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Modernist Form and the Myth of Jewification

Neil Levi

Publication Year: 2013

Why were modernist works of art, literature, and music that were neither by nor about Jews nevertheless interpreted as Jewish? In this book, Neil Levi explores how the antisemitic fantasy of a mobile, dangerous, contagious Jewish spirit unfolds in the antimodernist polemics of Richard Wagner, Max Nordau, Wyndham Lewis, and Louis-Ferdinand Celine, reaching its apotheosis in the notorious 1937 Nazi exhibition "Degenerate Art." Levi then turns to James Joyce, Theodor W. Adorno, and Samuel Beckett, offering radical new interpretations of these modernist authors to show how each presents his own poetics as a self-conscious departure from the modern antisemitic imaginary. Levi claims that, just as antisemites once feared their own contamination by a mobile, polluting Jewish spirit, so too much of postwar thought remains governed by the fear that it might be contaminated by the spirit of antisemitism. Thus he argues for the need to confront and work through our own fantasies and projections not only about the figure of the Jew but also about that of the antisemite.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: Phobic Reading, Modernist Form, and the Figure of the Antisemite

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pp. 1-20

Dresden, 1850. Richard Wagner denounces what he calls the Verjüdung der modernen Kunst— the Jewification or Judaization of modern art, in which “Hebraic art taste” has come to dominate all of German culture.
Munich, 1919. Protesters disrupt the final performance of Frank Wedekind’s play Castle Wetterstein, decrying it as “Jewish garbage,” and beating...

Part I: Modernist Form as Judaization

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1. Genealogies: Judaization, Wagner, Nordau

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pp. 23-49

At the heart of the story of how modernist form comes to be regarded as Jewish is the myth of Judaization. Discussions of modernism and antisemitism often acknowledge this myth in passing, but it is seldom the subject of extended reflection. (Indeed, if there is another book on aesthetic modernism and Judaization, I have not been able to find it.) It...

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2. Jews, Art, and History: The Nazi Exhibition of “Degenerate Art” as Historicopolitical Spectacle

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pp. 50-89

There is no more notorious, iconic, and resonant example of the National Socialist campaign against modernist art than the roughly dozen pages in the 1928 book Kunst und Rasse (Art and Race) in which the Nazi architect and art educator Paul Schultze- Naumburg sets black- and- white reproductions of paintings by Modigliani, Picasso, Emil Nolde, Karl Schmitt-Rottluff...

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3. Fanatical Abstraction: Wyndham Lewis’s Critique of Modernist Form as Judaization in Time and Western Man

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pp. 90-118

It is hard to read the painter and novelist Wyndham Lewis’s 1927 magnum opus, Time and Western Man, without thinking of Richard Wagner’s 1850 essay “Judaism in Music.” To be sure, while “Judaism in Music” troubles even Wagner’s most committed defenders, Lewis, a central figure in the...

Part II: Modernist Form and the Antisemitic Imagination

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4. Straw Men: Projection, Personification,and Narrative Form in Ulysses

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pp. 121-138

In Part I of this book I explored the history of the interpretation of modernism as Judaization: the essay and book that are seen as its origins, the exhibition that should be seen as its apotheosis, and the modernist magnum opus that treats cultural modernism as a programmatic contamination of Western culture in the interests of Jewish political domination...

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5. Images of the Bilderverbot: Adorno, Antisemitism,and the Enemies of Modernism

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pp. 139-169

No one in the immediate postwar period or since has given more thought to how and why to continue the modernist project in the aftermath of the Shoah than the German philosopher, sociologist, musicologist, and literary critic Theodor W. Adorno. Adorno understands Nazism as fundamentally...

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6. The Labor of Late Modernist Poetics: Beckett after Céline

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pp. 170-200

Theodor Adorno is the first of many to maintain that Samuel Beckett provides a paradigmatic literary response to the Nazi concentration camps because of what he does not directly say, represent, or name. Indeed, this idea has taken such a firm hold in Beckett criticism that commentators often have trouble interpreting those moments when Beckett...


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pp. 201-234


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pp. 235-246


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pp. 247-262

E-ISBN-13: 9780823255092
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823255061
Print-ISBN-10: 0823255069

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Cloth