The Jewish Writer and the English Literary Tradition: A Symposium: Part I
In an article in the May number of COMMENTARY, Leslie A. Fiedler raised the question of the Jew’s relation as writer and reader to a literary tradition which from Chaucer to T. S. Eliot is shot through with the notion of the Jew as a creature of darkness, deceit, and corruption. The fact that this problem is rarely brought into the open only attests, we believe, to its importance; one way or another, every Jew operating within the English literary tradition has had to face it. Most recently, it has confronted us in the controversy over the awarding of the Bollingen Prize for American poetry to Ezra Pound, and in T. S. Eliot’s latest plea for an aristocratic and homogeneous Christian culture.
COMMENTARY has asked a number of Jewish writers to take up this problem in the form of a symposium, reporting briefly on how they deal with it both personally and in their work. About twenty writers have responded and their responses will be published in two groups, the first group appearing below and the remainder to follow next month.
The question presented to these writers was as follows:
As a Jew and a writer working within the Anglo-American literary tradition, how do you confront the presence in that tradition of the mythical or semi-mythical figure of The Jew, as found, for example, in the works of such writers as Chaucer, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Walter Scott, Trollope, T. S. Eliot, Evelyn Waugh, Thomas Wolfe, Henry Adams, etc.? Do you find this an important block or barrier to your full participation and integration, as a writer or a person, in the literary or cultural tradition involved? In what ways, if any, does this constitute a problem for you, and how do you deal with it, or think it should be dealt with? If you do not find it a problem or think it a problem, why not?—ed.
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