Tuesday, October 11, 2005


More eyes on the prize, Piazza, the Genizah

After a spine-tingling deadlock, John Banville has won the Booker Prize for The Sea. Meanwhile, the Swedes will be announcing the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday. Traditionally the cloistered deliberations of the Swedish Academy have been kept out of the news, but now The Globe and Mail reports that one academician, 82-year-old Knut Ahnlund, has resigned in protest against last year's award to Elfriede Jelinek. "Last year's Nobel prize has not only done irreparable damage to all progressive forces," argues Ahnlund, "it has also confused the general view of literature as an art." The academy's permanent secretary, Horace Engdahl, shrugged off his former colleague's spitballs, noting that Ahnlund had put in only handful of appearances at the office (or whatever it is) since 1996. Stay tuned for further developments.

In the wake of an excellent reading up at Columbia, the itinerant Tom Piazza passed on some interesting news: he's writing a short book called Why New Orleans Matters for ReganBooks/HarperCollins, which sounds like a pained and elegiac valentine to his adopted city. The manuscript is not yet complete. Still, the publication date is set for November 23 (!), which should make for some relaxing afternoons in the production department.

Finally, something else I didn't know, from Sherwin Nuland's Maimonides:
Mention has just been made of the Genizah, which is a story in itself. The word means "depository," but it is a depository of a special sort, one in which is stored materials that are inscribed with any reference to God. Because Jewish law forbids the discarding of such artifacts, it was the custom for centuries to bury them or stow them away in the structure or attics of synagogues. Returning from one of several journeys to the Middle East in 1896, two widowed sisters, Mrs. Lewis and Mrs. Gibson, familiar with classical languages--Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic--brought back to England a fragment of manuscript they had obtained in Cairo. The origian was the Genizah, a room in the women's gallery of the Ben Ezra synagogue in Fustat, built in 882. They showed it to their friend Dr. Solomon Schechter, Reader in Rabbinics at Cambridge University, who identified it as a tenth-century copy of the original Hebrew manuscript of the book of the Apocrypha called Ecclesiasticus. Schechter traveled to Cairo, consulted with its Jewish community, and obtained their permission to bring almost all of the Genizah's contents, more than 100,000 manuscript fragments of paper, cloth, vellum, and papyrus, back to Cambridge as a gift from them.

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