Literature and the “Prophetic Voice”

I’m not certain where this line of thought is going quite yet — but it’s going somewhere.  Elsewhere, I offer the beginning of a thought about a concept somewhere between Forster’s “Prophecy” (as an “aspect of the novel”) and the idea of a “prophetic spirit” within Judaism, and its relationship, or lack thereof, with the Jewish-American novel.

Unfortunately, I also can’t help but think that having had this beginning of a thought a month ago would have produced a series of significantly better statements of purpose than various graduate institutions received.  Oh well.

Individual artists do not err by writing in the manner they find most appropriate and most comfortable. Philip Roth did not shirk any duty by writing like Philip Roth, rather than like Herman Melville; the world would be a poorer place had Saul Bellow written in any other voice. But if the community of Jewish-American artists—and, more specifically, of Jewish-American writers (even more specifically, of novelists)—does not produce artists than can work, even if only once, in a mode that channels the voice of the prophets, then it is abdicating a segment of its communal duties, and leaving the voice of Judaism incomplete. And for this, too, the world would be a poorer place.

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2 thoughts on “Literature and the “Prophetic Voice”

  1. There’s always next year for grad school applications. I think it’s a fascinating line of inquiry because I can hear the prophetic voice in certain prose, but am not sure if the fictionalizing urge wouldn’t mediate against delivering prophecy. Could there be prophetic sociology? I can think of a few sociologists who moved towards becoming holy scourges, if not prophets.

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  2. You make an excellent point that is well worth pursuing, especially since the broader social imaginary that would be implicit in a prophetic voice could offer some vital challenges to much of the cold, narrow secularism of late modernity.

    In that light, however, I do think some of Bellow’s vision is aligned–albeit in a distinctly modern way–with that of the prophets. Herzog is the best example, but I think you could explore it in all his stuff. I don’t remember the exact quote, but Bellow noted that Herzog is something of a “negative Bildungsroman” who must unlearn everything to truly appreciate the meaningful things in life. Something, I think, in Bellow’s “unlearning” of the dehumanizing aspects of modernity may echo the calls of the prophets.

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