Author: Norman Toby Simms
The focus of this volume is on essential themes, images and generic patterns, beginning with a Talmudic legend about four scholars. They, by means of daring mystical interpretations of Scripture, entered a Paradise, representing different means of imaginative reading, perception, memory and application of the law. One of them died, one went mad, another became a heretic and the other came back as a traditional exegete and teacher. Based on that legend, this book examines a small group of late 19th and early 20th century European Jewish intellectuals and artists in the light of their dreams, writings, and moments of crisis. These men and women, comedians in both the sense of stage actors and clowns or witty performers, believed they had entered a new secular and tolerant society, but discovered that there was no escape from their Jewish heritage and way of seeing the world. This monograph looks into the imperfect mirror of cultural experience, discovers a hazy world of illusions, dreams and nightmares on the other side of the looking glass, and sometimes constructs a midrashic conceit of the comical and grotesque screen between them.