Modernist Form and the Myth of Jewification

Modernist Form and the Myth of Jewification

Neil Levi
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x0165
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  • Book Info
    Modernist Form and the Myth of Jewification
    Book Description:

    Why were modernist works of art, literature, and music that were neither by nor about Jews nevertheless interpreted as Jewish? In this book, Neil Levi explores how the antisemitic fantasy of a mobile, dangerous, contagious Jewish spirit unfolds in the antimodernist polemics of Richard Wagner, Max Nordau, Wyndham Lewis, and Louis-Ferdinand Celine, reaching its apotheosis in the notorious 1937 Nazi exhibition "Degenerate Art." Levi then turns to James Joyce, Theodor W. Adorno, and Samuel Beckett, offering radical new interpretations of these modernist authors to show how each presents his own poetics as a self-conscious departure from the modern antisemitic imaginary. Levi claims that, just as antisemites once feared their own contamination by a mobile, polluting Jewish spirit, so too much of postwar thought remains governed by the fear that it might be contaminated by the spirit of antisemitism. Thus he argues for the need to confront and work through our own fantasies and projections not only about the figure of the Jew but also about that of the antisemite.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5509-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Phobic Reading, Modernist Form, and the Figure of the Antisemite
    (pp. 1-20)

    Dresden, 1850. Richard Wagner denounces what he calls theVerjüdung der modernen Kunst—the Jewification or Judaization of modern art, in which “Hebraic art taste” has come to dominate all of German culture.

    Munich, 1919. Protesters disrupt the final performance of Frank Wedekind’s playCastle Wetterstein, decrying it as “Jewish garbage,” and beating up those in the audience who “look Jewish.” It does not matter to the protesters that Wedekind is not Jewish and that his play is not about Jews.¹

    Tenerife, 1935. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s second film,L’Age d’Or(“The Golden Age”), is banned by the civil...

  5. PART I: MODERNIST FORM AS JUDAIZATION
    • ONE Genealogies: Judaization, Wagner, Nordau
      (pp. 23-49)

      At the heart of the story of how modernist form comes to be regarded as Jewish is the myth ofJudaization. Discussions of modernism and antisemitism often acknowledge this myth in passing, but it is seldom the subject of extended reflection. (Indeed, if there is another book on aesthetic modernism and Judaization, I have not been able to find it.) It might be useful, then, to sketch briefly the structure of the notion of Judaization as it appears in the modern European context.¹ In what follows, I turn to what is widely regarded as the concept of Judaization’s most historically...

    • TWO Jews, Art, and History: The Nazi Exhibition of “Degenerate Art” as Historicopolitical Spectacle
      (pp. 50-89)

      There is no more notorious, iconic, and resonant example of the National Socialist campaign against modernist art than the roughly dozen pages in the 1928 bookKunst und Rasse (Art and Race)in which the Nazi architect and art educator Paul Schultze-Naumburg sets black-and-white reproductions of paintings by Modigliani, Picasso, Emil Nolde, Karl Schmitt-Rottluff, and others alongside photographs of bodies that are, for want of a better phrase, grossly deformed and disfigured.¹

      If we take Schultze-Naumburg’sArt and Raceas our paradigm, the contours of the Nazi conception of degenerate art (entartete Kunst) seem clear: a condemnation of modernism as...

    • THREE Fanatical Abstraction: Wyndham Lewis’s Critique of Modernist Form as Judaization in Time and Western Man
      (pp. 90-118)

      It is hard to read the painter and novelist Wyndham Lewis’s 1927 magnum opus,Time and Western Man, without thinking of Richard Wagner’s 1850 essay “Judaism in Music.” To be sure, while “Judaism in Music” troubles even Wagner’s most committed defenders, Lewis, a central figure in the early history of British modernism, particularly as the editor (and main author and visual artist) of the Vorticist avant-garde journalBlast, has been lauded for producing inTime and Western Man“one of the dozen or so most important books of the twentieth century” (Hugh Kenner), an “immense and prophetic book” (Fredric Jameson),...

  6. PART II: MODERNIST FORM AND THE ANTISEMITIC IMAGINATION
    • FOUR Straw Men: Projection, Personification, and Narrative Form in Ulysses
      (pp. 121-138)

      In Part I of this book I explored the history of the interpretation of modernism as Judaization: the essay and book that are seen as its origins, the exhibition that should be seen as its apotheosis, and the modernist magnum opus that treats cultural modernism as a programmatic contamination of Western culture in the interests of Jewish political domination.

      In Part II I argue that such interpretations of modernism and modernity are also central to the work of three iconic European modernists: James Joyce, Theodor W. Adorno, and Samuel Beckett. I begin with Joyce. As I show, many of the...

    • FIVE Images of the Bilderverbot: Adorno, Antisemitism, and the Enemies of Modernism
      (pp. 139-169)

      No one in the immediate postwar period or since has given more thought to how and why to continue the modernist project in the aftermath of the Shoah than the German philosopher, sociologist, musicologist, and literary critic Theodor W. Adorno. Adorno understands Nazism as fundamentallyregressive. The brilliant Adorno scholar and translator Robert Hullot-Kentor has described his master’s work as “an oeuvre that is fundamentally a critical study of the dynamic of historical regression.”¹ But the critique of regression should not be confused with a wholesale rejection of all efforts to return to the past, even the ancient past, which,...

    • SIX The Labor of Late Modernist Poetics: Beckett after Céline
      (pp. 170-200)

      Theodor Adorno is the first of many to maintain that Samuel Beckett provides a paradigmatic literary response to the Nazi concentration camps because of what he does not directly say, represent, or name. Indeed, this idea has taken such a firm hold in Beckett criticism that commentators often have trouble interpreting those moments when Beckettdoesname, does represent, does make things explicit. For Beckett does make explicit his engagement, not with Auschwitz, but with ideas about Jews. The primary example of this is his use of a Jewish name or, more precisely,a name for a Jew. As I...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 201-234)
  8. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 235-246)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 247-262)