An Attempt to Demonstrate American Literary Racism Slights the Jews

A practitioner of the trendy academic discipline of “digital humanities,” Richard Jean So sets out in his book Redlining Culture to use masses of data and complex statistical analysis to show the overwhelming racism of the American literary establishment in the second half of the 20th century. In their review, Mordechai Levy-Eichel and Daniel Scheinerman contend that So’s argument is not only “narrow and moralistic,” but rests on unsound assumptions and bad math. It also seems to have a blind spot vis-à-vis the Jews. (Free registration required.)

According to So, the underlying feature of postwar American literature was the “inertia of whiteness”—by which he means the predominance of white, male writers like John Updike, Philip Roth, and Saul Bellow in terms of awards, reviews, and prestige. . . . Notable figures like Toni Morrison, who won both a Pulitzer (1988) and the Nobel (1993), and who, as an editor at Random House, significantly expanded its roster of African American authors, are not examples of any lasting shift but merely occasional exceptions.

In order to show the dearth of Black writers with the most cultural power or regard, So lists the “top ten authors in the top 1-percent most-reviewed titles,” a list headed by Philip Roth (over all, the list is 30-percent Jewish). The only Black member of this select group is Toni Morrison, with Alice Walker clocking in next, down at number 47. Jews are, well, overrepresented. So tries to explain away this fact by imposing his overarching white/Black binary on it: “Jewishness articulates a specific type of ‘whiteness.’” Well, sure, some do say that, but others would very strongly disagree! (Unintentionally, So confirms the comedian and critic David Baddiel’s recent book, which touches on precisely this issue, namely that in many ways Jews Don’t Count.) But either way, why are Jews not “minority writers”?

One of the most memorable anecdotes in this regard comes from Saul Bellow, who had hoped to study English literature in graduate school but was told that, as a Jew, he would never have “the right feeling for Anglo-Saxon traditions, for English words.” This points to an essential missing piece of So’s narrative, namely the (declining) centrality of religion and ethnicity to literature.

Redlining Culture anachronistically chops up postwar literature into the academic categorizations of today rather than examining the terms and transformations of the period itself.

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Read more at Chronicle of Higher Education

More about: Academia, American Jewish literature, Mathematics, Race

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship