Modern Jewish-American Literature: Voice, Culture, and the Jewish Writer in Postwar America
Guilt, devotion, exile, shtick, messianism, boredom, tradition, voice, sex. Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Cynthia Ozick, Bernard Malamud, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Allen Ginsberg. As critic Morris Dickstein put it, “The work of these writers proved deliberately provocative, hugely entertaining, always flirting with bad taste and often very funny, but with an edge of pain and giddiness that borders on hysteria.” This course will study the “deliberately provocative” postwar Jewish writer in modern America. What made the Jewish American writer so radical? How did the postwar Jewish American writer become the archetypical American author? Why have Jewish American writers turned out to be lightning rods for changes in twentieth century American culture, and its shifting landscape of race, ethnicity, gender, and the individual? Looking first at the core generation of postwar Jewish American authors (such as Bellow, Malamud, and Roth) and then at the newest wave of writers such as Michael Chabon, Dara Horn, Gary Shteyngart, and Nathan Englander, we will address the thorny question of just what makes a Jewish American writer in modern America. Course requirements include a short mid-term paper, a longer final paper with a research component, and engagement in class materials and discussion.