Diasporas of the Mind

Diasporas of the Mind: Jewish and Postcolonial Writing and the Nightmare of History

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Diasporas of the Mind
    Book Description:

    In this fascinating and erudite book, Bryan Cheyette throws new light on a wide range of modern and contemporary writers-some at the heart of the canon, others more marginal-to explore the power and limitations of the diasporic imagination after the Second World War. Moving from early responses to the death camps and decolonization, through internationally prominent literature after the Second World War, the book culminates in fresh engagements with contemporary Jewish, post-ethnic, and postcolonial writers.

    Cheyette regards many of the twentieth- and twenty-first-century luminaries he examines-among them Hannah Arendt, Anita Desai, Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, Primo Levi, Caryl Phillips, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, Edward Said, Zadie Smith, and Muriel Spark-as critical exemplars of the diasporic imagination. Against the discrete disciplinary thinking of the academy, he elaborates and argues for a new comparative approach across Jewish and postcolonial histories and literatures. And in so doing, Cheyette illuminates the ways in which histories and cultures can be imagined across national and communal boundaries.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19937-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-xi)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  5. 1 Introduction: Diasporas of the Mind
    (pp. 1-40)

    At the end of May 2011, President Barack Obama visited his Irish ‘ancestral home’ in the village of Moneygall, County Offaly. In 2007, Irish genealogists had discovered that Obama’s great-great-great-grandfather Falmouth Kearney had been raised in Moneygall before he emigrated, in the wake of the Great Famine, to New York in 1850 at the age of nineteen. During the visit Obama spoke of ‘blood links’ between the United States and the Republic of Ireland and of ‘coming home’ to Eire in search of his ‘missing apostrophe’.¹ On one level, this was an entirely inconsequential visit. There are nearly forty million...

    • 2 Diaspora and Colonialism: Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi and the Cosmopolitan Jew
      (pp. 43-77)

      There have been many Frantz Fanons since his untimely death in 1961 at the age of thirty-six. He became a revolutionary figurehead of the Black Power movement in the United States in the 1960s; was adopted as a Third World leader of the ‘wretched of the earth’ in the 1970s; and was reinvented as a postcolonial theorist – with reference toBlack Skin, White Masks(1952) – in the 1980s and ’90s.¹ The main problem with these various incarnations is that they tend to reinforce the image of a polarized figure whose first and last works are treated as mutually exclusive – as...

    • 3 Diaspora and the Holocaust: Primo Levi, Jean Améry and the Art of Returning the Blow
      (pp. 78-114)

      Shortly before he committed suicide in 1978, Jean Améry, who briefly shared a barracks with Primo Levi in Auschwitz-Monowitz, described his fellow ‘intellectual in Auschwitz’ to a mutual friend as ‘the forgiver’ (Levi 1986: 110). Améry, as a growing number of commentators have noted, is Levi’s most significant interlocutor, the ‘intellectual angel’, in Alexander Stille’s felicitous phrase, with whom Levi, at the end of his life, struggled to clarify the meaning of the Holocaust.¹ But this was not a one-way street, and Levi also helped to shape, albeit unwittingly, Améry’s account of his experience of Auschwitz. As his biographer notes,...

    • 4 Diaspora, ‘Race’ and Redemption: Muriel Spark and the Trauma of Africa
      (pp. 117-160)

      Muriel Spark’s ‘The Desegregation of Art’, a lecture delivered to the Blashfield Foundation in New York in May 1970 and published the following year, is both a literary manifesto and a refutation of past suffering. She gave the lecture when she was at the height of her powers, a decade after the international success ofThe Prime of Miss Jean Brodie(1961) and at the end of a period of extraordinary creativity that saw the publication ofThe Public Image(1968),The Driver’s Seat(1970) andNot to Disturb(1971). The lecture, implicitly at least, refers to these three novellas,...

    • 5 The American Diaspora: Philip Roth and the National Turn
      (pp. 161-202)

      Philip Roth has recently returned to Newark as a conquering hero to celebrate his eightieth birthday after ‘retiring’ from writing fiction after the publication ofNemesis(2010).¹ That President Obama, as we saw in Chapter 1, singled out Roth, once the most transgressive and unconventional of novelists (whose fiction disdains ‘moral and political claims’ above all else), was part of a much wider canonization in the United States. In 2001,Timemagazine named Roth ‘America’s Best Novelist’ and, in 2005, theNew York Timesasked hundreds of ‘prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages’ to identify the ‘single best...

    • 6 Diaspora and Postcolonialism: Salman Rushdie and the Jews
      (pp. 203-243)

      A few months after the fatwa calling for his assassination as an apostate, there was a large demonstration in Hyde Park urging Salman Rushdie and his publishers to withdrawThe Satanic Verses(1988). Alongside the banners abusing him as a ‘devil’ or ‘son of Satan’ there was an effigy of Rushdie ‘affixed to the body of a pig’.¹ This grotesque figure wore devil horns, was placed next to a gallows and had a Star of David around its neck. As Malise Ruthven has noted, the ‘Star of David testified to the view . . . that the whole Rushdie affair...

    • 7 Conclusion: Diaspora and Postethnicity
      (pp. 244-264)

      Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was born in Germany in 1927 to a Polish-Jewish father and German-Jewish mother. She left Cologne in 1939 at the age of twelve with her parents and brother, Siegbert Prawer, who became a well-known comparative literary critic. They were among the last Jewish families to leave Nazi Germany for England. Her father, Marcus Prawer, committed suicide in 1948 after hearing of the death of more than forty friends and relatives in the camps. In 1951, she married Cyrus Jhabvala and moved with him to Delhi, where she remained until 1975. It is no coincidence that Prawer Jhabvala...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 265-281)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 282-295)
  10. Index
    (pp. 296-306)