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Ozick, Cynthia

Cynthia Ozick, 1928–, American writer, b. New York City, grad. New York Univ. (B.A., 1949), Ohio State Univ. (M.A., 1950). Her fiction, written with high intelligence, elegant incisiveness, and sharp, frequently satiric wit, is mainly concerned with facets of Jewish life and thought including the Holocaust and its legacy, the Jewish presence in contemporary life, and Jewish mysticism and legend. Ozick's novels began with the lengthy Trust (1966) and continued with The Cannibal Galaxy (1983), The Messiah of Stockholm (1987), The Shawl (1989), The Puttermesser Papers (1997), Heir to the Glimmering World (2004), and Foreign Bodies (2010). Her collections of short fiction are The Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories (1971), Bloodshed and Three Novellas (1976), Levitation: Five Fictions (1982), and Dictation: A Quartet (2008). Ozick's literary criticism and other intellectually rigorous essays have been collected in Art and Ardor (1983), Metaphor and Memory (1989), Fame and Folly (1996), Quarrel and Quandary (2000), and The Din in the Head (2006). Early in her career Ozick published poetry, and in her later years she has written plays.

See studies by H. Bloom, ed. (1986), S. Pinsker (1987), J. Lowin (1988), V. E. Kielsky (1989), L. S. Friedman (1991), E. M. Kauvar (1993), S. B. Cohen (1994), V. H. Strandberg (1994), and D. Fargione (2005).

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Ozick, Cynthia

OZICK, Cynthia

Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 17 April 1928. Education: New York University, B.A. (cum laude) in English 1949 (Phi Beta Kappa); Ohio State University, Columbus, M.A. 1951. Family: Married Bernard Hallote in 1952; one daughter. Career: Instructor in English, New York University, 1964-65; Distinguished Artist-in-Residence, City University, New York, 1982; Phi Beta Kappa Orator, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1985. Lives in New Rochelle, New York. Awards: National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1968; Wallant award, 1972; B'nai B'rith award, 1972; Jewish Book Council Epstein award, 1972, 1977; American Academy award, 1973; Hadassah Myrtle Wreath award, 1974; Lamport prize, 1980; Guggenheim fellowship, 1982; Strauss Living award, 1982-1987; Distinguished Alumnus award, New York University, 1984; Rea award, for short story, 1986; Lucy Martin Donnelly award, Bryn Mawr College, 1991-92; PEN/Spiegel-Diamonstein award for the Art of the Essay, 1997; Harold Washington Literary award, City of Chicago, 1997; John Cheever award, 1999. D.H.L.: Yeshiva University, New York, 1984; Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, 1984; Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1986; Hunter College, New York, 1987; Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, 1988; Adelphi University, Garden City, New York, 1988; State University of New York, 1989; Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, 1990; Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, 1991; Skidmore College, 1992; Seton Hall University, 1999; Rutgers University, 1999. Agent: Raines and Raines, 71 Park Avenue, New York, New York 10016. Address: c/o Knopf Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New York, New York 10022, U.S.A.

Publications

Novels

Trust. New York, New American Library, 1966; London, MacGibbon and Kee, 1967.

The Cannibal Galaxy. New York, Knopf, 1983; London, Secker andWarburg, 1984.

The Messiah of Stockholm. New York, Knopf, and London, Deutsch, 1987.

The Puttermesser Papers. New York, Knopf, 1997.

Short Stories

The Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories. New York, Knopf, 1971;London, Secker and Warburg, 1972.

Bloodshed and Three Novellas. New York, Knopf, and London, Secker and Warburg, 1976.

Levitation: Five Fictions. New York, Knopf, and London, Secker andWarburg, 1982.

The Shawl: A Story and a Novella. New York, Knopf, 1989.

Uncollected Short Stories

"The Sense of Europe," in Prairie Schooner (Lincoln, Nebraska), June 1956.

"Stone," in Botteghe Oscure (Rome), Autumn 1957.

"The Laughter of Akiva," in New Yorker, 10 November 1980.

"At Fumicaro," in New Yorker, 6 August 1984.

Plays

Blue Light (produced Long Island, 1994).

Poetry

Epodes: First Poems, with woodcuts by Sidney Chafetz. N.p., 1992.

Other

Art and Ardor (essays). New York, Knopf, 1983.

Metaphor and Memory (essays). New York, Knopf, 1989.

What Henry James Knew, and Other Essays on Writers (essays).London, n.p. 1993.

A Cynthia Ozick Reader, edited by Elaine M. Kauvar. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1993.

Fame and Folly: Essays. New York, Knopf, 1996.

Quarrel and Quandary: Essays. New York, Knopf, 2000.

*

Bibliography:

"A Bibliography of Writings by Cynthia Ozick" by Susan Currier and Daniel J. Cahill, in Texas Studies in Literature and Language (Austin), Summer 1983.

