Over the past four decades Ruth R. Wisse has been a leading scholar of Yiddish and Jewish literary studies in North America, and one of our most fearless public intellectuals on issues relating to Jewish society, culture, and politics. In this celebratory volume, edited by four of her former students, Wisse’s colleagues take as a starting point her award-winning book The Modern Jewish Canon (2000) and explore an array of topics that touch on aspects of Yiddish, Hebrew, Israeli, American, European, and Holocaust literature.Arguing the Modern Jewish Canon brings together writers both seasoned and young, from both within and beyond the academy, to reflect the diversity of Wisse’s areas of expertise and reading audiences. The volume also includes a translation of one of the first modern texts on the question of Jewish literature, penned in 1888 by Sholem Aleichem, as well as a comprehensive bibliography of Wisse’s scholarship. In its richness and heft, Arguing the Modern Jewish Canon itself constitutes an important scholarly achievement in the field of modern Jewish literature.
A major reevaluation of relationships among Blacks, Jews, and Irish in the years between the Irish Famine and the end of World War II, The Colors of Zion argues that the cooperative efforts and sympathies among these three groups, each persecuted and subjugated in its own way, was much greater than often acknowledged today. For the Black, Jewish, and Irish writers, poets, musicians, and politicians at the center of this transatlantic study, a sense of shared wrongs inspired repeated outpourings of sympathy. If what they have to say now surprises us, it is because our current constructions of interracial and ethnic relations have overemphasized conflict and division. As George Bornstein says in his Introduction, he chooses “to let the principals speak for themselves.”While acknowledging past conflicts and tensions, Bornstein insists on recovering the “lost connections” through which these groups frequently defined their plights as well as their aspirations. In doing so, he examines a wide range of materials, including immigration laws, lynching, hostile race theorists, Nazis and Klansmen, discriminatory university practices, and Jewish publishing houses alongside popular plays like The Melting Pot and Abie’s Irish Rose, canonical novels like Ulysses and Daniel Deronda, music from slave spirituals to jazz, poetry, and early films such as The Jazz Singer. The models of brotherhood that extended beyond ethnocentrism a century ago, the author argues, might do so once again today, if only we bear them in mind. He also urges us to move beyond arbitrary and invidious categories of race and ethnicity.
Inthis book, Laurence Roth argues that the popular genre of Jewish detective stories offers new insights into the construction of ethnic and religious identity. Roth frames his study with the concept of “kosher hybridity” to look at the complex process of mediation between Jewish and American culture in which Jewish writers voice the desire to be both different from and yet the same as other Americans. He argues that the detective story, located at the intersection of narrative and popular culture in modern America, examines the need for order in a disorderly society, and thus offers a window into the negotiation of Jewish identity differing from that of literary fiction. The writers of these popular cultural texts, which are informed by contradiction and which thrive on intended and unintended ironies, formulate idioms for American Jewish identities that intentionally and unintentionally create social, ethnic, and religious syntheses in American Jewish life. Roth examines stories about American Jewish detectives—including Harry Kemelman’s Rabbi Small, Faye Kellerman’s Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus, Stuart Kaminsky’s Abe Lieberman, and Rochelle Krich’s Jessica Drake—not only as a genre of literature but also as a reflection of contemporary acculturation in the American Jewish popular arts.
When he learned he had ALS and roughly two years to live, literary critic Mark Krupnick returned to the writers who had been his lifelong conversation partners and asked with renewed intensity: how do you live as a Jew, when, mostly, you live in your head? The evocative and sinuous essays collected here are the products of this inquiry. In his search for durable principles, Krupnick follows Lionel Trilling, Cynthia Ozick, Geoffrey Hartman, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, and others into the elemental matters of life and death, sex and gender, power and vulnerability.
The editors—Krupnick’s wife, Jean K. Carney, and literary critic Mark Shechner—have also included earlier essays and introductions that link Krupnick’s work with the “deep places” of his own imagination.
