Was the Golden Age of the American Jewish Writer the Result of a Jewish “Literary Mafia”?

For roughly two decades in the middle of the 20th century, Jews were among America’s leading writers of fiction—think Philip Roth, I.B. Singer, Cynthia Ozick, and Saul Bellow—and among its leading literary critics. At the same time, numerous Jews played prominent, and not-so-prominent, roles in the world of publishing and journalism. Such distinguished Gentile authors as Jack Kerouac, Gore Vidal, Mario Puzo, and Truman Capote at various points even complained of a Jewish literary mafia. That is the title of a new book by Josh Lambert, a professor of English and Jewish studies at Wellesley, in which he wonders if Kerouac et al. were on to something. Jesse Tisch writes in his review:

Lambert is concerned with the not-so-innocent side of success: how Jews wielded power. To Lambert, power is suspect, a tool of exclusion, and his chapters brim with instances of cronyism and nepotism. Many seem benign—Jewish editors helping Jewish writers. . . . This might seem generous, even selfless, but Lambert suggests something darker—an “ethically dubious” pattern of favoritism.

The Literary Mafia can seem haphazard, but what gradually becomes clear is how the various parts cohere. What connects them, loosely, is Lambert’s sense of mission. In early 2018, Lambert cheered the “long overdue scrutiny” of powerful males “judged and sometimes punished for their sins.” That same spirit—of scrutiny and retribution—quietly propels The Literary Mafia. Indeed, Lambert’s book runs on two tracks, one scholarly, one political. It sometimes reads like a book started during the Obama years, then updated for the #MeToo era.

Lambert has an eye for good characters, for stories with hidden resonances. Power doesn’t always corrupt; sometimes it reveals.

[The book also] raises a final fraught question, namely, “How do we judge what’s good?” To Lambert, there’s no objective standard or even good taste, period. That might sound strange, but Lambert is adamant, dismissing the New Yorker’s fiction editor (with sublime condescension) for claiming to value excellence. Lambert approvingly cites the poet Kazim Ali: “claiming to judge work solely based on literary merit is inherently and inescapably racist.” This seems to be where dogma has led us.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewish literature, Anti-Semitism, New York Intellectuals, Political correctness

Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University