The Abstracts — Femspec 4.2, Vol 4, Issue 2, 2005
SPECULATING JEWISH WOMEN
An Introduction, or the Jacket Blurb Comes of Age by Liora Moriel
Moriel praises the idea of focusing an issue on Jewish women’s perspectives in speculative fiction, and provides a few introductory comments about Jewish women artists in general.
Refamiliarization: Jewish Women in the Narrative Strategies of Pulp Science Fiction Magazine Stories, 1993-2000 by Susan Kray
To force a different perspective on readers, sf authors defamiliarize aspects of society, while retaining a normalizing familiarity in other areas. Historically, sf’s defamiliarizing tendency has not generally extended to aspects of gender, ethnicity, or religion, thus the scarcity of female Jewish characters in sf. The rare exception functions only as a stereotype, a refamiliarization. One reason for this is the minimal intersection between the small group of people with an in-depth understanding of Jewishness, and the equally small group of lifelong sf readers from which most sf authors come. Women conversant in both are rarer still. In the second half of the article Kray describes the Jewish female protagonists found in sf after 1992, some of whom break the earlier typical patterns.
Vision and Visibility: Contemporary Jewish Women Artists Visualize the Invisible by Gloria Orenstein
Orenstein lists the obstacles modern Jewish women artists face: 1) the traditional interpretation of the biblical second commandment as a prohibition against representational art; 2) a Christian bias in Western art; 3) patriarchal biases in art; 4) the loss of a generation of potential artists in the Holocaust; 5) the problem of assimilation in the face of anti-Semitism; and 6) hybrid religious identities resulting from the necessities of the Diaspora. Modern Jewish women artists, who exist as an identifiable group for the first time, reinterpret biblical women’s lives and document the lives of ordinary Jewish women. Tendencies include the use of materials that were in the past forms of oppression for Jews, e.g., fabrics/the garment industry; documentation of the reality of the Holocaust; and pilgrimages by the artists to Europe and Israel. Orenstein next discusses several Jewish-American artists: Ruth Weisberg, Susan Schwalb, Carol Hamoy, Gabrielle Rossmer, Cheslyn Amato, Anita Rodriguez, Fern Shaffer (with Othello Anderson), and Siona Benjamin. The article includes photos of representative works by each artist.
Jewish Enough by Pamela Sargent
The author recounts coming to terms with her Jewish identity, despite having a non-Jewish father and nonobservant family on her mother’s side and being an atheist. At the end of the essay Sargent draws several connections between sf and the Jewish experience.
Close Encounters of the Monica Kind by Marleen S. Barr
Feminist sf professor instructs alien on protocol for first extraterrestrial visit to earth, but things don’t go exactly as planned.
De-Winging the Angel by E. M. Broner
Essay about distinguishing the stereotypical Jewish mother from the angel.
Lilith 1996 by Marilyn Gale
Jewish legend of Lilith in modern setting.
Sasha’s Harlem: Excerpts by Batya Weinbaum
Sasha, feeling her biological clock ticking, revisits Isaac, the married owner of a Jerusalem hotel, and encounters a ghost.
One of Those Nights by Karen Alcaly-Gut
Yiddish ghost visits to bring message from poet’s mother on anniversary of her death.
Even Death Is Uncertain without the Proper Forms by Marilyn Jurich
Daughter deals with decisions that must be made when her mother dies.
Ex-nihilo by Carol Rose
The Goddess at Bergen-Belsen by Lorraine Schein
Holocaust survivor’s daughter recalls mother’s pain of loss of family, musing on all the goddesses who could have intervened but did not.
Review of The Defiant Muse by Scott Barr
Review of bilingual anthology of Hebrew feminist poems from biblical texts to modern times. Edited by Shirley Kauffman, Galit Hasan-Rokem, and Tamar Hess.
Review of Sleeping with Cats by Robert Charlick
Review of Jewish feminist author Marge Piercy’s autobiographical essay.
