The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Marx, Lévi-Strauss, and the Jewish Struggle with Modernity

By John Murray Cuddihy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 23
MODERNITY, JEWRY, CHRISTIANITY

But the strangers we speak of are unique in retaining their peculiar attributes, especially their religious views, while stoutly denying that these peculiarities are of crucial importance, or relevant to their relationship to the society in which they dwell. This attitude rests on an illusion which is nevertheless, for the most part sincerely and honourably, accepted as a reality by both sides, but which, being half felt as delusive, communicates a sense of desperate embarrassment to those who seek to examine it: as if a mystery were being approached to the belief in the non-existence of which both sides are pledged, yet the reality of which both at least suspect. 1

Isaiah Berlin

Several ideas that run like an obbligato through this book must now, in the conclusion, be picked up and thematized for their own sakes. One of these is the curious, secret, adversary relationship of the secular Jewish intellectual to the Jewish bourgeoisie (that is, the ordinary, Jewish, middle-class community). The intellectual is sensitive and refined; the bourgeoisie, obviously, is vulgar. Undeniable as their vulgarity may be in his eyes, the secular Jewish intellectual almost never allows himself to come out and say so, explicitly. In this matter, all, excepting Marx, have observed, more or less faithfully, the eleventh or Diaspora commandment: "Thou shalt not reveal in-group secrets to the goyim." As a result of this self-censorship, this "secret," intraethnic war has been encoded in various ways in the literary and ideological product of the Jewish social critics of the Diaspora. Diaspora creativity is thus a form of "secret writing" enciphering covert Jewish "family understandings." The opera omnia of the Diaspora tradition constitute, in one degree or another, hermeneutic systems in which the Jewish pays réel must be read "between the lines" of the Jewish pays légale.

In earlier times, "when Jews spoke a language of their own, they could criticize and admonish each other without worrying about giving ammunition to their enemies," writes Milton Himmelfarb. 2 In a quite literal sense, Norman Denison notes, both Jewish German and Yiddish

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