YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

February 3, 2015

Jews not killed for “just being Jews”?

SammyrunThis blog continues https://clarespark.com/2015/01/18/is-antisemitism-rational-or-irrational/. I add to the prior blog that such historians as Deborah Lipstadt (in Beyond Belief) have alleged that Jews were killed for “just being Jews.” This is true insofar as all Jews, including the most assimilated or atheistic, are viewed by their enemies as a illegitimately powerful “race” inexplicably surviving and thriving for thousands of years. But as a statement directed at a broad audience, it requires a more complex and contextualized elaboration. (This blog will be different from my previous discussions of antisemitism thanks to my son-in-law Maimon Chocron, whose emphasis on Jewish survival and astonishingly rapid upward mobility, seen as “unnatural” by antagonists, sent me off in unanticipated new directions.)

Briefly, “the Jews” (preferring “individual rights” over “stability”) always represented a threat as declared by rulers/demagogues: intellectual combativeness, revolutionary socialism, finance capitalism/the power of money (for Hitler, the real force behind the Soviet Union), modernity, Woman, globalism, the madness induced by urban life, the “anti-race” (Hitler) which means they were internationally cohesive and allegedly not loyal to their “nations” of temporary residence, or worse, “unnatural” and hostile to Nature itself, and to the natural order of things.

And the natural order of things is “The Great Chain of Being,” in which each of us knows her or his place. “It ain’t natural” to defy, let alone “dominate” the Great Mother Nature (see https://clarespark.com/2015/03/21/great-goddess-feminism-the-phyllis-chesler-model/). “Natural harmony,” like “the [tightly woven] social fabric,” must be preserved, at all costs. No wonder Jack the Ripper was surmised to have been a “low class Polish Jew” Aaron Kosminski (as reported in The Independent).

Aaron Kosminski: 19th C image

Aaron Kosminski: 19th C image

In other words, whereas peasants from Southeastern and Central Europe could immigrate to America and gradually climb up the class ladder, Jews seemed to their envious fellow-immigrants to be uncanny; how was it possible to go from poverty to great riches and cultural power in one generation? This is memorialized in Budd Schulberg’s popular novel What Makes Sammy Run. They must be greedy crooks, right? as shown in Once Upon a Time in America (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Once_Upon_a_Time_in_America). After all, Budd’s father, B. P. Schulberg was not an immigrant. Wikipedia doesn’t even see him as Jewish: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._P._Schulberg. For a very recent review of Schulberg’s novel (understandably condemned by the CP for anti-Semitism), see http://inverarity.livejournal.com/265552.html.

Moreover, Herman Melville invited eternal damnation in Moby-Dick when he referred to the pure and placid face of Nature that only masked “the charnel house within.” For this blasphemy (and others) he was furtively read as a Jew or “Hebraic” by leading critics, such as Henry A. Murray and Charles Olson, while one more daring Princeton professor titled his book Melville’s Quarrel With God. To argue with God is tantamount to deicide.

Evan B. Harris, White Whale and Shells

Evan B. Harris, White Whale and Shells

For these reasons, I rank “intellectual combativeness” (a.k.a. the close reading of texts and political moods) to be the key to Jewish success in America. Returning to “Hollywood,” first generation immigrants read the populist/progressive mood that prevailed in their adopted country, saw that upper-class Protestants were busily uplifting the masses to stave off socialism in America, and such as Samuel Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer made movies that catered to popular taste—a backwoods, country taste that Budd Schulberg would hold up to ridicule in A Face in the Crowd, or that Ben Urwand would mock in Sergeant York. See https://clarespark.com/2012/07/03/andy-griffiths-greatest-performance/.

Jon Lomberg's harmonious Great Chain of Being

Jon Lomberg’s harmonious Great Chain of Being

For such reasons, I view antisemitism as both rational and irrational. Jews, as either capitalists or communists, are seen as strange and unfair competitors (the pseudo-“rational” component of antisemitism), while the feelings of Jew haters (the irrational part), contain the residues of ancient, medieval, and modern hostilities.

