Friday, April 16, 2010

The cave paintings that prefigured the Dreyfus Affair

Lots that I thought was specific to 19th century French Jews, or at least representations of 19th C French Jews, is straight out of the 17th C. I learned this last night from Domna Stanton's excellent talk about how "the Jew" was used to define the limits of French identity long before the French Revolution or even the French Enlightenment. What surprised me the most was that the 19th C convert's son whose writings about "the Jew" I just presented on in Arizona must have not only modeled his work on a particular ethnographic tradition dating to the 1600s if not earlier, but described his mission in writing about the Jews in the exact same words as one of these predecessors. As in, Domna Stanton read a quote and I thought, I've heard this before! Sneaky, sneaky Cerfberr de Medelsheim! While I'd up till now been trying to situate Cerfberr's work in various 19th C literary fields - anti-Rothschild writings, nostalgic literature, descriptions of "types," etc. - I now need to see how influenced he was by a much earlier field I hadn't known existed. Is this where he took his inspiration? Or perhaps entire paragraphs? Obviously the significance of Cerfberr's work was specific to the 1840s, as were the tirades against the Rothschilds and others among his Jewish contemporaries. But what I want to know is how many of the exact same passages can be found across how many years of French writing about Jews. Given that our friend Cerfberr gets quoted by Edouard Drumont in the 1880s and even (this was some interesting research) on the occasional white-supremacist website, we could be looking at nearly half a millennium's worth of oh-so-rational tirades against/explanations of Jewish moeurs.

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