How a Literary Masterpiece Launched Five Decades of Bad Holocaust Fiction

Decrying the proliferation of novels that exploit “an utterly unredemptive historical catastrophe for the sake of yet another love story or coming-of-age tale or journey of self-discovery,” Dara Horn considers Edward Lewis Wallant’s The Pawnbroker (1961). The novel tells the story of an embittered Holocaust survivor named Sol, who runs a pawnshop in Harlem, and it served as a prototype for others after it—which, she argues, it emphatically is not:

Sol’s assistant in the pawnshop, an ambitious young man named Jesus Ortiz, mistakes Sol’s catatonic approach to life for calculating business acumen, especially when he notices that the store seems to be a financial success. Hoping for a foothold in the middle class, and sensing something otherworldly about his employer, he tries mightily to break through Sol’s shell. This is the part where a post-Pawnbroker Holocaust novel would have the young man succeed in uncovering Sol’s hidden humanity, in a redemptive arc ending in mentorship and hard-earned wisdom.

That’s not what happens. Instead, the pawnshop is revealed to be a money-laundering operation for a gangland empire, and it’s a matter of time before co-conspirator Sol winds up with a gun in his mouth. Things get worse from there.

What’s more, Horn writes, rather than de-Judaizing the Shoah, “Wallant catapults this novel out of the world of today’s uplifting Holocaust fiction and into the canon of Jewish literature and its 25 centuries of artistic responses to catastrophe.”

Read more at Literary Hub

More about: Arts & Culture, Holocaust, Holocaust fiction, Jewish literature, Literature

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus