JEWISH SELF--HATRED: Anti-Semitism and the Hidden Language of the Jews by Sander L. Gilman

JEWISH SELF--HATRED: Anti-Semitism and the Hidden Language of the Jews

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this dazzling display of scholarship, Gilman cuts across academic disciplines to examine how some Jews integrated the anti-Semitism of the wider, non-Jewish culture into their own sense of self. In a complex argument, the author suggests that the origins of Jewish self hatred come from reactions to what he claims is the charge permeating anti-Semitism, that the Jews had their own hidden language--that is, that their linguistic thoughts and expressions were intellectually bound by their Jewishness, and thus they could never fully comprehend or partake of a non-Jewish culture. This myth of a hidden language, Gilman argues, provokes in Jewish writers a fear of using a second-rate language, a fear among those who must use language to articulate views or create fictional worlds. Gilman traces the history of such Jewish writers from the Middle Ages to the present to make his case, discussing such well-known figures as Heinrich and Karl Marx, but also lesser-known and in some ways even more fascinating cases, such as Otto Weininger. Gilman goes beyond history, however, into psychology, sociology as well as literary criticism. He focuses on such concepts as assimilation and identity, making a crucial distinction between Jewish self-hatred in European history and contemporary America, where the multiplicity of cultures makes it possible to project the integrated anti-Semitism onto other groups. This was impossible in societies where the Jews faced only one other culture, the dominant one. Using the works of, among others, Woody Allen and Philip Roth, Gilman presents a skilled reading of texts to prove his point. Sometimes lacking in felicity, the book nevertheless overcomes various stylistic difficulties to emerge as a major contribution to the literature of self-hatred, making readers see the familiar in wholly new ways, forcing us to confront not only the too-often hidden legacy of hate but also, in its own way, providing a way out.

Pub Date: Jan. 22nd, 1985
ISBN: 0801840635
Publisher: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press