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96 BOOK REVIEWS SHOFAR The Jew's Body, by Sander Gilman. New York: Routledge, 1991. 303 pp. $45.00 (c); $14.95 (p). In a series of ten essays, Sander Gilman delves into the nineteenthcentury European rhetoric and pseudoscientific doctrines about racial differences. Particular reference is made to body and language markers that set off Jews from Gentiles of the Western World. He singles out four particularities which were representational images of Jews in the academic world and in the literature of that time and which have continueq to afflict twentieth-century attitudes and writings. The fourfold depiction oftheJew, as soundingJewish in the use of the Yiddish tongue, as havinga faulty gait from being nat-footed, as being swarthy due to disease, and as sporting a distinctive physiognomy dominated by a prominent hooked nose, became the hallmark of racial identification. In an increasingly race-conscious society, these attributes were categorized as proof of ethnic inferiority when compared to the Aryan construct of a human being. The perception of bodily defects was linked to disease and mental disturbance, namely that of hysteria which was believed to be a symptom of circumcisedJewish men who also were the carriers of syphiliS. Antisemitism had been transformed from a medieval religious concept into a secular Weltanschauung. Gilman draws on an array of historical, literary, and medieal sources to nesh out his depiction of the psychological complexities that color the perception of difference by the members of the dominant culture vis-a-vis the Jew. At the same time, stereotypic representations also influence the Jewish psyche and call forth counter-attempts to place meaning onto the imposed devaluation. Creative and intellectual activity raises self-esteem and turns a negative identity into a positive self.image. Through an analysis of Sigmund Freud's life, letters, and literary output, Gilman traCeS the phallocentric ideas of psychoanalysis as the founder's attempt at reconstructing a positive self-definition in the face of an intolerable denigration. Since the antisemite looks upon the circumcised Jewish male as ungendered, that is defining him biologically as different, there is no escape from this devalued status. Freud distanced himself from this anthropometric difference, which nineteenth-century ethnologists espoused and which placed the Jew into a class inferior to Aryans, by creating the myth of creative sublimation of primitive drives as Vol. ZO, No.4 Summer 1992 97 evidence of health and normality if nor superior functioning. Through this imerplay between a culture's image-making and reactive self-definition, Gilman proposes the generalization "that the greater the idemification of the Jew with the goals and values of the broader society, the more impacted the Jew is by the power of such images." Stereotypic labeling of any rela-tively powerless group calls for a compensatory coping response from which no member of that group is immune. By way of comrast to the multiple alternative explanations of modern amisemitism, the author outlines the inevitability of a culture-driven racial classifying giving rise to a populist nationalism that requires a social pecking order construct. ]n fin-de-siecle Europe, the Jew Iem himself well to being labeled declasse, given the earlier ami-Jewish semimems of the Christian world, a world that was becoming increasingly secularized. Rather than carrying the onus of unbeliever, the Jew metamorphosed imo a medically inferior specimen who is diseased and a. polluter of the Aryan race's purity. From such thinking grew the concept of a Jewish plague, much like the Black Plague accusations of the Middle Ages for which there was no successful quaramine. Thus, the jump in thinking to the total eradication of Jewry formed Hitler's answer to this alleged threat to European civilization. Gilman weaves an evocative but often patchy composite of psychodynamic theories, sociology politicS, religion, history, and literature in order to highlight the cultural determinants of prevailing prejudices and group' identity formation. In separate essays he compares the Nazis' construction of the disease-bearing Jew in 1939 with the New Germany's reaction to the AIDS plague of 1989 by analyzing two novels represeming the two periods. The flnal chapter brings the race concept into the currem American scene where Blacks and Jews continue to struggle with...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 96-98
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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