Critical Studies:

"The Art of Cynthia Ozick" by Victor Strandberg, in Texas Studies in Literature and Language (Austin), Summer 1983; Cynthia Ozick, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, edited by Catherine Rainwater and William J. Scheick, University Press of Kentucky, 1983; Contemporary American Women Writers: Narrative Strategies, edited by Catherine Rainwater and William J. Scheick, University Press of Kentucky, 1985; Crisis and Covenant: The Holocaust in American Jewish Fiction, by Alan L. Berger, State University of New York, 1985; Cynthia Ozick edited by Harold Bloom, New York, Chelsea House, 1986, and Cynthia Ozick: Modern Critical Views, by Bloom, Chelsea Publishers, 1986; The World of Cynthia Ozick: Studies in American Jewish Literature, edited by Daniel Walden, Kent State University Press, 1987; Since Flannery O'Conner: Essays on the Contemporary Short Story, by Loren Logsdon and Charles W. Mayer, Western Illinois University Press, 1987; The Uncompromising Fictions of Cynthia Ozick by Sanford Pinsker, Columbia, University of Missouri Press, 1987; Cynthia Ozick by Joseph Lowin, Boston, Twayne, 1988; Understanding Cynthia Ozick by Lawrence S. Friedman, University of South Carolina Press, 1991; Cynthia Ozick: Tradition and Invention by Elaine M. Kasuvar, Indiana University Press, 1993; Greek Mind, Jewish Soul by Victor Strandberg, University of Wisconsin Press, 1994; Cynthia Ozick's Comic Art, by Sarah Blacher Cohen, Indiana University Press, 1994; Greek Mind/Jewish Soul: The Conflicted Art of Cynthia Ozick by Victor Strandberg, Madison, Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Press, 1994.

* * *

Cynthia Ozick has said that she began her first novel as an American writer and ended it six-and-a-half years later as a Jewish writer. Overarching this book, Trust, is a third cultural presence made manifest in the seductive appeal of the pagan Earth-gods, who have maintained their potency under various names from old Greek and Canaanite times to our own. Ozick's conviction regarding this insight is attested by her view of "the issue of Hellenism-versus-Hebraism as the central quarrel of the West." Nevertheless, it was the American writer Henry James who most deeply stamped his image upon her youthful imagination. She wrote her master's thesis on parable in James's fiction, and spent seven apprentice years writing a never-published novel in the Jamesian manner, followed by almost as long a period working on the neo-Jamesian Trust.

Completed on the day President Kennedy was murdered, Trust was published in 1966 to a thin but highly favorable chorus of reviews. Its Jamesian elements are immediately evident in its style ("both mandarin and lapidary," Ozick calls it), its social milieu (a wealthy American family), its masking of greed and duplicity under an elegant surface of manners, and its international theme (half the book is set in Europe, half in America). The title itself is ironic to a Jamesian degree of complexity in that lack of trust affects every relationship from the familial (husband-wife, mother-daughter) to the theological (God's covenant having been broken in the Holocaust). What revives trust in the end is the young heroine's disavowal of her decaying cultural heritage (epitomized in her mother's crassly misspent trust fund) in favor of the spontaneous gods of naturewhich is to say, her reversion to the ancient pagan ethos. Her discovery of that ethos in her lost father (who had sired her as his "illegitimate issue" and then was succeeded by unsatisfactory Christian and Jewish father figures) makes up the central plot line of this immense and densely written novel. In the end, her father's apotheosis as a fertility god (which she witnesses) occasions one of the most vividly imagined sexual encounters in American literaturean imagistic rendering of sensation that is perhaps Ozick's finest (and most difficult) artistic achievement.

Even while she was working on Trust, Ozick's fascination with the Pan vs. Moses theme (as a character in Trust calls it) gathered such force as to promulgate her next book, the collection of stories titled The Pagan Rabbi. Within the title story, Pan overcomes Moses when the rabbi couples with a dryadin another vividly imagined sexual encounterand then hangs himself from her tree, not in guilt but in pantheistic ecstasy. "The molecules dance within all forms and within the atoms dance still profounder sources of divine vitality. There is nothing that is Dead," says the rabbi's last testament. Behind this heretical hunger for the world's beauty lies the chief paradox, for Ozick, of the Jewish artist. "The single most serviceable description of a Jewas defined 'theologically' is someone who shuns idols," she has written; yet to create literature is to put oneself "in competition, like a god, with the Creator," so that "[art] too is turned into an idol." Ozick memorably transmutes this theme into fiction in her next book, Bloodshed, where the artist-as-idolator appears triumphant in "Usurpation (Other People's Stories)." Here the Jewish poet, so apostate as to have published a hymn to Apollo, ascends to the Olympic rather than Jewish afterworld in the end, totally rejecting his Jewish heritage. But though the God of Israel permits him to espouse the new identity, the Gentile gods do not: "Then the taciturn little Canaanite idols call him, in the language of the spheres, kike." Flight from and coerced movement back toward Jewish identity is thus the unifying theme of the four tales in Bloodshed, with the Holocaust exerting the most powerful such coercive force. In "A Mercenary" a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust tries to expunge his Jewishness by becoming United Nations ambassador for a black African nation, but he is subtly called Jew by his black aide and even by inanimate objects: his cigarette reminds him of Holocaust smoke; his "white villa on the blue coast," of the "bluish snow" and "snow-white hanging stars of Poland" during his Holocaust period. Conversely, in the title story, "Bloodshed," despair over the Holocaust prompts its Jewish protagonist to contemplate suicide, until he is rescued by a Holocaust survivor's powerful lesson that "despair must be earned."

The later stages of Ozick's career have featured two books of essays, Art and Ardor and Metaphor and Memory, which embrace a quarter-century of journal contributions. Many of these essays offer incisive insights into her imaginative writing, especially concerning the dilemmas of contemporary Jewish-American culture. Her later fiction explores those dilemmas in a transatlantic range of settings. Levitation: Five Fictions, set almost wholly in New York City, uses its title as a three-part pun for its opening story: levitation, levity, the priestly tribe of Levi. It portrays the Holocaust as an identity-defining event, levitating genuine Jews away from the pseudo-or de-Judaized Jews who remain below on ground level. The most expansive, ambitious, and original part of this collection is the Puttermesser-Xanthippe series, a new version of Pan vs. Moses. In this instance the Pan figure (Xanthippe) is a female golem chanted into existence by Puttermesser to save New York City, but in the end the Jewish lawgiver (Puttermesser has become mayor) must sorrowfully chant her charming friend back to a pile of mud after Xanthippe begins to inflame the whole city with illicit sexual hunger. An extensive sequel to this series, in which Puttermesser falls in love, has appeared in the New Yorker magazine.

The Cannibal Galaxy revives the Jamesian theme of interaction between Europe and America via a Holocaust survivor, Joseph Brill, who hopes to unite the best of both cultures in a Jewish-American educational program. Although his school, located in the Midwest, thrives financially, in the end the American culture (which may be the "cannibal galaxy") crushes out the European, in part because the high culture of Europe did not truly survive the Holocaust. The Messiah of Stockholm, the only Ozick novel set wholly in Europe, concerns the effort of Lars Andemening, a Swedish book reviewer, to verify his claim that Bruno Schulz (the real-life Polish Jew, murdered in 1942) is his father. Schulz's dichotomy between "Cinnamon Shops" and "The Street of Crocodiles"his best known story titlesrepeats itself in Ozick's novel, as Andemening in the end is stripped of his energizing illusions (the comforting refuge of "Cinnamon Shops") and left to cope with the cold barrenness of reality ("The Street of Crocodiles"). And finally, The Shawl Ozick's little book combining the stories "The Shawl" and "Rosa"plays off Jewish-American and Jewish-European cultures against each other, to the discredit of both. Rosa, a Holocaust survivor from Warsaw, relies on her high-class, assimilated Polish family heritage to assert her superiority over the degraded Jewish-American culture she experiences in New York and Miami. "My Warsaw is not your Warsaw," she insists to Persky, her kindly but vulgar friend in Miami who had emigrated from the impoverished Warsaw ghetto before the war. Rosa's use of magic to invoke the spirit of her infant daughter (who had been murdered at Auschwitz) comprises yet another instance of the enticement of the pagan gods, tying Ozick's latest work to early books like Trust and The Pagan Rabbi.

Although Ozick's Jewish materialsincluding a sprinkling of Yiddish words on many pagescan create an initial impression of opacity, her general reading audience should not find her cultural heritage more difficult to apprehend than Faulkner's or Toni Morrison's materials. Through her greatly original and powerful expression of her Jewish ethos, Ozick contributes importantly to the larger American literary tradition.

Victor Strandberg

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Ozick, Cynthia

OZICK, CYNTHIA

OZICK, CYNTHIA (1928– ), U.S. writer, best known for literature exploring the opposition between the Jewish and the pagan worlds and the problem of what it means to be a Jew in the U.S. diaspora. Ozick was born in New York to Yiddish-speaking Russian Jewish immigrants and was educated at New York University. She did graduate work in literature at Ohio State University (1949–50), writing her thesis on the later novels of Henry James, an important early aesthetic influence. She later taught a fiction workshop at the Chautauqua Writers' Conference.

Ozick emerged as a gifted short-story writer in the early 1960s, publishing her first full-length novel, Trust, in 1966. This ambitious work, praised as both Jamesian and Tolstoyan in its stylistics, has strong mythological tendencies and an allegorical frame. The novel follows an unnamed female narrator's quest for identity amid the confusion of modern American life. Judaism, with its responsibility to the past and future (represented by Enoch, her mother's current husband), provides one option; the spontaneous life of nature (represented by Nick, the mysterious father she has never met but is seeking) provides another option. In Ozick's second and more successful book, The Pagan Rabbi, and Other Stories (1971), the title story is a fantasy about a young rabbi's struggle between Pan and Moses, nature and Judaism. The second tale, "Envy; or, Yiddish in America," likewise explores the conflict for the traditional Jew living in a gentile world; the protagonist, Edelshtein, an immigrant Yiddish poet who cannot get translated or published in English, satirically attacks the successful but secular, pantheist Yiddish novelist, Ostrover, a figure based on Isaac Bashevis Singer. Edelshtein reveals Ozick's belief that for Jewish literature to be valuable it must remain focused on Jewish themes and reject assimilation. The central problem and paradox for Ozick is that, as an observant Jew living in the U.S. and writing in English, she cannot escape the belief that all fiction is to some degree idolatrous and all writing in English a betrayal of Judaism. The last story in the collection, "Virility," is a feminist, Jewish tale exposing the falsehood of an assimilated male Jewish writer's claim to be a spokesman of universal values. The celebrated poet Edmund Gate turns out to be a plagiarist, while the true poet is none other than his aged "Tante Rivkah" who has remained true, in poverty and loneliness, to her Jewish origins. Ironically, when Rivkah's final poems are published posthumously under her own name, they no longer receive the glowing reviews they received when published under Gate's name.

