f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 2 of <em>Asher Lev</em> - Rendering the Incommunicable

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Day 2 of Asher Lev - Rendering the Incommunicable

One of the interesting dynamics about Asher Lev is Potok’s inversion of some typical tropes. This is a “spiritual” book in that it is set within a community of faith. As we’ve noted in a discussion however, the religious elements of the book are often told with a dry, matter-of-fact tone whereas what truly becomes mystical is Asher’s gift.

Art is where Potok spends his most time trying to express the inexpressible, and to me he does it wonderfully. I am not being humble when I say I’m the worst artist on the face of the earth. That’s pure truth. I have a 14-month old who draws better than me, so the world of drawing is very foreign to me. And Potok welcomes me in far more than he does in the world of orthodox Judaism.

The moment Asher grinds a cigarette to use the ash for shading, his filling the notebook for his mashpia, his drawing of his mother nearly falling out of the boat. All of these have a bit of an electric feel to them, a vibrancy. And it contrasts so much with the leadenness of worship and prayer.

There’s an interesting exchange late in the book (I can’t find it right now) when Jacob Kahn talks about the Rebbe, who he obviously admires, and how the Rebbe cuts Kahn slack by saying that his art is his worship. They seem to agree about this but then they also agree that it is not quite the same as actually praying to God.

I think that speaks to the heart of the central tension of this book. Asher is obviously torn between two worlds and one comes off so much more appealing than the other. The question I guess is whether you remain trapped between two such worlds or if you’d ended up simply choosing one.

Go to Day 3 of Asher Lev

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