Review of A Spiritual Life by Phillipa Kafka
Review of Jewish feminist Merle Feld’s memoir of her lifelong quest to make a place for women in a patriarchal Judaism.
Review of Dreaming the Actual by Brian Kelley
Review of anthology of fiction and poetry by modern Israeli women writers, edited by Miriam Glazer. [Note: the word fiction is omitted in all references to the title of the book; it should read, after the colon, Contemporary Fiction and Poetry by Israeli Women.
Review of Women’s Holocaust Writing by Phyllis Lassner
Review of Lillian Kremer’s book which demonstrates the gender aspects of Holocaust suffering and Nazi ideology, as revealed in Jewish women’s fiction on the Holocaust.
Review of Soundless Roar by Diana Orendi
Review of Holocaust survivor Ava Schieber’s collection of stories, poems, and drawings.
Review of The Raw Brunettes by Audrey Vanderford
Review of Lorraine Schein’s novella about radical women in NYC on the last night of the 20th century.
Review of Bee Season by Ilana Wolpert
Review of Myla Goldberg’s novel about the unraveling of a Jewish family.
Review of Klezmer Music by Batya Weinbaum
Review of CDs by the Lori Cahan-Simon Ensemble, Pharaoh’s Daughter, and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
RACE AND CULTURE:
What Good Is All This to Black People? Octavia Butler’s Reconstruction of Corporeality by Alyson Buckman
Butler’s sf works recreate the female monster in various forms, but shows them adapting, surviving, and prospering because of their so-called monstrosity or difference. Butler presents humans (and aliens) as complex, evolving creatures, while deconstructing hierarchical categories like race, class, gender, and the normative human body. Buckman focuses on Butler’s Xenogenesis and Patternmaster series.
The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same: Gender and Sexuality in Octavia Butler’s Oeuvre by Sharon DeGraw
In Butler’s three major series (Patternmaster, Xenogenesis, and Parable), while Butler challenges power hierarchies, including gender, she often undermines full feminist autonomy by limiting her female leads to traditional roles (like mother). DeGraw demonstrates this gender retrogression by discussing female characters in these novels, and suggests possible reasons for it.
The Parable of the Sower as Rendered by Octavia Butler: Lessons for Our Changing Times by Sandra Govan
Butler’s novel is based on the New Testament parable, but is a much more elaborate parable. Like Jesus, the novel’s protagonist, Lauren, spreads a powerful and necessary message. Lauren critiques Christianity, yet takes from it and other religions to create her own religion of change, in a near-future dystopic world. Govan also discusses Parable in the context of 20th century neo-slave narratives: it conveys a cautionary message that, given the ills of our own society, devolution into the recurrence of slavery is not that far removed from the realm of possibility.
What Actually Is: The Insistence of Genre in Octavia Butler’s Kindred by Stephanie S. Turner
Turner analyzes Butler’s time travel novel as historiographic metafiction, finding that it contains some but not all features of such narratives. A hybrid combination of the slave narrative genre and speculative fiction aspects contributes the irony and self-reflection of historiographic metafiction, although in other ways Butler does not attain that [requisite] level of parodic self-reflexivity. That Kindred is a hybrid of genres means it is hard to classify, which led to a marketing headache and a mixed critical response.
Review of Female Hip-Hop Artists in Outer Space by Nsenga K. Burton
Black female hip-hop artists work within the marginalizing male-dominated music and television industries. They resist dominant ideas about black womanhood by reinterpreting ideal images through their lyrics, aggressive sound, and surreal settings, such as outer space.
Octavia Butler Speaks: A Visit to Cleveland State University by Monique Morrison
Morrison relates highlights of Butler’s visit to Cleveland State University.
Review of Brown Girl in the Ring by Ifeoma C. K. Nwankwo
Review of Nalo Hopkinson’s novel about Caribbean-Canadian Ti-Jeanne’s overlapping struggles in the human and spirit worlds.