Studies of Eastern European literature have largely confined themselves to a single language, culture, or nationality. In this highly original book, Glaser shows how writers working in Russian, Ukrainian, and Yiddish during much of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century were in intense conversation with one another. The marketplace was both the literal locale at which members of these different societies and cultures interacted with one another and a rich subject for representation in their art. It is commonplace to note the influence of Gogol on Russian literature, but Glaser shows him to have been a profound influence on Ukrainian and Yiddish literature as well. And she shows how Gogol must be understood not only within the context of his adopted city of St. Petersburg but also that of his native Ukraine. As Ukrainian and Yiddish literatures developed over this period, they were shaped by their geographical and cultural position on the margins of the Russian Empire. As distinctive as these writers may seem from one another, they are further illuminated by an appreciation of their common relationship to Russia. Glaser’s book paints a far more complicated portrait than scholars have traditionally allowed of Jewish (particularly Yiddish) literature in the context of Eastern European and Russian culture.
As the best-selling author of Exodus, Mila 18, QB VII, and Trinity, Leon Uris blazed a path to celebrity with books that readers could not put down. Uris's thirteen novels sold millions of copies, spent months on the best-seller lists, appeared in fifty languages, and have been adapted into equally popular movies and TV miniseries. Few other writers equaled Uris's fame in the mid-twentieth century. His success fueled the rise of mass-market paperbacks, movie tie-ins, and celebrity author tours. Beloved by the public, Uris was, not surprisingly, dismissed by literary critics. Until now, his own life—as full of drama as his fiction—has never been the subject of a book.
In Leon Uris: Life of a Best Seller, Ira Nadel traces Uris from his disruptive youth to his life-changing experiences as a marine in World War II. These experiences, coupled with Uris's embrace of his Judaism and desire to write, led to his unprecedented success and the lavish excesses of a career as a best-selling author. Nadel reveals that Uris lived the adventures he described, including his war experiences in the Pacific (Battle Cry), life-threatening travels in Israel (Exodus), visit to Communist Poland (Mila 18), libel trial in Britain (QB VII), and dangerous sojourn in fractious Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic (Trinity). Nadel also demonstrates that Uris's talent for writing action-packed, yet thoroughly researched, novels meshed perfectly with the public's desire to revisit and understand the tumultuous events of recent history. This made him far more popular (and wealthy) than more literary authors, while paving the way for writers such as Irving Wallace and Tom Clancy.
Navigating deftly among historical and literary readings, Cathy Schlund-Vials examines the analogous yet divergent experiences of Asian Americans and Jewish Americans in Modeling Citizenship. She investigates how these model minority groups are shaped by the shifting terrain of naturalization law and immigration policy, using the lens of naturalization, not assimilation, to underscore questions of nation-state affiliation and sense of belonging.
Modeling Citizenship examines fiction, memoir, and drama to reflect on how the logic of naturalization has operated at discrete moments in the twentieth century. Each chapter focuses on two exemplary literary works. For example, Schlund-Vials shows how Mary Antin's Jewish-themed play The Promised Land is reworked into a more contemporary Chinese American context in Gish Jen's Mona in the Promised Land.
In her compelling analysis, Schlund-Vials amplifies the structural, cultural, and historical significance of these works and the themes they address.
In four elegant chapters, Robert Alter explains the prismlike radiance created by the association of three modern masters: Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin, and Gershom Scholem. The volume pinpoints the intersections of these divergent witnesses to the modern condition of doubt, the no-man’s-land between traditional religion and modern secular culture.Scholem, the devoted Zionist and master historian of Jewish mysticism, and Benjamin, the Marxist cultural critic, dedicated much of their thought and correspondence to Kafka, the explorer in fiction of radical alienation. Kafka’s sense of spiritual complexities was an inspiration to both thinkers in their resistance to the murderous simplification of totalitarian ideology. In Necessary Angels, Alter uncovers a moment when the future of modernism is revealed in its preoccupation with the past. The angel of the title is first Kafka’s: on June 25, 1914, the writer recorded in his diary a dream vision of an angel that turned into the painted wooden figurehead of a ship. In 1940, at the end of his life, Walter Benjamin devoted the ninth of his Theses on the Philosophy of History to a meditation on an angel by the artist Paul Klee, first quoting a poem he had written on that painting. In Benjamin’s vision, the figure from Klee becomes an angel of history, sucked into the future by the storm of progress, his face looking back to Eden. Benjamin bequeathed the Klee oil painting to Scholem; it hung in the living room of Scholem’s home on Abarbanel Street in Jerusalem until 1989, when his widow placed it in the Israel Museum.Alter’s focus on the epiphanic force of memory on these three great modernists shows with sometimes startling, sometimes prophetic clarity that a complete break with tradition is not essential to modernism. Necessary Angels itself continues the necessary discovery of the future in the past.
