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Modernist Form and the Myth of Jewification

Modernist Form and the Myth of Jewification

By Neil Levi

"In this bold and original study, Neil Levi offers a radical unsettling of the relations between aesthetic modernism and the anti-Semitic imagination. Exploring the multiple fantasies and projections woven around notions of Judaism, Levi provides a deeply penetrating insight into modern literature’s complex negotiations with the antisemitic imaginary. This is a book no student of modernism should ignore." —Peter Nicholls, New York University

"Modernist Form and the Myth of Jewification is an essential contribution to the recent attempt to analyze the phantasms and ideological formations that configured the Jew as a dirty or polluting influence that supposedly permeated modern culture and played a distinctive role in its aesthetic productions. Levi is addressing issues that go beyond the aesthetic while nonetheless playing an important role in it. His analysis is fine-tuned and convincing both as literary criticism and as ideology critique." —Dominick LaCapra, Cornell University

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 anti-modernist 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.

Hardcover
272 pages
8 black-and-white illustrations
Fordham University Press, 2013
9.1 x 1.1 x 6.2 inches
ISBN 9780823255061
Art History, Literature, Music, Modernism

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