Produced by Jenny Attiyeh
Other pieces by Jenny Attiyeh
Posted on September 06, 2009 at 06:05 PM
To listen to a former poet laureate – also a major translator of Dante, a professor at Boston University and a critic who has written for the “New York Times Book Review” – discourse about the Biblical King David could be an über-boring, -pompous experience. On the contrary, Jenny Attiyeh’s 28-minute piece rocks. She not only asks her guest Robert Pinsky the right questions; he answers them with his characteristic rollicking street smarts.
For example, drawing on his new book, “The Life of David,” Pinsky is less interested in David as a pious figure, “the one who is beloved,” which his Hebrew name literally means. Neither is Pinsky’s David a stock figure of the diminutive boy who killed Goliath. Instead, Pinsky views David as a warlord, “a big shot,” even “a thug.” To hear him talk, you might consider a gangster like Meyer Lansky a distant relative of the king who bedded Bathsheba. For that matter, Pinsky sees David’s relationship with Bathsheba as having less to do with love than with lust.
Unlike a theologian or a rabbi, Pinsky is spellbound by stories about David. Insofar as stories derive from imagination, Pinsky talks about the paradoxes and contradictions of a figure as complex as one of our Founding Fathers, say, George Washington – or else King Leopold of Africa who was, for all the good he apparently did, an “appalling man.”
Fundamentalists and diehard knee benders might well object to the description of David as being involved in the “pragmatic ways of a warrior-chieftain.” It is precisely David's – and Pinsky’s – pragmatism, their worldly wisdom, that light up Attiyeh’s interview with multiple laser beams and make her conversation with Pinsky part of a great conversation about David that’s been going on for the past 3000 years.