Facing Black and Jew: Literature as Public Space in Twentieth-Century America

Facing Black and Jew: Literature as Public Space in Twentieth-Century America

Facing Black and Jew: Literature as Public Space in Twentieth-Century America

Facing Black and Jew: Literature as Public Space in Twentieth-Century America

Synopsis

Adam Zachary Newton couples works of prose fiction by African American and Jewish American authors from Henry Roth and Ralph Ellison to Philip Roth and David Bradley. Reading the work of such writers alongside and through one another, Newton offers an original way of juxtaposing two major traditions in American literature and rethinking their sometimes vexing relationship. Newton combines Emmanuel Levinas' ethical philosophy and Walter Benjamin's theory of allegory in shaping an innovative kind of ethical-political criticism. A final chapter addresses the Black/Jewish dimension of the O. J. Simpson trial.

Excerpt

Why was there so wide a gulf between person and person; differences so great that to breach them one would have to cross the world itself … the Negro, who was quite a way down the street, why was he a Negro and I a Jew? Why not the other way around? Or both of us Negroes or both Jews? There was something between us that neither of us might grasp, some understanding of which we had only the dimmest impression; who knew what this was, or what the design was into which we had been cast? the connections between things were too fine to be discovered.

… think for a moment, what was it like to be a Negro? I could only imagine myself to be obsessed if I were one; I should go about thinking, “I am black, I am black. ” Everything would remind me of it: the cover of the loose-leaf notebook I carried to school, and if it snowed on the way, snow, and therefore rain too; a chance word heard in the streetcar–“I fell off the step ladder and my side is black and blue”; any color named, or the word, “color” spoken, the sight of the pavement, of a coconut or an eggplant in the grocer's window, a black dog, or a white dog, the strong sun in summer–everything would remind me of it. I should constantly be thinking, “I am a Negro, I am black. ” and yet, here we were, walking about in the street and no one gave a thought to it, no one inquired, no one imagined what the differences were between men.

Isaac Rosenfeld, Passage From Home

Old Esau [my grandfather's father] had been a kind of down-home “Misnagid, ” but Grandfather signed on with the Congregational Church.

Darryl Pinkney, High Cotton

Can things take on a face? Is not art an activity that lends faces to things? the presence of the Other dispels the anarchic sorcery of the facts.

Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity . . .

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