Page 20 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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12
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
is no real struggle. The two worlds of the story represent parallel
lines which will never meet.
There is a similar absence of struggle in Saul Bellow’s fre­
quent invocations of the Jewish past, with its pieties, its certain­
ties and its family warmth. Here is Moses Herzog reflecting
on his childhood in the Montreal Jewish ghetto:
Here was a wider range o f human feelings than he had ever
again been able to find. The children o f the race, by a never-
failing miracle, opened their eyes on one strange world after
another, age after age, and uttered the same prayer in each,
eagerly loving what they found. What was wrong with Napoleon
Street thought Herzog? All he ever wanted was there.
This is like the meshumad in Zangwill, thinking back on the
sublimity and simplicity of the world he had left behind. But
what was, for Zangwill’s characters, the sign of an existential
crisis, is for Bellow a matter of nostalgic retrospect, like the
Midwest for Fitzgerald or the old-world pattern of the South
before the Civil War for Faulkner. In fact, the attitudes of Bel­
low’s characters to the Ghetto, whether of Eastern Europe or
Montreal, are marked by nostalgia rather than by the tensions
of attraction and repulsion. Whereas the meshumad had to fight
the pull of the ghetto-reality, there is no such compulsion for
Bellow’s characters. The proof of this is that unlike the
meshumad, Herzog is not ashamed of Napoleon Street or em­
barrassed and disgusted at the recollection of its dirt and ug­
liness. There is nothing to fight against, or to be embarrassed
about because, essentially, the crisis of assimilation is over. The
Jewish writers of our time have successfully entered the main­
stream of Gentile culture and have shed the Jewish demons
which still possessed Cahan and Zangwill. The Jewish contents
and images in their writings are intended as a contribution to
American or British cultural discourse and are welcomed as
such by their readership. They are not a means of assuaging
any urgent Jewish conflict.
ATTITUDE TO NATIONALISM
It seems to me, however, that there is one area of contem­
porary Jewish experience for which the modern Jewish writer
in the West still betrays the sort of ambivalence characterized