Jewish American Literature and Culture

Project Description

Goodbye Columbus Jewish American Literature and Culture

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JEW ST 357 / ENG 357
Professor: Joseph M. Butwin
MW 12:30-2:30 pm
Credits: 5 VLPA/DIV

In January 1938, Benny Goodman brought jazz to Carnegie Hall; later that summer the great Hank Greenberg hit 58 homeruns for the Detroit Tigers, just two behind Babe Ruth. In 1945 Bess Myerson, a Jewish girl from the Bronx, became Miss America. Saul Bellow’s “Adventures of Augie March” won the National Book Award in 1954; in 1953 Bellow’s translation from the Yiddish of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Gimpel the Fool” appeared in The Partisan Review. The “Magic Barrel” (short stories) by Bernard Malamud won the National Book Award in 1959; Philip Roth’s “Goodbye Columbus” (also stories) won the next year. In the 1970s Bellow (1976) and Singer (1978) would both win the Nobel Prize for Literature, and in the interval the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” (derived from the Yiddish stories of Sholom Aleichem in 1964) would begin an extraordinary run of 3000+ performances.

It would appear that after the rigors of immigration American Jews had finally—in the metaphoric sense—“arrived” in the new world. The enormous success of several generations of Jewish writers, comedians, musical comedians and movie makers in the post-War period would seem to confirm that sense of cultural integration. But it is precisely the persistence of old—that is, old-world and immigrant—obsessions that would be the signature of this apparent success. The earlier experience of downright aliens—that is, recent immigrants—would continue to nourish less tangible forms of alienation in works by Bellow, Malamud, Roth, Woody Allen and the Coen brothers in the post-War period. We will approach these post-War artists after a look at the Eastern European—largely Yiddish—and immigrant tradition that precedes them. Lecture, discussion, short essays.