isidore Axler’s Standard Theatre—the first purpose-built Yiddish playhouse in Canada. At its peak in the 1920s and early 1930s, the Standard was considered by journalist and historian Hye Bossin to be “the finest Yiddish playhouse in North America and probably the world.”

Yiddish stock companies visiting Toronto performed at Orange halls and other venues until 1906, when the People’s Theatre, the city’s first Yiddish theatre, was opened in an old synagogue. The venue was so dilapidated that a balcony collapse during an early performance almost led to tragedy. Charles (Chanina) Pasternak, the owner and a Ward entrepreneur, brought another businessman (alternatively given as Simon Rabinowitch or a Mr. Abramaovitch) into the enterprise and relocated to a former Methodist Church at Agnes (Dundas) and Terauley (Bay) streets into a 900-seat auditorium. Known as The National when it opened in 1909—and later as The Lyric—the theatre hosted productions of New York touring companies. The shows were well-attended, but it doesn’t seem to have ever become a profitable business venture.

The biggest touring companies, like those led by Boris Tomashefsky and Jacob Adler, still preferred larger venues like Massey Hall, Hart House, or the Grand Opera House, which they could sell out with ease, to the rudimentary National. And the theatre’s practice of staging shows on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons earned the consternation of the orthodox community, some of whom refused to ever even enter the building or expelled attendees from their congregations. Moreover, by the early 1920s—when the Lyric was razed by fire—the theatre had been languishing as the city’s Jewish community, becoming more established and wealthier, had moved west from the Ward to re-center itself on the intersection of College and Spadina.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 27, 2015 at 7:47 pm

[LINK] “Can Arabic literature ever be fully understood in English?”

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The United Arab Emirates’ The National features an essay by one M Lynx Qualey noting the problems with translated Arabic-language literature. What, exactly, is the consumer of the translated product consuming? Is it a good sample, or a representative sample? Lots of interesting questions.

In some ways, reading all this Arabic literature in English has been like listening in on a foreign-language recording when one understands the words’ meanings, but not the allusions, nor the jokes, nor the underlying rhythms.

Some of this woodenness can be blamed on inadequate translations. But some of it falls to our historical blind spots. What makes a literature untranslatable is not the failure to find equivalents of any particular words. The endless listicles of “untranslatable” words – like backpfeifengesicht (German for “a face badly in need of a fist”) and bakku-span (Japanese for “a girl beautiful only from behind”) – may not have single-word equivalents, but they come with easily understandable translations.

Rhythm and rhyme can be more difficult to recreate, but what’s really hard to convey is the fullness of a literary tradition. Why did the original readers judge this work great? Did they look for the same things we value in English, or was it something completely different?

Also, literature builds on literature. You can hardly appreciate Wicked without a passing knowledge of Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz, and Moby-Dick is a lot thinner without access to a bit of Shakespeare and the Bible.

Novels take a position in a landscape of genres, motifs and other books. Just so, Youssef Rakha’s Sultan’s Seal, translated by Paul Starkey, is hard to understand if the reader lacks any relationship to classical Arabic letters.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 27, 2015 at 7:45 pm

[FORUM] Do you read tie-in fiction?

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I certainly do.

Treklit #startrek #books #ebooks #kobo #koboarc7 #davidegeorge

Star Trek novels are novels I have read since I was very young, starting with my uncle’s copy of Diane Duane’s Spock’s World. This particular line goes back decades, the current Simon & Schuster imprint going back to the 1980s.

Vintage Treklit #toronto #books #bmv #treklit #sciencefiction

Why? There is much that I like in Star Trek–certain characters, certain civilizations, certain tropes–and I like seeing more of them. Since the universe has disappeared from television for more than a decade and the franchise rests on the anemic movies, the novels are for me the only media in which the universe continues to develop.

Perhaps more to the point, many of the novels are really quite good. Especially within the past two decades, at worst the authors have been competent, vetted by Paramount. At their best, these authors can actually be very good, writers with strong reputations outside of Star Trek tie-in fiction who are able to do good things with their source material. An entertainingly interconnected continuity has been built up over the past two decades, one in which actions have lasting consequences. Sometimes the television shows kept hitting the reset button. With the modern novels, this just does not happen. I like seeing this for myself.

This is certainly not the only thing I read. It is something that I do read and take pleasure in reading. Why not?

What about you? What do you think? What fandoms, what expanded universes, do you engage with?


