Glamorous Jewesses

By Lieberman, Rhonda | Artforum International, January 1993 | Go to article overview

Glamorous Jewesses


Lieberman, Rhonda, Artforum International


On the problem of the actor--

And it is really high time to ask: What good actor today is not--a Jew? . . . Finally, women. Reflect on the whole history of women: do they not have to be first of all and above all else actresses?

In his book Spurs or Nietzsche's Styles, Jacques Derrida works Uncle Friedrich's Jew-woman moment to comment upon "truth's abyss, as non-truth." He points out that while "truth" can only be a surface, or in quotation marks, it still flirtatiously tempts us to lift her veil and possess her.

The Jew is the Thing

Now that middle America has gone into recovery, The Prince of Tides recently offered filmic fast-food for the inner child. The world emerges as a disappointing landscape populated by those who are in denial and those who are in recovery; one suspected that is the way we are but why does it seem so smarmy here? The film is beautifully shot, and the narrative occurs over the traumatized body of Nick Nolte's twin sister--a gifted poetess and Holocaust survivor-wannabe(!). As absent cause driving the narrative, she is kept offscreen--literally recovering in a mental ward from a botched suicide attempt. Barbra Streisand is her immaculately groomed therapist, determined to crack her case through Nick Nolte, who is elected by the dysfunctional family to be his sister's "memory"--the witness of the nasty family-trauma material. The only encounter with trauma is a nonencounter: as "witness" to trauma, the subject is split from herself--she cannot have access to the nasty blotch inaugurating her symptom or personality. The film literally dislocates the sister's trauma in Nolte. This is all well and good. As the soigne cosmopolitan Uber-Jewess shrink, however, Babs ultimately cannot compete with Nolte's goyish connection to his native soil. Therapists shouldn't have affairs with their patients, but that is the least offensive aspect of the film. After she returns him to his soft manhood as football coach slash nonbreadwinner, he returns to his family's blond roots, parting with her in front of her fancy office, where she vows: "Next time I'm going to get a Jewish guy!"

In The Way We Were we first spot Barbra spotting another blond nodding off at a bar: Robert Redford. She takes him home where he throws up and crashes into a drunken stupor. In the middle of the night he makes love to her, still drunk, while she remains alert and vigilant. In the morning he remembers nothing. Throughout the film he has something like 20 cocktails. We see him in his WASP milieu maintaining his cool with alcohol, while the activist Jewess cheers him on to engage in the world in an affirmative way. Barbra, as supportive Jewess and muse, seems to stand for his mushed-up libido. I was keyed into the Jewish/WASP encounter or rather nonencounter when I saw The Way We Were. What struck me is the configuration of the WASP as the sleeping object of history and the Jew as the vigilant, suffering, and somehow tackier subject. Nevertheless the Jewess functions as the lure who can lead the WASP "back" to his numbed desire.

So what's with the WASP-Jew conjunction over the inner child? The fantasm goes like this: equipped with a hot line to suffering, the Jew enjoys a privileged relation to the WASPS' trauma and therefore can heal or at least witness or at least package it for them. Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein have demonstrated that no one can imagine and merchandise the fantasy scene of WASP plenitude better than a Jew. In the Barbra films, WASP plenitude emerges as a glossy traumatized shock layer significantly numbing the WASP sensorium and robbing him of subjective experience; he is a blond object to be rescued by the Jew from his own sorry condition.

Jews fill a public service. They simplify things for people--in the anti-Semitic (Western) imaginary, the fantasm of the Jew supports a black-and-white world divided between discrete ethnic "identities," i.e. "Jew" and "non-Jew." To paraphrase Lacan, Jew-essence is impossible.

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