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The Carnevalis of Eusebius Asch


The Carnevalis of Eusebius Asch, Edited, Annotated, and with an Introduction by Peter Gimpel.
Trade paper. 272 pages. ISBN 0-9631478-1-1. Price (US): $14.95.

Beethoven and Schoenberg, Schumann and Hesse, Lévi-Strauss and Vico, each has a role in this seagoing carnival of Platonic lust and manic scholarship—a role as Protean and unpredictable as that of "Zeebee" himself, as he struggles to recreate the world in his own fuzzy image—a world in which the erudition of Faust, the wisdom of the Rabbis, the music of the spheres, and the angelic charms of a forbidden coed, all succumb to his miscalculated advances. Meanwhile, the real world has done another backflip—only this time it appears to have landed on its head! Still, Père Castel's celestial keyboard can play more than one tune . . . What would you do? You have twelve days to find out. Ship sails at noon. Bon Voyage!



REVIEWS

THE CARNEVALIS OF EUSEBIUS ASCH
"GIMPEL’S NOVEL: MYSTICAL, WILDLY FANTASTIC, KNEE-SLAPPING HUMOROUS, DEEPLY RELIGIOUS"
By Chris Leppek, Assistant Editor, Intermountain Jewish News.
(March 26, 1999)


Fully aware that the potential readership for this wonderfully-titled novel is far from mainstream, California Chasid-poet Peter Gimpel lets his eclectic creative powers flow in all sorts of strange and fascinating currents and eddies, most of which wind up right on their intended literary target.

The Eusebius Asch of the title is Gimpel’s fictional alter-ego, supposedly a bright 1960's American youth (now utterly untraceable, Gimpel writes) who feverishly pens this manuscript during a trans-Atlantic voyage aboard a rusting freighter.

The manuscript follows a path through the ship’s library and the papers of an Italian literature professor before it finally winds up in Gimpel’s hands.

Although the novel’s framing device has its own metaphorical import, it mainly serves as a loose frame upon which Gimpel hangs all sorts of literary musings and reflections, ranging from the mystical to the wildly fantastic to knee-slapping humorous to the profoundly religious.

He juggles these musings deftly, for the most part, confidently and competently guiding his reader through Jewish mysticism, Torah, thoughtful comparisons and contradictions between Judaism and Christianity, history, philosophy, sundry sciences, art and much more.

There are a number of belabored passages that deal with music which will leave all but the most accomplished musicologist confused and perhaps frustrated. Although Gimpel’s theme has much to do with music and sound, and although he sometimes succeeds in conveying the soul-transforming power of music, he should have pared the more technical passages with a broad knife.

For all that, the author manages to redeem himself time and again, winning back his readers with a literary grace and aplomb capable of reaching amazing heights.

When Eusebius writes of the woman with whom he has fallen in love, the passages are as dignified, moving and simply beautiful as any you will find anywhere.

Such genuine talent, coupled with a kaleidoscopic story that is much better experienced than described, make The Carnevalis of Eusebius Asch an unusual, educational and ultimately wonderful book.

********

The Carnevalis of Eusebius Asch.
Edited, Annotated, & with an Introduction.
By Frederick R. Marcus, Graduate Fellow, Emory University;
New Vico Studies 17 (1999), pp. 131-34.


(By courtesy of Philosophy Documentation Center)

In Jerusalem, the story is told of Bezalel the Milkman, a studious Tevya of a generation ago, whose hidden learning so surprised the distinguished Rabbi Mordecai Gimpel Barg and rabbinical court presider ("Rav") Rabbi Selig Reuven Bengis that the latter exclaimed, "I fear that this community has made a mistake in appointing me to this position. If this is what milkmen here are like, can one imagine how great one must be to serve here as Rav!"1 Peter Gimpel has produced a novel which explores the domain of the hidden from many facets—among them music, philosophy, literature, scripture, psychology, and mysticism—during the course of which he offers an imaginative and perspicuous treatment of Vico's philosophical character and enigmatic relationship to the Jews.

Gimpel structures his work through a series of narrative frames that devolve upon the discovery and publication of a manuscript, "The Carnevalis," penned feverishly during a transatlantic crossing from New York to Naples by a young man who styles himself "Eusebius Asch." Gimpel plays the role of recipient and fictional editor who appears to impart a critical distance on Asch's "confessional conflagration" while engaging the reader surreptitiously in the book's dramatic and thematic flow. That flow, complex and musical, springs from a series of seemingly unconnected allusive motifs suggested quietly in the editorial introduction and builds, with a controlled hand, through the multiple cascades of Asch's self-revelation to a painfully ecstatic denouement. Both the editor and main character display a facile and erudite imagination as they set forth a story of moral education which draws generously from Hermann Hesse and Vico, Robert Schumann and Beethoven, Levi-Strauss and the Talmud, Teilhard de Chardin and the history of ocean liners. Gimpel's Bildungsroman presents a memory theater which evokes the reader's own education by invoking a continual effort to grasp its deeper lines through invention, inference and deduction. Those lines, which stretch from the book's dramatic content to its cryptic title and, perhaps, to the name of its publishing house, reward the reader's labor with insights too varied to be treated in a short review. To give a relevant taste of the book's philosophic content, this review will focus upon one aspect of Gimpel's treatment of Vico and the Jews.

