Gilman (Franz Kafka: The Jewish Patient, 1995, etc.; Liberal Arts/Univ. of Chicago), who has previously written about...


SMART JEWS: The Construction of the Image of Jewish Superior Intelligence

Gilman (Franz Kafka: The Jewish Patient, 1995, etc.; Liberal Arts/Univ. of Chicago), who has previously written about physical stereotypes of Jews, turns his attention to the seemingly positive stereotyping of Jews as highly intelligent. Gilman has pondered many aspects of the ways in which the Jew is marked as the Other in Western culture. His latest effort grew out of his reaction to the success of The Bell Curve, with its revival of what had once seemed discredited arguments about race and intelligence. He asserts that the unstated agenda of Bell Curve authors Murray and Herrnstein was the conflation of ""intelligence"" and ""virtue,"" an implicit linkage of low intelligence and criminality. That argument, Gilman says, has received a great deal of scrutiny, but the equally implicit converse, that Jews are at the other end of the ""bell curve,"" has been more or less ignored. However, as Gilman carefully demonstrates, the notion of the superior intelligence of Jews is also the product of social constructions, shaped by the various political and racial agendas of the combatants. Social Darwinists at the turn of the century downgraded the Jews even as they acknowledged Jewish intellect, counterposing intelligence to supposed physical feebleness; the scientific racism of various fin-de-si≤cle advocates of eugenics often was accompanied by a distinction between ""intelligence"" and ""craftiness,"" a difference that was usually posited to the detriment of the Jews. In the book's last two chapters, Gilman discusses Berg's opera Wozzeck and such films and novels as The Last Tycoon, Schindler's List, and Quiz Show to illuminate how notions of Jewish intelligence are inscribed in both high and popular culture as the marker of Jewish difference. As usual, Gilman's insights are dazzling, his arguments rigorous and densely worked out. However, this volume is surprisingly dry, given the loaded subject matter, and will be of interest primarily to specialists.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996


Page Count: 264

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996