Wednesday, May 25, 2011


In Beloved (which I believe is one of the finer novels in English language), Toni Morrison's protagonist, Sethe, uses the word 'rememory', to mean 'remember', and 'disremember' for 'forget'. Doctoral theses have been written on Morrison's use of memory in fiction, and I am hardly equipped to add much to what's been written about it. The words just sprang to mind because I remember (aha!) reading an essay by Veena Cabreros-Sud in one of those early Third Wave feminist anthologies, in which she talks about her inheritance of rememory from her own parents, her father's family's struggles for Indian independence, and her mother's family's survival in the Japanese-occupied Philippines.

How do we remember violence done against us? As Jews, we write as often as we speak. The Shoah has been documented as well as it has because it was done to people who write, and read, who change languages like socks, and preserve memory as a commandment.

So, that said, today I am looking at fiction markets online, especially looking for places with an interest in Jewish fiction (looking to find homes for some of the chapters of my Jewish lesbian Zionist novel), and a few stray phrases catch my eye.

No Holocaust memoirs, first-person essays/memoirs, fiction, or poetry.

We are not looking for Holocaust accounts.

We do no politics, prefer topics other than 'Holocaust'.

The majority of the submissions we receive are about The Holocaust and Israel. A writer has a better chance of having an idea accepted if it is not on these subjects.

We do not want fiction that is mostly dialogue. No corny Jewish humor. No Holocaust fiction.

Not all the magazines carry this sort of note--some specifically say they have an issue devoted to Shoah material--but a large minority if not a slim majority of Jewish cultural and literary publications DO carry this rider.

Now, I've edited a Jewish 'zine myself, and although I was fortunate enough to get a wide assortment of materials, I do imagine that there are an awful lot of authors churning out very similar material about the Shoah, and if where do you send that, if not to a Jewish magazine. But this doesn't feel as emotionally neutral as that.

What follows is purely emotional. Please, don't write in to defend these magazines--they do not need defending. These are fine publications. This is just a musing about the nature of Jewish culture and writing, here in the first quarter of the twenty-first century.

If, sixty five years later, Jews are still writing obsessively about the Shoah, that's not very surprising. When a people suffers the loss of a third of its population in a matter of a decade, those scars will not fade.

But neither will the history. Generations to come will know what happened, because we wrote. We wrote great books and bad ones, bestsellers, and memoirs intended only as a legacy for grandchildren. Imagine having such a thorough account of almost any other genocide. (I have other issues about how the Shoah has been coopted by the Western mainstream as the token reference genocide, but leave that for now.)

This is our story, this is what happened to us. Of course we write about it!

But what does it mean, now, if a Jewish magazine says, 'No Holocaust fiction'? What does it mean to never forget, if after a time we think maybe enough remembering? Are we overloaded? Can we write, but no longer read? If we truly write about so little else that all these magazines feel the need to tell us so, what is happening? What else should we be writing about? Who says so?

My own area of writing interest is fiction, mostly historical. I don't write about the Shoah, explicitly, and yet it sneaks in. The Jewish lesbian Zionist novel is nuanced and informed by Holocaust rememory, although it's about a young couple having a baby in San Francisco in 2002. The novel I wrote for NANOWRIMO in November is set in the Jewish community of England just after 1200, but when I write about the survivor of the York massacre whose daughter is at the heart of the story, I think of Holocaust survivors I've know. In another medieval piece I'm working on, one of the characters is saved from Crusaders by a Christian neighbor. I didn't make this woman up. I couldn't. All of her is patchwork rememories of her descendents, tough European women who hid Jews at the risk of their own lives, and those of their families.

I'd rather not tell Jewish writers to stop retelling this story. I'd like the world to stop doing to it to us so often that it becomes our central story, our sharpest rememory.

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