Race, Rights, and Recognition
Jewish American Literature since 1969
Publication Year: 2012
In Race, Rights, and Recognition, Dean J. Franco explores the work of recent Jewish American writers, many of whom have taken unpopular stances on social issues, distancing themselves from the politics and public practice of multiculturalism. While these writers explore the same themes of group-based rights and recognition that preoccupy Latino, African American, and Native American writers, they are generally suspicious of group identities and are more likely to adopt postmodern distancing techniques than to presume to speak for "their people." Ranging from Philip Roth's scandalous 1969 novel Portnoy's Complaint to Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan in 2006, the literature Franco examines in this book is at once critical of and deeply invested in the problems of race and the rise of multicultural philosophies and policies in America.
Franco argues that from the formative years of multiculturalism (1965-1975), Jewish writers probed the ethics and not just the politics of civil rights and cultural recognition; this perspective arose from a stance of keen awareness of the limits and possibilities of consensus-based civil and human rights. Contemporary Jewish writers are now responding to global problems of cultural conflict and pluralism and thinking through the challenges and responsibilities of cosmopolitanism. Indeed, if the United States is now correctly-if cautiously-identifying itself as a post-ethnic nation, it may be said that Jewish writing has been well ahead of the curve in imagining what a post-ethnic future might look like and in critiquing the social conventions of race and ethnicity.
Published by: Cornell University Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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Would you blame me if I said that I chose my topic at least in part based on the colleagues I wanted to read, debate, and share drinks with at hotel bars on the conference circuit? I chose wisely: This book has benefited from an ongoing four-year conversation with some of the brightest, nicest, most generous scholars I know. ...
Introduction: The Politics and Ethics of Jewish American Literature and Criticism
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In an early scene in Saul Bellow’s novel Mr. Sammler’s Planet, Artur Sammler, the elderly Holocaust survivor transplanted to New York, is invited to speak at Columbia University about his youthful acquaintance with the Bloomsbury circle.1 The invitation comes from Lionel Feffer, a young Jewish acquaintance whose Marxist, Humanist, or Avant Gardist professions have a whiff of scam about them. ...
Part I: Pluralism, Race, and Religion
1. Portnoy’s Complaint: It’s about Race, Not Sex (Even the Sex Is about Race)
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Early in Philip Roth’s notorious novel Portnoy’s Complaint, published in 1969, the adolescent Alexander Portnoy tells his parents that he will no longer attend synagogue on the High Holidays, for he is, he declares, not Jewish but a human being: “Religion is the opiate of the people! And if believing that makes me a fourteen-year-old Communist, then that’s what I am, ...
2. Re-Reading Cynthia Ozick: Pluralism, Postmodernism, and the Multicultural Encounter
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The decades-long consistency of Cynthia Ozick’s commitment to Jewish moral concerns and her concomitant iconoclasm in defense of human over material and even aesthetic values has led to a critical consensus that Ozick’s great topic is the dichotomous values of Hebraism and Hellenism.1 ...
3. The New, New Pluralism: Religion, Community, and Secularity in Allegra Goodman’s Kaaterskill Falls
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During a moment of crisis in Allegra Goodman’s novel Kaaterskill Falls, Elizabeth Shulman, a Hasidic Jew who has pushed against the boundaries of the kehilla, or religious covenant, a little too daringly, muses on the gathering shame and curiosity developing around her: “What a contortionist she must seem to her Kaaterskill neighbors, making a business in Hamilton’s back room. ...
Part II: Recognition, Rights, and Responsibility
4. Recognition and Effacement in Lore Segal’s Her First American
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Near the beginning of Lore Segal’sHer First American, Carter Bayoux, a middle-aged, depressive African American journalist and erstwhile diplomat sends the novel’s heroine, Ilka Weissnix, a telegram announcing his basic life philosophy: “PROTOCOL IS THE ART OF NOT REPEAT NOT LIVING BY NATURAL HUMAN FEELING” (41).1 ...
5. Responsibility Unveiled: Tony Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul
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Written in the late 1990s, Tony Kushner’s play Homebody/ Kabul has been called “uncanny” and “eerily prescient” for anticipating and addressing the violence between the United States and Afghanistan leading up to and sustained after 9/11.1 Kushner explains that he had been thinking about Kabul and the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States since the 1980s.2 ...
6. Globalization’s Complaint: Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan and the Culture of Culture
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What does it mean for the concept of “culture” that Tony Kushner’s Homebody/ Kabul gives its audience an ethics without a programmatic politics? Spirituality without religion? Religion without territory? Deterritorialization without postmodern anxiety? ...
Epilogue: Less Absurdistan, More Boyle Heights
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Risking nostalgia, I close by rolling back time to the origin of the melting-pot myths and the cultural pluralist penumbra with a look at Jewish American “frontier” writing, Rachel Calof ’s memoir Rachel Calof ’s Story, and Harriet Rochlin’s contemporary novels comprising her Desert Dwellers trilogy.1 ...
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Page Count: 239
Publication Year: 2012