Jewish theatre—plays about and usually by Jews—enters the twenty-first century with a long and distinguished history. To keep this vibrant tradition alive, the National Foundation for Jewish Culture established the New Play Commissions in Jewish Theatre in 1994. The commissions are awarded in an annual competition. Their goal is to help emerging and established dramatists develop new works in collaboration with a wide variety of theatres. Since its inception, the New Play Commissions has contributed support to more than seventy-five professional productions, staged readings, and workshops.
This anthology brings together nine commissioned plays that have gone on to full production. Ellen Schiff and Michael Posnick have selected works that reflect many of the historical and social forces that have shaped contemporary Jewish experience and defined Jewish identity—among them, surviving the Holocaust, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the lives of newcomers in America, Israel, and Argentina. Following a foreword by Theodore Bikel, the editors provide introductory explanations of the New Play Commissions and an overview of Jewish theatre. The playwrights comment on the genesis of their work and its production history.
The certainty that deep down we are all schlemiels is perhaps what makes America love an inept ball team or a Woody Allen who unburdens his neurotic heart in public.
In this unique, revised history of the schlemiel, Sanford Pinsker uses psychological, linguistic, and anecdotal approaches, as well as his considerable skills as a spritely storyteller, to trace the schlemiel from his beginnings in the Old Testament through his appearance in the nineteenth-century literature of Mendele Mocher Seforim and Sholom Aleichem to his final development as the beautiful loser in the works of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, and Woody Allen. Horatio Alger might have once been a good emblem of the American sensibility, but today Woody Allen’s anxious, bespectacled punin (face) seems closer, and truer, to our national experience. His urban, end-of-the-century anxieties mirror—albeit in exaggeration—our own.
This expanded study of the schlemiel is especially relevant now, when scholarship of Yiddish and American Jewish literature is on the increase. By sketching the family tree of that durable anti-hero the schlemiel, Pinsker proves that Jewish humor is built upon the very foundations of the Jewish experience. Pinsker shows the evolution of the schlemiel from the comic butt of Yiddish jokes to a literary figure that speaks to the heart of our modern problems, and he demonstrates the way that Yiddish humor provides a sorely needed correction, a way of pulling down the vanities we all live by.
Janet Burstein argues that American Jewish writers since the 1980s have created a significant literature by wrestling with the troubled legacy of trauma, loss, and exile. Their ranks include Cynthia Ozick, Todd Gitlin, Art Spiegelman, Pearl Abraham, Aryeh Lev Stollman, Jonathan Rosen, and Gerda Lerner. Whether confronting the massive losses of the Holocaust, the sense of “home” in exile, or the continuing power of Jewish memory, these Jewish writers search for understanding within “the little secrets” of their dark, complicated, and richly furnished past.
To Go Into the Words is the latest book of critical prose from renowned poet and scholar of Jewish literature Norman Finkelstein. Through a rigorous examination of poets such as William Bronk, Helen Adam, and Nathaniel Mackey, the book engages the contemporary poetic fascination with transcendence through the radical delight with language. By opening up a given poem, Finkelstein seeks the “gnosis” or insight of what it contains so that other readers can understand and appreciate the works even more.
Finalist, 2015 National Jewish Book Awards in the American Jewish Studies category
Winner, 2017 AJS Jordan Schnitzer Book Award in the category of Modern Jewish History and Culture: Africa, Americas, Asia, and Oceania
Young Lions: How Jewish Authors Reinvented the American War Novel shows how Jews, traditionally castigated as weak and cowardly, for the first time became the popular literary representatives of what it meant to be a soldier and what it meant to be an American. Revisiting best-selling works ranging from Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead to Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and uncovering a range of unknown archival material, Leah Garrett shows how Jewish writers used the theme of World War II to reshape the American public’s ideas about war, the Holocaust, and the role of Jews in postwar life. In contrast to most previous war fiction these new “Jewish” war novels were often ironic, funny, and irreverent and sought to teach the reading public broader lessons about liberalism, masculinity, and pluralism.
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