Page 17 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 9 (1950-1951)

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LEWI SOHN ----AMER ICAN J EW I S H L I TERATURE
9
Abraham M. Klein of Montreal. He has not been reckoned
publicly among the poets of various groups, partly because he is
a citizen of the Dominion of Canada, where he has not been
unhonored or unappreciated, and partly because the substance of
his poetry is wholly and instinctively and learnedly Jewish.
Critical prose, in which Jews have often excelled in various
literatures, has not been neglected among us. In the middle genera-
tion there is the accomplished, learned, witty Marvin Lowenthal;
among the younger and youngest men mention should be made
at least of Mr. Lionel Trilling, Mr. David Daiches, Mr. Harry
Levin, all in conspicuous academic posts at Columbia, Cornell,
Harvard, and of such free lance critics as Mr. Alfred Kazin and
Mr. Louis Kronenberger. Mr. Trilling finds it hard and uncom-
fortable to be a Jew, which is bound to impinge on his total intel-
lectual integrity. This leads in his and other cases —
not
in that
of Mr. Daiches — to escape into a rootless liberalism, a non-
qualitative universalism, which muddles all thinking and blunts
all point. There seems, however, to be arising a still younger
generation of critics and literary scholars which, by spontaneously
accepting its Judaism and its Jewishness, is likely to produce
deeper, richer, more fruitful work.
Is any summing up of this account either in place or possible?
Desultory and unorganized as it has been because, it is worth
repeating, no bibliographies, no preliminary studies, no exploration
of the field of American Jewish literature exist, it yet seems to me
that one very simple conclusion may be drawn. Given the char-
acter and history of American writing within which American
Jews have had to work, we have not done ill either qualitatively
or quantitatively. This is not the place to institute the comparison
with what other Jewries in other lands have accomplished in
literature in the twentieth century. When that comparison comes
to be made it will be found that only the Jews in Germany, whose
productivity was tragically interrupted in 1933, have surpassed
American Jewry. We tower above the Jewries of both England
and France. We have not been sterile or inactive. W7e have made
a mere than honorable showing.
A final remark is in place. Between the two W7orld Wars there
arose in the lands of German speech a group of men who created
within that speech an illustrious
Jewish
literature. The names of
Franz Rosenzweig, of Martin Buber, of the poets Karl Wolfskehl
and Ludwig Strauss, of Bin-Gorion and Hugo Bergmann, of the
living and the dead within that group, are already electric names
in all Israel. Am I wholly wrong in hoping that such a development
is possible in American Jewry and that, indeed, we are on the
threshold of it? At all events, while these lines were being written