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June 25, 2014

Penny Dreadful’s sinister significance

Frankensteinpenny-dreadfulIn the US, late 19th century dime novels were the precursors to early movies; while in the UK, their similarly cheap, sensational analogs were “penny dreadfuls” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penny_dreadful).

Surely working class males are not the target audience for the Showtime series Penny Dreadful that is winding up its first season this Sunday; otherwise how can we account for its deliriously positive reception in, say, The New York Times and Vanity Fair?

CoverPennydreadful

When I commented on the postmodern slant of this serialized horror thriller with pretensions to serious high art, one of my Facebook friends groaned. This blog explains why I think the fact of its existence and its considerable success is of more than passing interest. I had thought that horror movies with their vampires, zombies, and werewolves, were for adolescents with kinky tastes. But the successful writer for screen and theater, John Logan, author of the series, is no kid (born 1961), but as a graduate of Northwestern University, he may have been exposed to the techniques of postmodernism, along with a fine cast of actors who probably think that this is a high class production, appropriately critical of this entirely mechanized, overly rational and complacent world we supposedly inhabit. I sometimes think that the production is a postmodern emphasis on “acting” and the theatricality of everyday life, along with the postmodern/youthful preoccupation with “real or fake”–a question I have taken up before on this website. What ever its intentions, it surely plays up the irrational and could not be more emphatically counter-Enlightenment, and even anti-American, particularly “America’s” treatment of its indigenous peoples, cruelly uprooted from their native culture and languages by the (ever imperialistic, expansionist) White Man.

Eva Green as Artemisia in

Eva Green as Artemisia in “300: Rise of an Empire”

The “pomos” deploy pastiche, distort prior genres, and appropriate prior cultural figures at will, all to comment on the horrors of modernity, most famously rendered in the Tory Terror-Gothic genre, and exemplified in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the New Prometheus. Wordsworth and Keats are quoted, while one of the characters is lifted out of Oscar Wilde—Dorian Gray. Significantly, Jack the Ripper hovers over the production, as if the overarching theme is that the social fabric is ripped to shreds by 19th century optimism and confidence in progress through market capitalism. Logan’s target is clearly the empiricism and leftish Romanticism of the 18th and 19th centuries. For the theme of the series, despite its mysterious plot twists and turns and lurid developments, is this: science (including medicine) is destroying our humanity and fellow-feeling, by ignoring the invisible world of demons—the monsters within, and who lead us to perdition when we deny their existence. Even the Catholic Church, possibly represented in the lead character “Vanessa Ives” cannot overcome the unpredictable demon(s) who torments her. And that demon, if we are to believe the publicity surrounding the series, may be inescapable “destiny”–a doctrine opposed by Catholic emphasis on free will and personal responsibility for our actions. Or compare the emphasis on “fate” with Milton’s Mammon, a puritan character who argues for “hard liberty” instead of submission to an unaccountable deity. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/07/09/preconditions-for-hard-liberty/.)

Penny-Dreadful-image-penny-dreadful-36465075-450-253

Prometheus, along with the rest of the Judeo-Christian West, is so over. As for individual moral accountability, that too is gone with the desert wind: we are left with a reproach to God as Frankenstein’s omnivorously reading monster quotes Adam’s lament in the season finale: “O fleeting joys Of Paradise, dear bought with lasting woes! Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay To mould me Man?”[ Paradise Lost, Book 10]. More: in the last words of the season finale, a Catholic priest asks Vanessa (the femme fatale who stands in for the demon-touched, hence “sacred” Romantic artist, i.e., Logan himself) “Do you really want to be normal?”

For in Logan’s Terror-Gothic world, a world shared by many opponents of “modernity”, “reality” exists solely in a chaotic invisible world that is inaccessible to our eyes, brains, and control. Could anything be more reactionary, hence agreeable to antidemocrats?

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