“In Memory of Elaine Marks: Life Writing, Writing Death”– expanding awareness

Goodkin, Richard E. “In Memory of Elaine Marks: Life Writing, Writing Death”. University of Wisconsin Press, 2007.

Expanding Awareness

Amos Lassen

When Elaine Marks died in 2001, the world lost a powerful voice. Marks had been widely associated with and respected as an authority on French literature, women’s writing the theory of feminism and Jewish studies. She was a giant among French literary critics and added an entire new dimension to the study of the written word. I remember way back when I was an undergraduate and had taken my first feminist literature course. In one of the opening lectures we were told about the French feminist literary tradition ad names that were mentioned then have since become legendary—Helene Cixious, Luce Irigary, Kristeva and Elaine Marks. Little did I know then how much these women would influence my thoughts or my life. These women held sway over intellectual, political, ethical and even sexual domains. Marks possessed a rigorous intellectual mind with which she explored many different and diverse areas of thought and helped to develop modern existential philosophy. She wrote about Colette and Simone de Beauvoir and she did so with an authority heretofore almost unknown—especially by a woman. To me she ranks right up there with the philosopher Michel Foucault as a symbol of brilliance.

In “In Memory of Elaine Marks”, editor Richard Goodkin has paid her long overdue homage. He has chosen eleven essays that revolve around the central ideas of Marks’s work—lesbianism, Judaism, pedagogy, women’s biography, Jewish identity, memory and mourning, community, isolation and death. These essays show how Marks saw the world existentially as she explored the human experience in an attempt to try to make sense of how we live, love, die and mourn.

The book not only celebrates the life of marks and her contributions to the world, it is also a sensitive and moving way by which to remember her. For women to reach the intellectual heights that Marks and her coterie did was a new experience for the literary world and oftentimes we do not  consider the role of women in the rise of modern intellectualism. Goodkin’s book may very well make us look at the issue in a new way.

Marks challenged but she was also greatly loved. The volume gives us a chance to rediscover what we may have missed or even to discover it for the first time. Reading Marks for the first time for me was a haunting experience. She boldly said so much of what  believed but never had the courage to say. Her penetrating intelligence and her complex ideas will always be a part of me. The one thing that Marks said is something I think about a lot and that is that the reason that we read and write is not because we want to change the world but it is to “deepen our awareness of being in the world and having to take leave of it”. We all know that our time here is measured and we all want to believe that our life here has made a difference. We all want the world to be better off when we leave than it was when we entered. Elaine Marks managed to do just that and what a great goal that is for all of us.

“In Memory of Elaine Marks” is quite an expensive book at $65 but it is well worth every penny. To be able to think deeply after a good intellectual read has no price and its value is something we cannot count.

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