Conjuring fragments – The Golem as an aspect of the uncanny
V Alexis (external supervisor)
Freud’s famous and influencial essay, “The Uncanny”, (discussed by theorists like Cixous, Kristeva and Vidler in their work) used E.T.A.Hoffmann’s equally famous story, “The Sandman” as its central example. It is a fact seldom commented upon that Hoffmann’s story was a version of the Jewish legend of “The Golem”. The theme of the Golem can reveal valuable insights not only in psychoanalytic theory, but also, more surprisingly, it can be used to illuminate ideas in such diverse fields as philosophy, religion, literary and film theory and architectural theory. I aim to show that the Golem is an important and ubiquitous theme which draws together many valuable and varied connections and ideas.
In addition by looking at this subject from a visual and practice-based point of view, I am offering a new perspective, from which I intend to interrogate and test theoretical and practical propositions using film and book structures. My approach is that of praxis: that is, how theory and practice overlap and complement each other.
I shall look at the Sandman/Golem theme in Freud's essay "The Uncanny" and what it reveals about his ideas. I shall question whether it is relevant that it is a Jewish Folktale, and shall ask if Freud's Jewish background had any effect on his thinking and theory. My discussion of Freud’s German/Jewish identity will lead me to consider the uncanny nature of identity in general, whether personal or national. Here I shall be looking at subjects like anti-Semitism, Zionism and fascism. It is striking that “The Golem” is the title of a new German/Jewish magazine which looks at the role of Jews in the diaspora.
My study of identity will extend to gender, and I shall be looking at feminist theory and how this relates to the 'uncanniness' of women according to Freud and other theorists like Kristeva and Butler.
A discussion of the Golem tales can also reveal new insights in philosphy by, for example, examining Derrida’s work on language and religion and in his analysis of Levinas. I will also look at how E.T.A Hoffmann’s and Meyrink’s use of this story relates to philosphical ideas of, for example, the Enlightenment and Romanticism, and how these relate to Freud’s “The Uncanny”. I shall consider, from a metaphysical point of view, the spectral and uncanny architectural space of the Ghetto setting.
The Golem was the subject of a major exhibition of art works at the New York Jewish Museum in 1988. I shall be looking at how this theme has been interpreted by visual artists as well as exploring ideas of the Golem and the uncanny in the form of book structures. The book is a very familiar object; I shall be looking at ways in which in can become unfamiliarly uncanny. I shall use film to explore this theme further in terms of movement, image and sound, for instance I intend to use samples of a rare collection of Jewish religious music from the 1920s which fused Jewish and German culture by translating traditional Jewish liturgy from Hebrew into German. This film will reflect on the uncanniness of memory, loss and mourning. The work that results from my discoveries will be shown as an exhibition, and my written work will be bound with supplementary images. I am intending to produce a catalogue for my exhibition that will distill some of my written findings. This exhibition is not only intended to illustrate, but also to explore the themes, and in the process reveal original insights.
Shelley Fowles was born in South Africa but has lived in the United Kingdom since 1979. She has exhibited work in London and Brighton and has designed greeting cards and wrapping paper which have been sold all over the world. Among Shelley's design works is a set of playing cards, 'Unnatural History', see the World of Playing Cards site http://www.wopc.co.uk/otc/aboutsf.html.
She publishes with Frances Lincoln, specialising in children's tales from foreign countries. As well as her own illustrations of traditional tales, she has illustrated books by Elizabeth Laird and Ann Jungmann.
Her books include:
The Bachelor and the Bean (winner of the U.S. Maron Vannett Ridgway Honor Book Award 2004.)
When a grumpy old bachelor loses his last lunchtime bean down a well, he starts to yell. To stop the noise, the Imp down the well gives him a pot which conjures up delicious food. But when a jealous old lady steals the pot, even stranger things happen - and the bachelor's life will never be the same again! A genie, magic and pots and pots of food are just some of the ingredients in Shelley Fowles' lively retelling of a traditional Jewish Moroccan tale.
Outside the King's palace stands an enormous tree, its top hidden by clouds. No one has ever climbed to the top or collected any of its seeds. Rosa's stepmother and stepsister Irma are always calling Rosa a monkey because she can climb anything, from drainpipes to trees. So when the King proclaims that whoever brings down some seeds from the tree-top shall marry his son, Rosa decides to make her step-family laugh on the other side of their faces... Shelley Fowles' gloriously funny adaptation of a traditional Hungarian folk tale is accompanied by illustrations in the colourful, sophisticated-native style which she has made her own.
A Fistful of Pearls is enchanting. Its baddies are wolves and thieves; its stories are fabulous, and they are just the right length. Its tone is ideal for reading aloud, and perhaps this, more than real baddies and fewer pictures, will encouage children to read for themselves. And bedtime stories from Iraq can surely remind us that some innocence is worth preserving when some real-life baddies are plentiful enough. - Daily Telegraph