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The Jewish American Novel

by Philippe Codde

Publication Year: 2007

Philippe Codde provides a comparative cultural analysis of the unprecedented success of the Jewish novel in the postwar United States by situating the process and event in the context of three closely-related American cultural movements: the popularity in the US of French philosophical and literary existentialism, the increasing visibility of the Holocaust in US-American life, and the advent of radical theology.

Published by: Purdue University Press

Series: Comparative Cultural Studies

Title page

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pp. ix-x

Writing is a social activity. One ends up owing a debt of gratitude to a number of people who have been instrumental in bringing the project to a fruitful ending. First and foremost, I wish to thank Kristiaan Versluys and Bart Keunen for their sharp wit and their critical comments during the writing process. Their incisive criticism never missed its mark and their suggestions have substantially improved the quality of the present study...

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pp. 1-9

In The Jewish American Novel I present one possible—but far from exclusive— comparative approach to the study of various cultural phenomena and their specific incorporation into the literary text. Scholarship in the humanities in general, and the discipline of comparative literature in particular, is moving in many ways and in many places in the direction of cultural studies. The success and achievement of this development depends of course on a varied number of intellectual and institutional factors...

Part One: The Jewish American Novel in Its Cultural Context

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Chapter One. The Polysystem Theory and Discourse Analysis

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pp. 13-31

Itamar Even-Zohar’s too little-known polysystem theory (henceforth abbreviated as PST) provides an excellent model for the study of cultural interaction at large, while it avoids many of the pitfalls of more dated comparative methods that seek to relate the literary text to its cultural context. Because I have discussed Even-Zohar’s work more elaborately elsewhere (Codde, “Polysystem”), I will confine myself here to an introduction of...

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Chapter Two. The US-American Political System and the Discursive Construction of the Holocaust

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pp. 32-50

In the following, I discuss four constituent subsystems of the US-American cultural system: the political, the religious, the philosophical, and the literary systems. These four subsystems obviously do not make up the entire US-American cultural polysystem— which also includes, for example, the economic and the legal systems—but they are a selection of subsystems...

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Chapter Three. The US-American Religious System and Radical or Death-of-God Theology

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pp. 51-62

The discussion of the polysystem theory in my introduction has demonstrated that any semiotic subsystem correlates, on the one hand, with the larger (cultural) polysystem, and, on the other hand, with the other subsystems that make up the polysystem. Changes in one subsystem will therefore tend to affect the adjacent subsystems...

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Chapter Four. The US-American Philosophical System and French Existentialism

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pp. 63-74

As the Holocaust repertoreme moved to the center of the political system and radical theology took the theological system by storm, the US-American philosophical system was undergoing a comparable reorganization by the penetration of French existentialism to the core of its institutions. In fact, the dynamics within the two former subsystems explain the penetration...

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Chapter Five. The US-American Literary System and the Jewish Renaissance

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pp. 75-85

Because French existentialism also, and quite conspicuously, manifested itself in literature—Sartre and Camus were awarded Nobel prizes for literature, in 1964 and 1957, respectively—a polysystemic discussion of the postwar US-American cultural system should also take into account the interference between the French and US-American literary systems...

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Chapter Six. French Existentialist Discourse

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pp. 86-120

The “text-sociological” or “sociocritical” work of literary sociologist Pierre V. Zima provides an interesting perspective for the analysis of literary texts, as Zima is one of the very few theorists to consider the ways in which discourses function in specific novels...

Part Two: The French Existentialist Repertoire in the Jewish American Novel

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Chapter Seven: Saul Bellow: Progenitor of the US-American Existentialist Model

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pp. 123-159

Although Bellow’s early novels have often been dubbed “existentialist,” “Sartrean,” or “Camusian” (see Kazin, “Alone” 21; Finkelstein 262; Malin, Saul 164; Lehan, Dangerous 109; Glenday 15; Atlas, Bellow 94), a detailed analysis of what specifically related these works to French existentialism...

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Chapter Eight. Bernard Malamud: Existentialist Rebels

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pp. 160-192

Because Bellow’s literary career started with two bleak, pessimistic novels, he has readily been associated with French existentialism. Much as in Bellow’s novels, Malamud’s hapless protagonists start from a typically existentialist despair in a market- driven society ruled by indifference. Like Bellow, Malamud subsequently sends his protagonists on a quest for value...

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Chapter Nine. Edward Lewis Wallant: Affirmative Holocaust Fiction

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pp. 193-205

References to Wallant’s fiction in the context of existentialism are extremely scarce— in fact, criticism of Wallant’s work is rather scarce in and of itself. His work has taken quite a while to become canonical; the first—and so far only—book-length study on Wallant’s novels dates from 1979...

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Chapter Ten. Isaac Rosenfeld: The Novel of Alienation

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pp. 206-215

Bellow’s Henderson and Malamud’s and Wallant’s novels can be grouped under the notion of novels of “creation” or “commitment.” The texts I am discussing in this chapter can be understood as novels of “negativity” or “indifference.” Both sets of categories correspond to those introduced respectively by postwar and prewar French existentialism...

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Chapter Eleven. Daniel Stern: Touching the Void

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pp. 216-225

In spite of his early involvement in Holocaust writing and despite his distinct interest in Jewish subject matter, Daniel Stern’s name remains unrecorded in surveys of Jewish American and Holocaust writing. Ihab Hassan is possibly the only scholar who refers to the three novels...

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Chapter Twelve. Jonathan Baumbach: Born into This Nightmare

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pp. 226-235

Baumbach is a literary critic of high repute, largely owing to his excellent study The Landscape of Nightmare (1966; based on his Ph.D. dissertation), which discusses novels by Robert Penn Warren, Saul Bellow, J. D. Salinger, Ralph Ellison, Flannery O’Connor, Bernard Malamud, William Styron, Edward Lewis Wallant, and Wright Morris. Yet, his literary writings—about...

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Chapter Thirteen. Norma Rosen: Imagining Sisyphus Happy

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pp. 236-248

Norma Rosen is without doubt the best-known novelist of the second group of authors in this study, which might be due to the fact that she became an important voice in the debates about the Holocaust at a time when the Holocaust was moving to the center of the US-American...

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pp. 249-254

I have demonstrated the extent to which four closely related cultural movements (four repertoric shifts in adjacent systems) interacted in the immediate postwar period in the United States. The outcome of this interaction I have chosen to dub the Jewish American existentialist novel...

Works Cited

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pp. 255-276


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pp. 277-279

E-ISBN-13: 9781612490250
E-ISBN-10: 1612490255
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557534378
Print-ISBN-10: 1557534373

Page Count: 290
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Comparative Cultural Studies

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Jewish fiction -- United States -- History and criticism.
  • American fiction -- Jewish authors -- History and criticism.
  • American fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Philosophy in literature.
  • Jews -- United States -- Intellectual life.
  • Jewish fiction -- History and criticism.
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