Page 11 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 9 (1950-1951)

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A PANORAMA OF A HALF-CENTURY OF
AMERICAN JEWISH LITERATURE
By
L
u d w i g
L
e w i s o h n
J
EWISH literary productivity in non-Jewish languages re-
mains one of the enigmatic aspects of Jewish destiny. What
is a Jewish book written in English? A book written by a Jew?
Does that criterion suffice? In what sense is Mr. Walter Lipp-
mann’s
Preface to Politics
a Jewish book? Or Miss Edna Ferber’s
Show-Boat
? Or a play by Mr. S. N. Behrman or Mr. George S.
Kaufman or a poem by Mr. Kenneth Fearing? To call these
productions Jewish is to imply a definition that has dangerous
enough inferences — dangerous by virtue of possibly malicious
assumptions, though it is sound enough to feel, at least, that the
Jewish psyche has a more or less characteristic structure, as has
that of a Frenchman or a Chinese. I am unwilling to embark
upon these deep and perilous waters; I am equally unwilling to
discuss the tragic and equivocal subject of the position of a
Jewish writer in a non-Jewish society, never wholly accepted,
unless it be on the shallowest plane of mere entertainment, by
that society, and deprived of his natural audience, the Jewish
community, by servile fears and environmental pressures. I shall
pursue neither problem. But no one can write honestly of Jewish
writing in a given land and period without stating these prob-
lems and being tacitly guided by their existence.
One other preliminary remark must be made. I am asked, as
it were, to write literary history, in however modest a fashion,
without any of the usual tools and researches. There are no
extensive bibliographies; there are only tentative
Vorarbeiten
,
except the admirable recent Surveys of Dr. Joshua Bloch.* I can
do nothing that has scholarly soundness and completeness. I can
do nothing that is adequately organized. Perhaps this preliminary
survey — for it can be no more — will encourage some young
Jewish literary scholar to engage in the research and interpreta-
tion of Jewish writing in the United States in the twentieth
century.
If it may be said that tendencies are discernible at all, then
a keynote was struck early by two books of very different value:
*Jewish Book A nnua l
, Volumes I I -V I I I .