Monday, April 07, 2008

Free association

It's hard to argue the pro-Israel side without coming across as, to put it bluntly, a Republican. Gone are the days when one could be on the left and pro-Israel, or even, as is my case, socially-liberal and Herzl-hagiographic. If you see a problem with a one-state solution, you probably see a problem with gay marriage, and what did gay marriage ever do to you, right? Well, right. Dissent's Mitchell Cohen offers up the case for how a person can favor Israel's continued existence as a Jewish state (this is what I mean, and all I mean, by pro-Israel) without favoring tax cuts for the rich, abstinence-only education, and so forth.

Other recommended reading, whose tangential relation is obvious: Sander Gilman's Jewish Self-Hatred. There's a title I felt ambivalent carrying around the city. But is hiding such a book itself a form of self-hatred? I will admit to shifting it to the other side of a table at a cafe when two German tourists sat down next to me--a good amount of the book is about 19th-century German anti-Semitism, and I didn't know if this was the over-the-shoulder reading they had in mind for their vacation.

It's rare that I find a book not just convincing but eye-opening from start to finish, but there you have it. The only moments I questioned Gilman's otherwise flawless judgment were his suggestion that Karl Marx was profoundly affected by his having been a Jew up to age six (Who remembers being 5? Guess I'm no Freudian.) and his insistence that Nathan Zuckerman is not Philip Roth. Gilman makes a good case for Zuckerman as an intentional creation and not a barely-altered alter ego. Roth, he argues, created Zuckerman to be the readers' imagined author of Portnoy's Complaint. But while Gilman's approach to Zuckerman-Roth is intriguing, I'm not sure Philip Roth is, to paraphrase "Fawlty Towers," as clever as that.

And finally, since Freud's already been mentioned, this video about incestuous couples is, as Jezebel rightly tags it, "ew." But it's interesting how the woman who's had a child with, yes, her biological father, has two children from a previous relationship. Both of those children are interracial, and all I could think was, if there's anyone left convinced interracial marriage is wrong, they should be shown this video, stat. (And no, it's not inconsistent to be in favor of a two-state solution and interracial marriage, but that's another story.)


Withywindle said...

You might add Yuri Slezkine's The Jewish Century to your reading list. A quick Google search says you were going it back in 2005, but I don't find a follow-up post that says you finished reading it. An insightful, but flawed, book.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Slezkine's book is probably the only honest academic assesment of the Jewish role in the Soviet state written in English. Almost all other English language scholarship attempts to portray Jews in the USSR as nothing more than eternal victims with no agency. Slezkine's admission that a very large number of Soviet Jews were enthusiastic executioners for Stalin is a refreshing piece of honesty. Of course Slezkine got away with this because he himself is a Soviet Jew. I seriously doubt any gentile could have written the same book without being condemned as an antisemite.

Phoebe said...

You overestimate the amount of courage it takes to write an unflattering account of the Jews.

But you also build up a straw man who's offended by just about everything. Do you have examples of honest historical accounts that, on account of gentile authors, have been called anti-Semitic?

As you might have picked up from this blog, I'm pro-Israel and such, but in my research I find, and write up, all sorts of unpleasant behavior by 19th century French Jews. That's just scholarship. Postcolonial scholars write about unpleasant things done by indigenous people, not just colonizers. Not every woman studied in Women's Studies comes across as a cross between Gloria Steinem and Angelina Jolie. It's the same idea.

My sense is that no one writing Jewish history today is ignoring the unpleasant. Nor, for that matter, at least in French-Jewish history, is it considered pro-Jewish to portray Jews as victims with no agency.

However, if your version of 'honesty' is, if it shows Jews in a negative light, it's courageous scholarship until proven otherwise, then I do see a problem.

J. Otto Pohl said...

I was referring specifically to academic histories in English of Jews in the USSR. If you can show me another academic account in English other than Slezkine that notes their disproportionate and voluntary role in Stalin's repressions please let me know. The references to France are completely ungermane to this topic.

Phoebe said...

I think the burden is on you to show that the reason for what you claim is a lack in the subfield-- about which, as is clear, I know next to nothing- is that they, whoever they are, would call such a work anti-Semitic. Again, the problem is the straw man, and for me to have noticed this did not require any special knowledge of Soviet history.