Editor’s Wrapup: In So Many Words
Just as language is what distinguishes humankind from the other species, so does the way we use language distinguish one person from another. There are people whose words express precisely their feelings and others who create feelings for the purpose of telling a story. And there are words that can say everything and nothing at the same time.
Haim Gouri is Israel’s best-known living poet and, in the words of Gershom Gorenberg, “as canonically Israeli as Walt Whitman is American.” One notable quality in his use of language is an ability to express contradictory emotions—like feelings of patriotism and concern for the Palestinians—without trying to rationalize or smooth out the conflict. This wrestling between the personal and the national is summed up in one of his early poems, “I Am a Civil War.” Gorenberg’s appreciation of Gouri begins on page 10.
If Gouri’s fault line lies in his soul, with Faye Kellerman the separation is between the language of the mystery novels for which she is widely known and the open book of her personal life, which revolves around family and work. Nevertheless, as she tells Adeena Sussman, parts of the balancing act from her own life are reflected in her fiction, such as the secular world of detective Peter Decker and the religious observance of Rina Lazarus, the two characters she introduced in The Ritual Bath, published in 1986. Sussman’s profile of Kellerman starts on page 36.
Every language has its untranslatable words, and one of Hebrew’s most expressive, and elusive, is davka. Though it has many specific uses, some argue that it can just as easily be termed a word of emphasis that no combination of words in English can approximate. Linda Grant decided to test the translation waters by offering a prize for the best definition (page 16). As the responses to her contest demonstrate, even the way we use a single word can davka distinguish one person from another.
—Alan M. Tigay