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“A Priori” by Rachel Zolf: Critical Analysis Essay

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Updated: Nov 29th, 2021

Rachel is a modern Canadian poetess whose works reflect on the range of the problems connected with Jewish discrimination and the occupation of Israel. The opening poem A Priori is shaped in a form of proposition within which she opposes the notions that are impossible to oppose. Hence, the poem provides a list of ‘if’ statement pertaining to the merits and the shortcoming of modern life. These simple statements reveal many social, cultural and religious topic that are still at issue. The poem present the concepts in the form of dependent propositions thus showing that everything in the world is interconnected. At the same time, Zolf expresses her doubt concerning a constant need to gain knowledge.

In her interview, Zolf explains:

These propositions, which by their nature are meant to be givens, still, of course, ironically, contain the conditional ‘if’ statement so abhorred by plain-language practitioners and others. By putting all these different propositions in contrast and in opposition with one another, and making them all stay quivering beside each other on the same page, their validity as a priori propositions is called into question (189).

Considering this, the poetess tries to emphasize the fact that clear concept does not exist as everything is perceived in comparison. In other words, Zolf exerts the principle of relativity where one idea is dependent on another.

From the first lines, we can trace Zolf’s interpretation of the church and worship as a form of comfort and release. Hence, the line “if the Sabbath is a form of constraint” (Zolf 206). In contrast, the worship could be also defined as a method of forcing an individual into a specific concept, which is rarely defined. The next line explains that this concept is revealed through the idea of fight and war.

The next two lines prove the presence of diverse sides of the war. The line “if Elie Wiesel is the Holocaust” (Zolt 206) embraces the times of merciless extinction of the Jewish during the Holocaust. The next proposition is the answer and the depreciation of Nazi cruel treatment of this nation. At the same time, it is a call to remind people of their humanity.

In some cases, this conjunction does not perform its direct function but contains the opposite meaning thus emphasizing the consequence but not condition. Therefore, it is impossible to identify which proposition is a priori. In that regard, the line “if there is a horror at the heart of divinity” (Zolf 206) Zolf touches upon the humility that is based on the fear, but at the same time we see the opposed line: “if the body goes off near the Sbarro pizzeria” (Zolf 206) implying the confrontation of the divine laws and carnal desires.

The “ifs” also show the author’s rigid transition from righteous propositions to down-to-earth notions of the reality of immoral violence and infringement of the divine laws. By this, Zolf shows the outright nonconformity of religion with our life that could be rather contrastive. The opposing propositions bear an ironical sense. Thus, the closing line “If Israel is not in Israel” (Zolf 207) emphasizes the absurdity of the statement with slight ironical hint. On the other hand, Israel symbolizes the spiritual refuge for but not the geographic location. As it could be viewed, the verse is fully subjected to symbolism, as each word of it discloses an in-depth philosophical idea.

The presence of ‘ifs’ enhances the sense of mystery in the verse. With the help of this approach, the conditions put forward by Zolf make the propositions more vague and uncertain. In that regard, the poetess writes, “my epistemological approach to the world and writing is not necessarily to find answers, it’s to ask questions” (189) Zolf’s intends to show that people should strive to cognate the truth by asking questions since the more you ask, the more you will be answered. Therefore, A Priori could be regarded as infinite series of believes which that are hard justify.

The above shows that the validity of each statement is called into question. The poem is the reflection of the contemporary outlook on the religion and its modern mission where God is reduced to the philosophical statements and formulas. The ‘if’ premises show destructive influence of modern thought on the religious issues and moral values.

The verse is divided into two parts where the first is the reflection of the religious issues opposed to the reality whereas the second part is the reaction on the traditions settled in the past. Despite the fact that the second part is also shaped in the form ‘if’ statement, it still sounds affirmative so that it is a kind of concluding paragraph to the propositions mentioned in the first part. In addition, the last part is more like a modern outlook on religion.

As a conclusion, it should be state that Zolf’s A Priori proves that life could be treated as the system of the closed statements. Instead, the poetess perceives it as a mystery of epistemology that requires an incessant current of questions. In general, this poetical work is fearless and brave thus conforming to the post-modernistic reality.

Works Cited

Eichhorn, Kate and Milne, Heather. Prismatic Publics: Innovative Canadian Women’s Poetry and Poetics. Canada: Coach House Press, 2009.

Zolt, Rachel. Neighbour’s Procedure Canada: Coach House Press, 2010.

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