Many of Ozick's other works, including Bloodshed and Three Novellas (1976) and The Messiah of Stockholm (1987), explore the issues and moral dilemmas facing the Jewish writer who, as Harold Bloom has written about Ozick, must struggle to reconcile her need to create fiction and her "fear of making stories into so many idols." The Messiah of Stockholm tells the story of Lars Andemening, an orphan of World War ii who becomes fixated on the idea that he is the son of Bruno *Schulz, the famous Polish Jewish writer killed by the Nazis. The devastating impact of the Holocaust is a dominant theme in many of Ozick's works, including Levitation: FiveFictions (1982), the novels The Cannibal Galaxy (1983) and The Shawl (1989). The Cannibal Galaxy is the story of Joseph Brill, a young Orthodox Parisian Jew, who survives the war hidden in a priest's library only to unsuccessfully attempt after the war to create a Jewish school that braids the best of Jewish and western traditions. The Shawl, arguably Ozick's most powerful and controversial work, combines two short stories. The title story, a work of bare, brutal horror, tells of the murder of Magda, the baby daughter of the assimilationist Jewish Pole, Rosa Lublin; Magda is killed when a Nazi throws her against an electrified fence. The second story, "Rosa," follows the destructive impact of the Shoah on Rosa, who has become "a madwoman and a scavenger" in Miami, writing letters in her best Polish to her dead daughter. While continuing to explore ethical, theological, and philosophical issues, Ozick turned to a lighter tone in her comic novel, The Puttermesser Papers (1997), a fantastic, episodic novel reminiscent of 18th-century picaresque tales. The novel follows the magical adventures of Jewish attorney Ruth Puttermesser, from hercreation of a female golem who helps her to become mayor of New York to her death and experiences in paradise. Here and elsewhere Ozick combines the realistic and the surrealistic, comedy, tragedy, and philosophy, in order to create beautifully rich texts exploring Jewish life in America. Her 2004 realistic novel Heir to the Glimmering World is the story of a teenage orphan working for a German immigrant family headed by a professor who obsessively studies the Karaites, an obscure Jewish sect.

Despite her brilliant use of humor, Cynthia Ozick is a philosophical writer who takes Judaism more seriously than did the first generation of post-World War ii Jewish writers in America. In a series of forthright and brilliant essays published in the Jewish press, she has written of the Messiah and the need to find a place for him in the modern city, of Holiness and the Sabbath day, and of the Jewish commitment to history as an answer to present-day idolatries. But she is aware of the tensions and difficulties which such commitment implies, especially for the creative writer ("Holiness and its Discontents," 1972). Her collections of essays, including Art and Ardor (1983), Metaphor and Memory (1989), Fame and Folly (1996), and Quarrel and Quandary (2000), explore a variety of topics with insight and thoughtfulness. Ozick does not betray the nostalgia of some older writers for the pieties of the ghetto; her sense of the relevance of the Jewish "myth" is related to a keen awareness of the contemporary western world with its combination of enchantment and squalor. At the same time, she shows a more positive identification with Israel and its fate than is to be found in her older contemporaries among the New York Jewish novelists. This became marked after the Six-Day War of 1967, and even more so after the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

bibliography:

H. Bloom (ed.), Cynthia Ozick: Modern Critical Views (1986); H. Fisch, in: Haaretz (Oct. 10, 1973); E. Kauvar, Cynthia Ozick's Fiction: Tradition and Invention. (1993).

[Craig Svonkin (2nd ed.)]

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Ozick, Cynthia

OZICK, Cynthia

Born New York, New York

Daughter of Celia and William Ozick; married Bernard Hallote; children: one daughter.

A distinctive voice in American literature, Cynthia Ozick is known chiefly for her complex fiction centered on Jewish characters and Judaic themes. Widely recognized as an outstanding essayist, she is also a poet and translator. She has received many awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and in 1982 a Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, to which she was subsequently elected (1983).

Success did not come early for Ozick. After receiving her B.A. from New York University (1949) and her M.A. in English from Ohio State University (1950), she spent seven years working on a long novel called "Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love," which was never published. Ozick then spent six and one-half years on yet another novel, Trust, which finally appeared in 1966. Writing with biting humor and poignancy about the painful years between her twenties and her "despairing middle thirties," when she was writing obsessively and publishing nothing, submitting work to magazines and being routinely turned down, she said in a 1984 essay, "Cyril Connolly and the Groans of Success," that she never truly "recuperated" from the "pounding of denigration and rejection."

Following the publication of Trust, which received varying appraisals, Ozick turned from the long novel to the shorter fiction that won her critical acclaim. Between 1971 and 1982 she published three collections of stories and novellas: The Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories (1971), Bloodshed and Three Novellas (1976), and Levitation: Five Fictions (1982). Almost all of the tales in these collections revolve around Jewish themes, treated from cultural, historical, or theological perspectives: the Holocaust; Jewishness in America; "the corruptions and abominations" (Bloodshed) of the idolatry forbidden by the Second Commandment, whether it takes the form of worshiping ideas, nature, individuals, or poems. While some of Ozick's stories are realistic, some are fantastic. "Puttermesser and Xanthippe," for instance, involves a Frankenstein-like creation of Jewish folklore known as a golem.

In the 1980s Ozick returned to the novel with two rich, compressed works: The Cannibal Galaxy (1983) and The Messiah of Stockholm (1987). In 1989 she published The Shawl, comprised of the title story and a prize-winning novella, Rosa, both revolving around a Holocaust survivor.

Ozick's work has been praised for its originality, intelligence, and superb craftsmanship. Her fiction has an intellectual, multilayered complexity, and critics have varied in both their interpretation and their assessment of individual works. Though Ozick has stated in her well-known preface to Bloodshed that "a story must not merely be, but mean," in some of her tales the meaning seems obscure. At its best, her fiction is at once philosophical and witty, thought-provoking and gripping—adjectives that can be applied to the best of her essays as well.

A contributor to many popular, literary, and Jewish periodicals, Ozick has gathered a selection of her essays into two collections: Art and Ardor (1983) and Metaphor and Memory. (1989). Whether offering literary analysis or portraits of literary figures, exploring Judaic issues, or addressing feminist concerns, Ozick can be a superb essayist. Successful personal essays have included "Washington Square, 1946," which was included in The Best American Essays: 1986, and "A Drugstore in Winter," a childhood memoir critic Katha Pollitt judged "as rich and dense as the best of her fiction."

