By Leonard Unger
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Extra resources for AMERICAN WRITERS, Volume 4
Ironically, Yiddish critics do not rate Singer as high as do the English-speaking critics. American readers find appealing his offbeat themes and rejection of social philosophies— in short, his existential stance; Yiddish readers, however, often view him with an uneasiness akin to suspicion. Several Yiddish critics have attacked his tales of "horror and eroticism," his "distasteful blend of superstition and 4 I AMERICAN WRITERS shoddy mysticism/' and his "pandering" to non-Jewish tastes. What merit these criticisms may have is vitiated by the obvious resentment accompanying them—a resentment that develops in some literary corners whenever a writer wins recognition beyond the Yiddish pale.
Lusty, insatiable, and absurdly human, they struggle briefly, frantically; then, bewildered and exhausted, they succumb. The lowest chimney sweeps, beggars, thieves, and prostitutes have a dignity no disaster can destroy. Neither prophet nor reformer, Singer lays bare, without shock or outrage, the intensity of their struggles. More existential and modern than many writers dealing with today's familiar materials, he rejects convenient platitudes of alienation, loneliness, or defeat. No character is permitted to rely upon God alone for spiritual victory.
Singer omits none of their flaws, tragic or pathetic; on the other hand, he unfailingly endows his embattled spirits with compensatory flashes of generosity and courage. Failing to win our admiration, they evoke compassion and understanding. At their worst they contain those biological juices which nourished their ancestors down the dark centuries. No outraged prophet, Singer avoids commentary or opinion and depends on "facts," forcing the reader to pass judgment. Seeing no solutions to man's dilemmas, he offers none, advising his fellow writers to do the same.