The character Eusebius, in the midst of a conversation with his close friend, Jonah Mandelbroit, discovers that Jewish tradition accounts for the natural origins of religion in a manner strikingly close to Vico's (90ff.). Eusebius, perplexed by Vico's professed Catholicism in light of the Scienza Nuova, questions Vico's sincerity in placing Jewish revelation singularly outside the bounds of his principles and method. After giving a brief, fictionally distorted report on Vico's writing to his friend, Eusebius proposes that consistency would require Vico, like Lucretius, to abandon religion for materialist thought. Jonah responds with a disquisition that begins by bolstering (unknown to himself) Vico's claim that the Hebrews commune with G­d's "infinite mind." By tradition, Abraham arrived by his own reasoning at the conclusion that the world has a Creator who is one, immaterial, and holy, a conclusion then confirmed by revelation. "Abraham belonged to Vico's Age of Man, not to the Age of Gods or Heroes. He already reflected with a ‘pure mind'" (99). Jonah continues by pointing out other humanly contradictory factors that traditionally distinguish the Jews, such as their practicing a great deal of the Torah (Law) before the Sinai revelation and accepting the Torah without "preliminary inspection of its inner workings." Eusebius, far from satisfied, is provoked in a new direction: "Well, if there was no contradiction for the Jews, did there have to be a contradiction for Vico?" (120). To this query he offers his own gibing but astonishing reply.

Playing the buffoon, Eusebius suggests that Vico is a hidden Jew. Due to a ban on Jews in Naples, Vico keeps his identity and origin secret. His aquiline nose, his father's profession as a bookseller, and his name, perhaps alluding in a traditionally Jewish manner to his forebear's provenance ("the Marquisate of Vico") buttress this sportive suggestion. More importantly, Vico's separation of sacred history and the Five Books of Moses from his new science points to a deeper reasoning.

Removed from its fictional context, Gimpel's proposal merits consideration.2 What would support a conjecture of Vico as a hidden Jew, perhaps of Converso (pejoratively called Marrano) descent? The seventeenth-century Italy of Vico's birth was home to many Jews who had fled the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. Often these families had converted to Catholicism while retaining practices, memory, or at least a deep respect for the tradition from which they had been coerced. For survival, generations practiced masking to avoid detection exemplified, perhaps, by Vico's pains to court the clergy's good opinion while writing a philosophy sufficiently ambivalent about Christianity to generate controversy to this day. A Converso born of Sephardic descent might comfortably value philosophy over Christianity while placing Judaism, even recast, above both. He might consider Christianity, unlike Judaism, a ricorso phenomenon, while incorporating enough ambiguity in his linkage of the former with the latter to avoid the suspicion of Church authorities. His piety would be unfeigned but hidden from the casual reader, without being esoteric. The political experience of his forebears might lead him to concentrate upon the civil aspect of gentile religion, and his family's religious origin might accentuate the general lack of emphasis upon the person of Jesus in his account of Christianity. Perhaps the internal conflict experienced by a man of integrity practicing necessary duplicity would engender a melancholic attitude and would lead him to a different regard upon the gentile culture into which his family had been subsumed, in contrast to the now somewhat idealized religion of his family's past. By carrying Gimpel's suggestion through, one might arrive at a Vico situated existentially between pagan philosophy, Christianity, and the Hebrews, unable to assume fully any of these identitites, but qualified to offer a unique philosophic perspective which triangulates between the three. It may never be provable, but if Gimpel's playful conjecture were true, one might imagine Vico pleased that the suggestion arises from a poet, albeit of the human age. Like Bezalel the Milkman, Vico may make more sense when seen differently than he appears.

Notes Nun ben Avraham, Sipurim Yerushalmiyim, cited in Nosson Sherman, et al., Shavuos: Its Observance, Laws and Significance (Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah publications, Ltd. 1995), 137-38.

For background to the following discussion, see Frederick R. Marcus, "Vico and the Hebrews," New Vico Studies 13 (1995), 14-32.

The Carnevalis of Eusebius Asch, Edited, Annotated, and with an Introduction by Peter Gimpel.
Beethoven and Schoenberg, Schumann and Hesse, Lévi-Strauss and Vico, each has a role in this seagoing carnival of Platonic lust and manic scholarship—a role as Protean and unpredictable as that of "Zeebee" himself, as he struggles to recreate the world in his own fuzzy image—a world in which the erudition of Faust, the wisdom of the Rabbis, the music of the spheres, and the angelic charms of a forbidden coed, all succumb to his miscalculated advances. Meanwhile, the real world has done another backflip—only this time it appears to have landed on its head! Still, Père Castel's celestial keyboard can play more than one tune . . . What would you do? You have twelve days to find out. Ship sails at noon. Bon Voyage!
Trade paper. 272 pages. ISBN 0-9631478-1-1. Price (US): $14.95.

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