In the "Forewarning" that opens Metaphor and Memory, Ozick warns readers against using her essays to "interpret" her stories, and critic Harold Bloom has observed that Ozick's "narrative art and her stance as an essayist seem not to be wholly reconcilable." Nonetheless, Ozick's provocative, perceptive essays on Judaic and literary themes help define the religious and aesthetic issues central to her fiction, especially her views on idolatry.

Taking a strong stand against postmodernism, minimalism, art for art's sake—i.e., literature as idol—Ozick has argued that "literature is for the sake of humanity." Her essays provide an understanding of the moral seriousness she believes should be central to all literature, and this clearly resides at the heart of everything she writes.

Ozick published a third book of essays in 1994, Portrait of the Artist as a Bad Character, and a fourth in 1996, titled Fame & Folly, both of which focused on the writer's art and its hazards. For Ozick, one of those hazards is perfectionism, specifically "bloodless perfectionism and the secret crisis of confidence that dogs it." She offers personal and opinionated responses to the work of T. S. Eliot, Isaac Babel, and Edith Wharton. Sometimes her opinions are disarmingly blunt, as in the judgement, "[Henry] James was a genius, Wharton not."

With her National Book Award-nominated novel The Puttermesser Papers (1997), Ozick furthered her exploration of the character of Ruth Puttermesser—mayor of New York, George Eliot fan, and dabbler into Jewish mysticism—following her from the age of 34 years until her death. To an unusual extent for a semifantastic tale, the protagonist maintains her physical and emotional self-awareness throughout. "She was conscious of her Lilliputian measure," Ozick wrote. "A worn-out city lawyer, stunted as to real experience, a woman lately secluded, eaten up with loneliness, melancholia ground into the striations of her face." As Sarah Blacher Cohen wrote in her 1994 study of Ozick, the author uses the disjunction between physical and emotional states as the occasion for wry, even morbid humor. Ozick's most recent fiction has taken place in the theatrical world, which presumably comes from her forays into playwriting.

Other Works:

The Mystic Explorer (1980). Voices Within the Ark: The Modern Jewish Poets, Howard Schwartz and Anthony Rudolf, eds. (1980). Ink and Inkling: Mark Podwal, Master of the True Line (1990).

Translations in: A Treasury of Yiddish Poetry (edited by Irving Howe and Eliezer Greenberg, 1969). Voices from the Yiddish: Essays, Memoirs, Diaries (1972). The Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Verse (edited by Irving Howe, Ruth Wisse, and Khone Shmeruk, 1987);

Bibliography:

Cohen, S. B., Cynthia Ozick's Comic Art: From Levity to Liturgy (1994). Bloom, H., ed., Cynthia Ozick: Modern Critical Views (1986). Currier, S., and D. J. Cahill, "A Bibliography of the Writings of Cynthia Ozick," in Contemporary American Women Writers: Narrative Strategies, Catherine Rain-water and William Scheick, eds. (1985). Friedman, L. S., Understanding Cynthia Ozick (1991). Kauvar, E., Cynthia Ozick's Fiction: Tradition and Invention (1993). Lowin, J., Cynthia Ozick (1988). Pinsker, S., The Uncompromising Fictions of Cynthia Ozick (1987). The World of Cynthia Ozick: Studies in American Jewish Literature (1987).

Reference works:

CA (1976). CANR (1988). CLC (1975, 1977, 1984, 1991). Commentary (June 1976). Contemporary Novelists (1991). CB (1983). Discussion (1976). DLB (1984). DLBY (1982). FC (1990). Moment (April 1976). MTCW (1991). New Yorker (13 May 1996). NYRB (April 1976). Playboy (June 1976). Present Tense (Spring 1972).

Other references:

Texas Studies in Literature and Language (Summer 1983).

—GAIL POOL,

UPDATED BY MARK SWARTZ

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Ozick, Cynthia

OZICK, Cynthia

Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 17 April 1928. Education: New York University, B.A. (cum laude) in English 1949 (Phi Beta Kappa); Ohio State University, Columbus, M.A. 1951. Family: Married Bernard Hallote in 1952; one daughter. Career: English instructor, New York University, 1964-65; Stolnitz Lecturer, Indiana University, Bloomington, 1972; distinguished artist-in-residence, City University of New York, 1982; Phi Beta Kappa Orator, Harvard University, 1985. Awards: National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1968; Wallant award and B'nai B'rith award, both in 1972; Jewish Book Council Epstein award, 1972, 1977; American Academy award, 1973; Hadassah Myrtle Wreath award, 1974; Lamport prize, 1980; Guggenheim fellowship, 1982; Strauss Living award, 1983; Rea short story award, 1986. Honorary doctorates: Yeshiva University, New York, 1984; Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, 1984; Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1986; Hunter College, New York, 1987; Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, 1988; Adelphi University, Garden City, New York, 1988; State University of New York, 1989; Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, 1990; Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, 1991; Spertus College, 1991; Skidmore College, 1992; Seton Hall University, 1999; Rutgers University, 1999; University of North Carolina, 2000. Address: Office: c/o Alfred A. Knopf, 201 E. 50th Street, New York, New York 10022-7703, U.S.A.

Publication

Collection

A Cynthia Ozick Reader. 1996.

Novels

Trust. 1966.

The Cannibal Galaxy. 1983.

The Messiah of Stockholm. 1987.

The Puttermesser Papers. 1997.

Short Stories

The Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories. 1971.

Bloodshed and Three Novellas. 1976.

Levitation: Five Fictions. 1982.

The Shawl: A Story and a Novella. 1989; "The Shawl" originally published in New Yorker, 1980.

