Writing on Water

The Sounds of Jewish Prayer
$24.95 / €20.95 / £18.99
Publication date: 
288 pages with numerous black-and-white photos

Writing on Water grasps the phenomenon of sound in prayer, that is, a meaning in sounds and soundscapes, and a musical essence in the act of praying.

The impetus for the book arose from the author’s fieldwork among traditional Jews during the era of communism in Budapest and Prague. In that period the Jewish religion and Jewishness in general were supressed and rituals became semi-secret and turned inward. The book is a witness to these communities and their rituals, but it goes beyond documentation. The uniqueness of the sounds of the rituals compelled the author to try to comprehend how melodies and soundscapes became the sustaining/protective environment, as well as the vehicle, for the expression of a world-orientation—in a situation where open discourse was inconceivable.

The book is based on extensive interviews, musical recordings, photographs and scholarly analyses. It is unique in its choice of communities, its wealth of original documents, and its novel interpretation of sound.

Writing on Water is creative non-fiction. The presentation is evocative and poetic, but at the same time it transmits knowledge. The book can aid research and serve in courses in philosophy, religion, music, ethnomusicology, anthropology, aesthetics, Jewish studies, folklore, oral history, and performance studies. It is also a work of art and literature.

"Frigyesi’s work at recovering song and prayer has a wistful character, and conveys irreparable loss in the wake of the war and the Communist era in Hungary. She describes her visits to near-abandoned synagogues, where she sneaks a look at upper balconies and hidden study rooms that are no longer used. Yet her portrait of changing Jewish life in central Europe is so richly conveyed that it feels like a gift, a discovery of things unappreciated and unseen."
"Auf faszinierende Weise wird das methodische Grundproblem ethnologischer und ethnomusikalischer Forschung ins Zentrum gestellt: das komplexe, selbstinvolvierende und dynamische Beziehungsgeflecht zwischen der Forscherin und ihrem Forschungsgegenstand. Kann man sich mit Singen befassen, ohne selbst zum Resonanzboden der Töne, Geräusche und Lautgebilde zu werden, die man erforscht? Und kann man sich mit dem Gebet beschäftigen, ohne selbst ins Beten hineingezogen zu werden? Denn das teilen Gesänge und Gebete: Wer sich in der Beschäftigung mit ihnen nicht selbst zur Disposition stellt, wird nichts Wesentliches verstehen. Doch wie lässt sich die Nähe gewinnen, ohne die man nicht erfahren kann, was man nicht kennt? Und wie kann man die Distanz wahren, ohne die man nicht zu verstehen vermag, was man erfährt? Frigyesi verdeckt nicht durch vorgespielte Neutralität die existenziellen Abgründe, in die sie ihre Forschungen geführt haben, sondern zeigt an ihrer eigenen Geschichte auf, was es... more

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