Schlemiels, Women & (In)animate Yo-Yos in Thomas Pynchon’s “V”

Easy-streetMenachem Feuer at berfrois:

Like human beings who grow and change as they move through time and space, literary characters go through a process of elaboration in which they take on a new look and feel. When it moves from one culture to another, a literary character is translated into new idioms. And, in turn, that character can now articulate new ideas. One of the most interesting comic characters in the Jewish literary tradition – one who has been elaborated and re-elaborated over time, space, and language – is the schlemiel. She has been translated into nearly every European language, has had a tremendous impact on Eastern European and German Jews, and in the early 20th century she traveled over the Atlantic to find a new home on American shores. Since the advent of Charlie Chaplin and the first translations of Shalom Aleichem into English, the schlemiel has become an American icon. In film, television, and Jewish American literature, we find new American idioms for the schlemiel (think, for instance, of filmmakers and actors like Woody Allen, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, or Seth Rogen or TV stars like Larry David and Jason Alexander or writers like I.B. Singer, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, and Shalom Auslander). When one thinks of America, now, one doesn’t simply think of a heroic figure; one also thinks of the schlemiel and her antics. And, to be sure, it was the work of many Jewish-American writers, filmmakers, and actors that jettisoned the schlemiel through Broadway, Hollywood, and the pages of popular novels to become an American icon.

What many literary critics overlook, however, is the fact that the schlemiel has also found its way into the pages of great Anglo-American writers like John Updike (see his “Beck” series) and Thomas Pynchon.

more here.