Poetry

Epodes: First Poems. 1992.

Play

Blue Light (produced New York, 1994).

Other

Art and Ardor (essays). 1983.

Metaphor and Memory (essays). 1989.

What Henry James Knew and Other Essays on Writers. 1993.

Fame and Folly: Essays. 1996.

Quarrel & Quandary: Essays. 2000.

Editor, The Best American Essays 1998. 1998.

*

Bibliography:

"A Bibliography of Writings by Ozick" by Susan Currier and Daniel J. Cahill, in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Summer 1983.

Critical Studies:

Cynthia Ozick, edited by Harold Bloom, 1986; The World of Cynthia Ozick, edited by Daniel Waldon, 1987; The Uncompromising Fictions of Ozick by Sanford Pinsker, 1987; Cynthia Ozick by Joseph Lowin, 1988; Understanding Cynthia Ozick, 1991, and "A Postcolonial Jew: Cynthia Ozick's Holocaust Survivor," in SPAN (Australia), 36, October 1993, pp. 436-43, both by Lawrence S. Friedman; Cynthia Ozick's Fiction: Tradition and Invention by Elaine M. Kauvar, 1993; Cynthia Ozick's Comic Art: From Levity to Liturgy by Sarah Blacher Cohen, 1994; Greek Mind/Jewish Soul: The Conflicted Art of Cynthia Ozick by Victor H. Strandberg, 1994; "Do We Not Know the Meaning of Aesthetic Gratification?: Cynthia Ozick's 'The Shawl,' the Akedah, and the Ethics of Holocaust Literary Aesthetics" by Joseph Alkana, in MFS, 43(4), Winter 1997, pp. 963-90; "'And Here (Their) Troubles Began': The Legacy of the Holocaust in the Writing of Cynthia Ozick, Art Spiegelman, and Philip Roth" by Sophia Lehmann, in CLIO, 28(1), Fall 1998, pp. 29-52.

* * *

Cynthia Ozick belongs at the forefront of a group of postwar Jewish American writers (including Hugh Nissenson and Arthur A. Cohen ) who have discovered in the religious traditions of Judaism a conceptual underpinning for their art. Her literary project may thus be distinguished from that of writers like Saul Bellow and Philip Roth , who often write about an ethnic Jewish milieu without explicitly engaging with the moral and theological basis of Judaism itself. Employing a range of literary modes—including the novel, the short story, and the personal and critical essay—Ozick's writings frequently move toward the form of the parable. Her recurrent theme is the clash between ethical outlooks, often characterized as a moral or Judaic outlook confronting an aesthetic or Hellenic one. Another abiding theme in her work is the problem of responding to the Holocaust, and the figures that emerge as heroes in her writings are often characterized as witnesses to the destruction of European Jewry.

At the center of Ozick's writing is her conception of Judaism. This conception depends more upon an overall ethical and ideological orientation than upon the specifics of ritual practice. In particular she emphasizes the second commandment, the ban on idol worship. In an essay entitled "Literature as Idol: Harold Bloom" she writes, "The single most useful, and possibly the most usefully succinct, description of a Jew—as defined theologically, can be rendered negatively: a Jew is someone who shuns idols." For Ozick an idol is not merely a plastic form of a god; she extends the category to include any product of the human imagination that comes to be worshiped in and for itself. What makes an idol so dangerous, according to Ozick, is its ability to demand complete submission, eliminating human compassion and obscuring a proper view of history. She maintains that even literature, when conceived of in purely aesthetic terms, has a tendency to become an idol.

Many of Ozick's essays, including the manifesto-like "To-wards a New Yiddish," reach toward a definition of a specifically Jewish literature. The mark of such a literature, in Ozick's view, is that it "passionately wallow[s] in the human reality; it will be touched by the covenant." Jewish literature, she contends, resists becoming an idol by insistently turning toward the world in a gesture of moral judgment. As she writes in the preface to Bloodshed and Three Novellas (1976), "I believe that stories ought to judge and interpret the world." Interestingly Ozick writes in a style that is highly ornate, elegant, and, indeed, literary. Thus it may be said that the style of her writing stands in tension with its ethical commitment. Ozick herself has hinted at this dualism in her work, asserting in an interview that she has "two heads: one that writes the fiction, the other that writes the essays."

Beginning with her very first prose work, a long novel entitled Trust (1966), the Holocaust has figured as a crucial point of reference. Her fiction is populated by characters who strive to retain the memory of the Holocaust amidst forces of forgetfulness. In Trust Enoch's work as a tabulator of death camp victims leads him back to Jewishness. He is contrasted with the anti-Semitic Allegra, who screams "the concentration camps are all over!" In "Envy, or Yiddish in America," the Yiddish poet Edelshtein desperately seeks a translator into English, asserting that "whoever forgets Yiddish courts amnesia of history." Also Ozick often uses the figure of a Holocaust survivor to articulate the moral truth of a story. In "Blood-shed" a Hasidic rabbi who survived Buchenwald impugns the assimilated Bleilip for surrendering to an "unearned" despair. In "The Pagan Rabbi" Sheindel, who was born in a concentration camp, represents a keeper of the faith while her husband, Kornfeld, worships nature, abandons his Jewish faith, and ends up taking his life. About Sheindel Ozick writes that she "had no mother to show, she had no father to show, but she had, extraordinarily, God to show."

