Page 9 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 31

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A. ALAN STEINBACH
Introduction
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I n
t h e
l a s t
q u a r t e r
-
c e n t u r y
America’s Jewish writers have
made a substantial contribution to American literature, and in
consequence of the high quality of their creativity they have
made a strong impact on America’s literary tastes. This, in ef-
feet—despite demurrers from writers like Saul Bellow, Philip
Roth, Maxwell Geismar, and Norman Mailer, who refuse to be
categorized as “Jewish writers”—is tantamount to the establish-
ment of an American Jewish ethnic literature. The writers enu-
merated above have sought to resolve their psychocultural Jewish
dilemma by assuming a typical and impeccable American stance.
The Jewish mind, the Jewish ethos, the Jewish heritage, the
Jewish experience through history—these inescapable ethnic com-
ponents in their Jewishness they have shunted off as though they
have never existed. Even Leslie Fiedler—in his essay “The Jewish
Heritage in Contemporary American Fiction”—concedes there is
“the Jewish American mind, conditioned by two thousand years
of history. . .
No matter how vigorously Jewish writers strive
to exorcise their ethnic roots, they delude themselves if they
claim they do not stand on the shoulders of their forebears.
The influence exercised by
American Jewish writers—
Maxwell
Geismar categorizes Bernard Malamud, Bellow and Philip Roth
as “assimilated”
Jewish American writers
—has become so perva-
sive that it has provoked a mild backlash. Harsh statements have
been imputed to Truman Capote alleging the existence of a
Jewish literary mafia which is imposing peremptory criteria over
literary patterns in the United States. William Styron has deni-
grated Jewish creativity as a product of regionalism. He said in
a recent interview: “Modern Jewish writing seems to me to rep-
resent a distinct outcropping of cultural regionalism, phenom-
enally vital at this particular point but no more to be wondered
at than its immediate predecessors: the South of Faulkner, War-
ren and company.” Some critics among our Jewish literati have
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