Under Postcolonial Eyes: Figuring the Jew in Contemporary British Writing

Under Postcolonial Eyes: Figuring the Jew in Contemporary British Writing

Under Postcolonial Eyes: Figuring the Jew in Contemporary British Writing

Under Postcolonial Eyes: Figuring the Jew in Contemporary British Writing

Synopsis

In the Western literary tradition, the "jew" has long been a figure of ethnic exclusion and social isolation-the wanderer, the scapegoat, the alien. But it is no longer clear where a perennial outsider belongs. This provocative study of contemporary British writing points to the figure of the "jew" as the litmus test of multicultural society. Efraim Sicher and Linda Weinhouse examine the "jew" as a cultural construction distinct from the "Jewishness" of literary characters in novels by, among others, Salman Rushdie, Anita Desai, Doris Lessing, Monica Ali, Caryl Philips, and Zadie Smith, as well as contemporary art and film.

Here the image of the "jew" emerges in all its ambivalence, from postcolonial migrant and modern everyman to more traditional representations of the conspirator and malefactor. The multicultural discourses of ethnic and racial hybridity reflect dissolution of national and personal identities, yet the search for transnational, cultural forms conceals both the acceptance of marginal South Asian, Caribbean, and Jewish voices as well as the danger of resurgent antisemitic tropes. Innovative in its contextualization of the "jew" in the multiculturalism debate in contemporary Britain, Under Postcolonial Eyes: Figuring the "jew" in Contemporary British Writing analyzes the narrative of identities in a globalized culture and offers new interpretations of postmodern classics.

Excerpt

Shylock, Fagin, and Svengali have long passed into common usage in the English language and can hardly be regarded as evidence of antisemitism, even if some Jews take offense at the term “shylocking,” associated with underworld loan sharks and sharp business practice (more recently also with trafficking in body parts). the cosmopolitan subversive moneyed parvenu is easily recognized in An Education (2009), a British film which reworks the Pygmalion theme, familiar from Shaw’s play and the popular Educating Rita (1967), to tell the story of an English schoolgirl seduced by a much older man about town, David Goldman, who introduces her to the adult world of shady deals and promiscuity. David Goldman’s “jewishness” is not concealed or coded, since the assimilated Jew has become largely “invisible,” but it is evident in archetypal character traits. As in Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock (of which the 2010 movie remake was set, like An Education, in the hippie swinging sixties), an innocent woman is corrupted and her life destroyed, except that this is no religious morality tale of evil but a tragic story of an adolescent rebellion against parental control which opts for Paris and happiness instead of forced study for Oxford entrance. Shylock, Fagin, and Svengali are frequently invoked whenever a public figure is suspected of wrong-doing or it is suggested that he is not to be trusted. Fagin was “an indelible part of British culture,” a tv adjudication body decided, when clearing the Channel 4 satire show Bremner, Bird and Fortune of racial defamation in depicting Lord Levy as the hook-nosed Fagin of the musical Oliver!, singing, “you’ve got to pick a pocket or two.” the revival of Lionel Bart’s musical in 2009, with comic actor Rowan Aitkinson playing Fagin as a comic but sinister villain, with insinuations of sexual deviancy (bringing together the traditions of pantomime and the Stage Jew), aroused the wrath of Jewish playwright Julia Pascal, but most critics could only see an uproarious Cockney knees-up that did little justice to Dickens.

Shylock has often been read through Fagin, and it seems few could believe that the “jew” was not synonymous with dishonest and merciless money-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.