"Hardly There Even When She Wasn't Lost": Orthodox Daughters and the "Mind-Body Problem" in Contemporary Jewish American Fiction

By Jacobowitz, Susan | Shofar, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

"Hardly There Even When She Wasn't Lost": Orthodox Daughters and the "Mind-Body Problem" in Contemporary Jewish American Fiction


Jacobowitz, Susan, Shofar


ABSTRACT. This paper analyzes contemporary Jewish fiction to suggest that both writers and their Orthodox daughter protagonists can be viewed as the inheritors and continuation of a literary tradition questioning roles, perceptions of and opportunities for Jewish women. It also proposes that the real "mind-body" problem or dilemma that Orthodox Jewish women confront comes not from the secular world -- as Rebecca Goldstein's protagonist Renee presents in The Mind-Body Problem -- but from the conservative and traditional religious Jewish world they experienced as children and, in several cases, leave as adults. It is within the confining and constricting world of traditional Judaism and Orthodox Jewish religious observance -- traditionally male-dominated -- that they experience a kind of disconnect or come to an impasse, finding that they must be perceived as either mind or body but cannot be perceived simultaneously as both.

In Rebecca Goldstein's The Mind-Body Problem (1983), Goldstein sets out to explore what she describes as the "mind-body problem," the dichotomy between being perceived as either attractive or intellectual when the two are polarized and seen as mutually exclusive. Her protagonist, Renee Feuer, is a graduate student in philosophy who comes from an Orthodox Jewish background. On a superficial level, her problem revolves around not being taken seriously in the secular, academic world because she is attractive. One of her friends, Ava, addresses this problem by resorting to "intentional uglification." She doesn't want to look "pretty" or "feminine" because "feminine is dumb." She explains to Renee:

You've got to stamp out all traces of girlishness if you want to be taken seriously by the others, but more importantly by yourself.... It was okay to be a girl when I was only a student, but not anymore. When I'm attracted to a man and start playing the part of a woman, there's a voice sneering inside me: Dumb. You dumb cunt. You just can't be a cunt with intelligence. You can have a brain and a prick, there's no incompatibility there. "Brainy prick" sounds all right, but "intelligent cunt" is ridiculous, a contradiction in terms.(1)

Ava has internalized the mind-body problem and come up with her own solution. She feels that she must sacrifice being attractive in order to be taken seriously.(2)

Renee is very attractive, so it is questionable whether or not gaining fifteen pounds and/or wearing an unbecoming hairstyle would provide the answer for her. But Renee, like Ava, has been very successful as a student, graduating summa cum laude from Barnard and getting accepted into a doctoral program at Princeton. She seems to feel a little overwhelmed and describes feeling "marginalized" as a first-year graduate student, but she doesn't cite any specific examples as to how she has been dismissed or denigrated because she is a woman. The problems that lead to her abandoning her program seem to have more to do with her own feelings of ambivalence about what she is doing in philosophy. She never seems clear about what kind of contribution she would like to make within her field, or how she envisions fitting into the world of philosophy as a practitioner. Despite Renee's constant references to various philosophic theories, there is a striking lack of commitment; her interest seems almost desultory. There is never any discussion after she marries about whether or not she will continue with her training. Her husband doesn't voice any objection, yet she seems almost eager and relieved to have an excuse to give it up. Again, the "mind-body" problem is something that Renee has internalized -- it doesn't have to be imposed. Even though she feels marginalized and self-conscious about being a woman in a "man's world," nobody is refusing to take her seriously. Renee refuses to take herself seriously. Her problem seems to stem from something that she hasn't resolved from the past.

This culturally induced internalization seems to be the significant mind-body problem at the heart of The Mind-Body Problem, and it is a problem which is not unique to Goldstein's work. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"Hardly There Even When She Wasn't Lost": Orthodox Daughters and the "Mind-Body Problem" in Contemporary Jewish American Fiction
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    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.