Written by Randy McDonald

July 26, 2015 at 2:09 am

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

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  • The Big Picture shares photos relating to the restoration of Cuban-American relations.
  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly talks about why she uses Twitter.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a study noting the sulfur-rich environment of protostar HH 212.
  • The Dragon’s Tales reports a Chinese plan to develop a mixed fission/fusion reactor.
  • Language Log notes an example of Chinese writing in pinyin without accompanying script.
  • Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen notes the importance of Kevin Kwan’s novels about Chinese socialites.
  • Language Hat reports on an effort to save the Nuu language of South Africa.
  • Languages of the World reports on Urum, the Turkic language of Pontic Greeks.
  • Discover‘s Out There reports on the oddities of Pluto.
  • The Planetary Society Blog’s Emily Lakdawalla explains why the New Horizons data from Pluto is still being processed.
  • Spacing Toronto reports from a Vancouver porch competition.
  • Towelroad notes a married gay man with a child denied Communion at his mother’s funeral.
  • Window on Eurasia notes racism in Russia, looks at Tajikistan’s interest in the killing of its citizens in Russia, suggests Belarus is on the verge of an explosion, and examines Mongolian influence in Buryatia.

[LINK] “Pow! Gay Comic Book Characters Zap Stereotypes”

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Gregory Schmidt’s article in The New York Times from earlier this month looks at the growing visibility of LGBT characters in graphic novels and comics more generally.

Mainstream comic book publishers have tried for years to draw a more diverse readership by incorporating gay characters and story lines.

Lately, they have faced increased competition from smaller publishers that want to go more mainstream and already have an established roster of inclusive offerings.

As the comic book industry prepares to gather at Comic-Con International, which begins Thursday in San Diego, publishers big and small will be promoting a wider selection of gay-themed comic books. Industry insiders say the trend mirrors the country’s evolving attitudes toward gays and lesbians.

“The population of America has changed, and acceptance of gays has changed,” said Milton Griepp, chief executive of ICv2, which tracks the comic book industry.

ICv2 reported last week that total sales of comic books and graphic novels in the United States and Canada reached $935 million in 2014, an increase of 7 percent over 2013.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 17, 2015 at 10:48 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “El Jones, Halifax’s poet laureate, moving to Iowa for work”

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CBC’s Catharine Tunney reported on the sadly ironic emigration of Haligonian poet laureate El Jones to the United States in search for work. Greater Halifax, I would note, is probably the most prosperous region of the Maritimes: Things are not better in Sydney.

Halifax’s poet laureate says she is leaving the province at the end of August for a job in the U.S. because she can’t find a permanent teaching job in Nova Scotia.

“I need to eat. I need sleep,” said El Jones in an interview with CBC News.

“I’m going to be homeless for the month.”

[. . .]

The writer and activist has had jobs at Acadia University and the Nova Scotia Community College. She said it’s hard to work in Nova Scotia. Between her teaching, activism and poet laureate duties Jones says she had been working 16 to 20 hours a day, sometimes for free.

According to the Halifax Regional Municipality, the poet laureate is a poet or writer who lives in the city and “has achieved excellence amongst their peers and whose work is of relevance to the citizens of HRM.”

The person in the position receives a small stipend of $4,000 for the two-year term and acts as “an advocate for literary arts and reflects the life of HRM through their work. As an advocate for poetry, language and the arts, the poet laureate attends events across the Municipality to promote and attract people to the literary world.”

Written by Randy McDonald

July 17, 2015 at 10:42 pm

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

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  • Centauri Dreams argues that humans have a deep-seated instinct to explore.
  • Crooked Timber looks at how Greek debt is a political problem.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes an unsuccessful search for gas giant exoplanets around a white dwarf and looks at a new system for classifying exoplanets by mass.
  • The Dragon’s Tales looks at a report that a Patriot missile battery in Turkey got hacked.
  • Geocurrents notes how the eastern Yemeni region of Al Mahrah is seeking autonomy.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the failure of the United States’ Cuban embargo.
  • Marginal Revolution speculates as to the peculiar dynamics of political leadership in China.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw reflects on Greece.
  • The Planetary Society Blog notes that Pluto can now be explored via Google Earth.
  • Registan looks at the decline of Tajikistan’s Islamic Renaissance Party.
  • Strange Maps shares a map that charts out the City of London and its threats.
  • Towleroad notes an upcoming vote over a civil partnership bill in Cyprus.
  • Window on Eurasia reports that most books published in Russia have small print runs.

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