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.

Read more at Chronicle of Higher Education

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

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