Translating God and Others: An Interview with Nathan Englander
For the New Yorker podcast series, you chose to read Isaac Bashevis Singer’s story “Disguise,” about a cross-dressing yeshiva boy in old Europe, and it reminded me of some of your own stories in this way that you’re comfortable enough to say, “This is a world. It has enough inside of it.”
My aesthetic is very simple: If a piece of art isn’t universal, it’s not functioning. It’s very strange that people want to ask Jews, “I’m not Jewish. My friends aren’t Jewish. Can I read this story?” It’s like Crime and Punishment. You don’t give that to someone and say, “Oh, you’re not Russian, you’ve never killed an old woman, so I don’t think this book’s for you.” Nobody’s worried about whether you can watch Star Warswithout having been a Jedi. It’s a really strange notion that gets put very specifically on literature with lots of Jews in it, or with lots of black people, or with lots of gay people. That’s how I feel about [John] Cheever. Nobody in my family ever mixed a martini. That world is as foreign to me as a dybbuk is to someone else. And you know what, there’s no distance, I get everything. Nothing is lost on me. So yes, why would a Jewish world be less of a world, or too “other,” unless the writer has failed?
- from an interview in Heeb, April 4, 2012.