The ambivalence of tradition in Rachel Kadish’s the weight of ink

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Abstract

The ambivalence at the heart of Rachel Kadish’s third novel, The Weight of Ink (2017), comes from the tension between Kadish’s exploration of Jewish identity, on the one hand, and her position as a feminist on the other. Kadish thus uses the form of the historical novel to critique patriarchal traditions in Jewish culture that exclude women from the domain of scholarship and philosophical thought. The Weight of Ink weaves a complex narrative contrasting the life of a twenty-first-century historian, Helen Watt, to the fierce intellect of Ester Velazquez, a female scribe from the seventeenth century, who is forced to develop her philosophy secretly under a series of male pseudonyms. This essay starts out by examining the delicate balance required for this kind of cultural critique, for while Kadish excoriates the past ill-treatment of women and homosexuals, she nonetheless is also clearly proud of her identity as a Jewish woman. The second section of this paper looks at the extent to which Kadish launches a successful feminist analysis of Jewish culture and traditions. Her strongest points come when she turns the logic of this tradition back on itself: the very existence of Ester’s intellect or Alvaro’s homosexuality, she argues, are proof that such things are ordained by divine will rather than its contradiction. The conclusion of the paper explores the limitations of Kadish’s approach, focusing in particular on the way she creates a biological tie between Ester and Shakespeare. This narrative twist appropriates Ester to the realm of the patriarchal law, encapsulating the irresolvable tension between Kadish’s Jewishness and her feminist politics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-176
Number of pages18
JournalConcentric: Literary and Cultural Studies
Volume46
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2020 Mar

Keywords

  • Feminism
  • Jewishness
  • Shakespeare
  • Spinoza
  • Tradition

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