Ozick's overall treatment of the Holocaust is informed by the Hellenic/Jewish antimony that underpins her writings. For Ozick the Hellenic outlook leads to an indifference, if not downright hostility, to history and the claims of memory. By contrast the Jewish outlook attends to what Ozick calls "the voice of the Lord of History." Yet much of Ozick's work complicates any simple alignment between memory and Jewish anti-idolatry on the one hand and forgetting and Hellenic aestheticism on the other. In The Messiah of Stockholm (1987) the worshiper of art, Lars, strives to recover the writings of Jewish writer Bruno Schulz, who was killed by the Nazis, and in "Rosa" the eponymous protagonist, a lover of Greek culture, keeps alive the memory of her daughter, who died in a concentration camp. In these works it turns out that the characters with a heightened aesthetic imagination are precisely the ones who avoid the amnesia of the surrounding world. Finally Ozick's work suggests that art and Holocaust memory are not necessarily antithetical even though their proper alignment requires a complicated balancing act.

—Julian Levinson

See the essays on The Messiah of Stockholm, "Rosa," and "The Shawl."

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Ozick, Cynthia

OZICK, Cynthia

Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 17 April 1928. Education: New York University, B.A. (cum laude) in English 1949 (Phi Beta Kappa); Ohio State University, Columbus, M.A. 1951. Family: Married Bernard Hallote in 1952; one daughter. Career: Instructor in English, New York University, 1964-65; Stolnitz Lecturer, Indiana University, Bloomington, 1972; distinguished artist-in-residence, City University, New York, 1982; Phi Beta Kappa Orator, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1985. Lives in New Rochelle, New York. Awards: National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1968; Wallant award, 1972; B'nai B'rith award, 1972; Jewish Book Council Epstein award, 1972, 1977; American Academy award, 1973; Hadassah Myrtle Wreath award, 1974; Lamport prize, 1980; Guggenheim fellowship, 1982; Strauss Living award, 1983; Rea award, for short story, 1986. L.H.D.: Yeshiva University, New York, 1984; Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, 1984; Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1986; Hunter College, New York, 1987; Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, 1988; Adelphi University, Garden City, New York, 1988; State University of New York, 1989; Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, 1990; Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, 1991.

Publications

Collections

A Cynthia Ozick Reader. 1996.

Short Stories

The Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories. 1971.

Bloodshed and Three Novellas. 1976.

Levitation: Five Fictions. 1982.

The Shawl: A Story and a Novella. 1989.

Novels

Trust. 1966.

The Cannibal Galaxy. 1983.

The Messiah of Stockholm. 1987.

The Puttermesser Papers. 1997.

Other

Art and Ardor (essays). 1983.

Metaphor and Memory (essays). 1989.

What Henry James Knew and Other Essays on Writers. 1993.

Fame and Folly: Essays. 1996.

*

Bibliography:

"A Bibliography of Writings by Ozick" by Susan Currier and Daniel J. Cahill, in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Summer 1983.

Critical Studies:

"The Art of Ozick" by Victor Strandberg, in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Summer 1983; Ozick edited by Harold Bloom, 1986; The Uncompromising Fictions of Ozick by Sanford Pinsker, 1987; Ozick by Joseph Lowin, 1988; Cynthia Ozick's Fiction: Tradition and Invention by Elaine M. Kauvar, 1993; Cynthia Ozick's Comic Art: From Levity to Liturgy by Sarah Blacher Cohen, 1994; "The Transgression of Postmodern Fiction: Philip Roth and Cynthia Ozick" by Alfred Hornung, in Affirmation and Negation in Contemporary American Culture edited by Gerhard Hoffmann and Alfred Hornung, 1994; "Cynthia Ozick: Prophet for Parochialism" by Sarah Blacher Cohen, in Women of the World: Jewish Women and Jewish Writing edited by Judith R. Baskin, 1994; "Matrilineal Dissent: The Rhetoric of Zeal in Emma Lazarus, Marie Syrkin, and Cynthia Ozick" by Carole S. Kessner, in Women of the World: Jewish Women and Jewish Writing edited by Judith R. Baskin, 1994; "Jewish Jacobites: Henry James's Presence in the Fiction of Philip Roth and Cynthia Ozick" by Mark Krupnick, in Traditions, Voices, and Dreams: The American Novel Since the 1960s edited by Melvin J. Friedman and Ben Siegel, 1995; "The Holocaust and the Witnessing Imagination" by S. Lillian Kremer, in Violence, Silence, and Anger: Women's Writing as Transgression edited by Deirdre Lashgari, 1995; "Cynthia Ozick's Paradoxical Wisdom" by Marilyn Yalom, in People of the Book: Thirty Scholars Reflect on Their Jewish Identity edited by Jeffrey Rubin Dorsky and Shelley Fisher Fishkin, 1996.

* * *

When Cynthia Ozick finished her first novel, Trust, in 1963, after six and a half years of intensive work, she vowed never to engage herself again in something so long. "After such an extended immolation," she said in an interview in 1983, "I needed frequent spurts of immediacy—that is, short stories which could get published right away." After the mid-1960s, Ozick published some 25 stories in leading American magazines like Commentary, Esquire, and The New Yorker. Most of her stories are not short, however, but have novella length, and two tales have actually grown into novels (The Cannibal Galaxy and The Messiah of Stockholm).

