English/JSIS 357 Autumn 2017 Professor Butwin
Jewish American Literature and Culture
In January 1938 Benny Goodman brought jazz to Carnegie Hall; later that summer the great Hank Greenberg hit 58 homeruns for the Detroit Tigers, just two behind Babe Ruth. In 1945 Bess Myerson, a Jewish girl from the Bronx, became Miss America. Saul Bellow’s Adventures of Augie March won the National Book Award in 1954; in 1953 Bellow’s translation from the Yiddish of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Gimpel the Fool” appeared in The Partisan Review. The Magic Barrel (short stories) by Bernard Malamud won the National Book Award in 1959; Philip Roth’s Goodbye Columbus (also stories) won the next year. In 1964 Fiddler on the Roof, a musical drama based on the Yiddish stories of Sholom Aleichem, would begin an extraordinary run that hasn’t ever stopped. In the 1970s Bellow (1976) and Singer (1978) would both win Nobel Prizes; Woody Allen’s film Annie Hall beat back Star Wars at the 50th Academy Awards in 1978. Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, the Coen Brothers. In 1992 Art Spiegelman’s Maus was the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize, a year later Steven Spielberg, Schindler’s List took down most of the Oscars.
It would appear that after the rigors of immigration American Jews had finally—in the metaphoric sense—“arrived” in the new world. The enormous success of several generations of Jewish writers, comedians, musicians, musical comedians and movie makers in the post-War period would seem to confirm that sense of cultural integration. But it is precisely the persistence of old—that is, old-world—obsessions that would be the signature of this apparent success and the binding agent of this course. How are we to account for the continuity, for the persistence of tradition on the part of several generations of artists who would seem to have emancipated themselves from the very conditions that they seem compelled to replicate? These are the kind of questions we will ask as we read, listen and watch our way through the Post-War literature and culture of Jewish America. Lecture, discussion, short essays.
Saul Bellow: Something to Remember Me By (1989) (Penguin Books ISBN 9780142422182) including the title story, “The Bellarosa Connection” and “A Theft”
Philip Roth, The Ghost Writer (1979) (Vintage Books ISBN 0 679 74898 9)
Art Spiegelman, Maus (1986) (Pantheon Books ISBN 0-394 74723 2)