Podcast: Cynthia Ozick on Her New Novel Antiquities

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In the year 1970, the distinguished American writer Cynthia Ozick published an essay arguing that Jewish literature might succeed if it embraced and conveyed the rich particularism of the Jewish experience. In a famous metaphor, she wrote that, “If we blow into the narrow end of the shofar, we will be heard far. But if we choose to be mankind rather than Jewish and blow into the wider part, we will not be heard at all; for us America will have been in vain.”

Fifty years later the Jewish people’s relation to the surrounding culture is a subject that still preoccupies Ozick. Her new novel, Antiquities, deals in the same themes. It depicts an elderly American man who, in the process of writing his memoirs, fixates on a friendship he developed with an outcast Jewish boy during the time they shared decades before in an exclusive private school. In this podcast, in conversation with Jonathan Silver, Ozick explains how this relationship caused the man to question whether there was a more “significant thing” he could devote himself to, and she reveals some of the subtle wrinkles in the book that direct the reader toward monotheism and to the Jewish tradition.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.

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