PORTRAIT OF A JEW by Albert Memmi


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Albert Memmi's attitude is incontrovertibly resentful; he is a Jew who has personally, intolerably suffered from the Dispersion, its primary oppressions, and its secondary consequences. A Tunisian, raised in a ghetto in the midst of a colonial country, the conformation of both his Jewishness and his total manhood have been greatly influenced by conditions of which most American Jews know little or nothing. He insists inexorably upon his view of a malevolent universe, grimly depicting ""the situation of a man helpless in a world of unpredictable hostility"". To him the Jewish fate is that of mute and cowering submission to a continuous cycle of bloody tragedies befalling generations in endless succession. Although his version of the Jewish condition is a potent argument for Zionism, he rarely refers to Israel except by the most circuitous indirection, and seems in many respects to be skeptical of the long-range significance of ""the recovery of a national organism"". He pursues the vitriolic course of the anti-Semite's physical-biological, economic, and theological criticisms and contradictions, coming to the conclusion that so long as Jews live as a minority among non-Jews, their Jewishness is a misfortune they can neither evade nor escape. Comfortable American Jews, particularly the great numbers of them who are reasonably well-informed Zionists, will find Memmi's portrait objectionable on the psychological level, largely (although not totally: remember the Six Million) incredible on the historical level, remotely but indecisively disturbing, and surrealistic to the nth degree. The viewpoint is too utterly alien for the largest proportion of its potential audience, here in this country.

Pub Date: May 25th, 1962
Publisher: Orion Press