Ozick's first collection of short fiction, The Pagan Rabbi, contains some of her best-known stories. They have become classics of Jewish-American literature. "The Pagan Rabbi," first published in 1966, opens with a rabbi's suicide in a public park. When a former classmate at the rabbinic seminary visits Rabbi Kornfeld's widow, he learns from her that his pious friend had fallen in love with nature, more specifically, with a dryad of eggplantlike skin. From the rabbi's diary his friend gathers that the Talmudic scholar believed nature to be suffused with divinity ("Great Pan lives") and that he craved to liberate his soul from the burden of history and Jewish learning, a desire that eventually led to suicide. In the story Ozick establishes the antithesis of Pan and Moses, of pantheism and monotheism, of nature and history, of poetry and law, of self-indulgence and social responsibility. These pairs form the basic dichotomies in much of her early work, for instance, in Trust, "The Dock Witch" (1971), "Levitation" (1979), and "Puttermesser and Xanthippe" (1982). The dichotomies reflect a split in Ozick's self-perception. As a Jew she is committed to history, moral seriousness, and rationality, but as a writer, as she explained in an interview in 1985, "I absolutely wallow in mystery religion." As a committed Jew, story writing with its free flight of fancy remains for her an "illicit practice for which I have never actually truly given myself permission."

It is not surprising then that many of Ozick's stories are either about writers or about the process of writing and the power of the imagination. One of her most famous stories, the exquisitely funny "Envy; or, Yiddish in America" (1969; collected in The Pagan Rabbi), shows the plight of two Yiddish poets, Edelshtein and Baumzweig, who have no audience because nobody reads Yiddish anymore. They envy their prose-writing colleague Ostrover, whom Edelshtein calls "a pantheist, a pagan, a goy," for as an acculturated Jew—"a Freudian, a Jungian, a sensibility. No little love stories"—Ostrover is translated into English and becomes a tremendous success. In "Virility" (1971; also reprinted in The Pagan Rabbi), another story about an immigrant poet, writing and assimilation are correlated in a similar way, and the theme of the literary fraud is introduced. Ozick refines this theme in later stories and uses it to great effect in The Messiah of Stockholm.

The title story of Ozick's second collection, Bloodshed, and the long novella "Usurpation (Other People's Stories)" (1974; reprinted in Bloodshed) are probably Ozick's most difficult poetological stories. "Bloodshed" revolves around the dynamics of "instead of," that is, around the function of metaphor, and demonstrates how mistaking the image for the thing, confusing fiction and reality, can lead to crimes as horrendous as the Holocaust, engineered by men who mistook human beings for vermin and exterminated them. Similarly, "Usurpation" is a story that argues against story writing. "The point being," Ozick wrote in her preface to Bloodshed, "that the storymaking faculty itself can be a corridor to the corruptions and abominations of idol-worship, of the adoration of magical event." And storytelling, Ozick claims, "is a kind of magical act."

This last statement is a clue to Ozick's novella "Puttermesser and Xanthippe" (1982; reprinted in Ozick's third collection, Levitation). In an act of frenzied worry about the corrupt state of New York City, the rationalist and lawyer Ruth Puttermesser creates a female golem, an anthropoid made from clay. This creature, self-named Xanthippe, helps Puttermesser to become the mayor of New York and to clean up and reform the city. But soon enough the golem's libidinal drive runs amok and wrecks the paradise Xanthippe had helped build. Like Rabbi Loew, the creator of a golem in seventeenth-century Prague, Puttermesser is forced to destroy her own creation in order to control it. During a talk in New York's Jewish Museum in 1988, Ozick called Xanthippe "a metaphor for art." Art, her story claims, unfolds its destructive potential as soon as it leaves the realm of the imagination and enters the real world.

Ozick's last of three Puttermesser stories, "Puttermesser Paired" (1990), presents another instance of such perilous boundary crossing. The still unmarried Puttermesser is now "fifty plus" and madly in love with the life and work of George Eliot. She thus becomes the half-willing victim of a copyist, Rupert Rabeeno, who is obsessed with the idea of "reenacting the masters" and who seduces Puttermesser into copying the love life of Eliot. After an imaginary honeymoon in the tracks of Eliot, Ruth is abruptly deserted by her new husband. She discovers that Rupert has not been playing Eliot's loving companion George Lewes but the young Johnny Cross, whom Eliot married at the age of 61 and who on their honeymoon in Venice was seized with a sudden mental derangement and jumped from his balcony into the Grand Canal. Rupert, however, is sane enough not to jump out of Ruth's apartment window. He leaves through the door.

Throughout her short fiction Ozick has offered one impediment to check the flight of fancy and that is the fact of death or, more particularly, deliberate murder, with which the imagination may not toy. In many of her stories the Holocaust serves as the event that tests her characters' moral seriousness (in Trust, "The Pagan Rabbi," "The Suitcase," "A Mercenary," "Levitation," and "The Laughter of Akiva," which became The Cannibal Galaxy). With one exception, namely the title story of The Shawl, Ozick has not written directly about the Holocaust. She considers fiction the realm of human folly, of magic, and of levity, for which the destruction of the European Jews is an inappropriate subject.

—Susanne Klingenstein

See the essay on "The Shawl."

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Ozick, Cynthia

OZICK, Cynthia

OZICK, Cynthia. American, b. 1928. Genres: Novels, Novellas/Short stories, Plays/Screenplays, Theatre, Essays. Publications: Trust (novel), 1966; The Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories, 1971; Bloodshed and Three Novellas, 1976; Levitation: Five Fictions, 1981; The Cannibal Galaxy, 1983; Art & Ardor (essays), 1983; The Messiah of Stockholm, 1987; Metaphor & Memory (essays), 1989; What Henry James Knew, 1993; Blue Light (play), 1994; Portrait of the Artist as a Bad Character, 1995; Fame & Folly, 1996; Cynthia Ozick Reader, 1996; The Shawl (play), 1996; The Puttermesser Papers, 1997; (guest ed.) Best American Essays, 1999; Quarrel & Quandary: Essays, 2000.

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