Diaspora and Zionism in Jewish American Literature: Lazarus, Syrkin, Reznikoff, and Roth

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This interdisciplinary study explores the evolving representations of diaspora and Zionism in Jewish American writing from 1880 to the late 20th century. Beginning with the often neglected proto-Zionist verse of Emma Lazarus, through the urban and Holocaust-inflected lyrics of Marie Syrkin and Charles Reznikoff, to the post-assimilationist novels of Philip Roth in the 1990s, Ranen Omer-Sherman analyzes literary responses to the competing claims on the self made by this dual ...

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Overview

This interdisciplinary study explores the evolving representations of diaspora and Zionism in Jewish American writing from 1880 to the late 20th century. Beginning with the often neglected proto-Zionist verse of Emma Lazarus, through the urban and Holocaust-inflected lyrics of Marie Syrkin and Charles Reznikoff, to the post-assimilationist novels of Philip Roth in the 1990s, Ranen Omer-Sherman analyzes literary responses to the competing claims on the self made by this dual allegiance.

He explores ethnic nationalism in the works of Lazarus; history and identity in the prose and verse of Syrkin and her husband Reznikoff; and considers the Jewish writer's relation to the loss of diasporic affliction as an organizing principle for Jewish life in the novels of Roth. Much more than just literary criticism, Omer-Sherman shows how this literature developed in direct relation to crucial phases in Jewish acculturation in the context of nativism, xenophobia, the holocaust, and a beckoning distant homeland.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Ranen Omer-Sherman is Assistant Professor of English and Jewish Studies at St. Louis University, Madrid. He has published numerous articles and reviews on 20th-century American Jewish literature.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
1 "Thy People Are My People": Emma Lazarus, Zion, and Jewish Modernity in the 1880s 15
2 "It Will Not Be the Saving Remnant": Marie Syrkin and the Post-Holocaust Politics of Jewish American Identity 68
3 Convivencia, Hybridity, and the Jewish Urban Modernist 110
4 "Palestine Was a Halting Place, One of Many": Diasporism in Charles Reznikoff's Nine Plays and Beyond 151
5 "No Coherence": Philip Roth's Lamentations for Diaspora 191
6 "A Stranger in the House": Assimilation, Madness, and Passing in Roth's Figure of the Pariah Jew in Sabbath's Theater (1995), American Pastoral (1997), and The Human Stain (2000) 234
Conclusion: Jewish Dreaming, Jewish Geography in a Transitional Age 267
Notes 283
Works Cited 315
Index 335
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2006

    exceptionally penetrating study

    A timely volume, widely researched, with a valuable bibliography, stylistically elegant, intellectually challenging in content, this book shows all four figures in a fresh complexity¿ this book, a recipient of the Koret publication award, would be a profitable college textbook and of supreme value to anyone versed or interested in the study of literature, Jewish or otherwise.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2005

    Diaspora and Zionism in Jewish American Literature: Lazarus, Syrkin, Reznikoff, and Roth

    A prodigiously-researched and ground-breaking work of cultural theory offering hearfelt interpretations of neglected literary texts...demonstrates the complicated relationship between Diaspora and Zionism is central to the study of Jewish American literary modernism.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2004

    Diaspora and Zionism in Jewish American Literature: Lazarus, Syrkin, Reznikoff, and Roth

    'A rich and nuanced analysis of the politics of Jewish American writing.' -- Journal of American Literature

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2004

    Diaspora and Zionism in Jewish American Literature: Lazarus, Syrkin, Reznikoff, and Roth

    'As an explicator of the literature that engages in such themes, Omer-Sherman is well informed and often perceptive.' --Journal of Israeli History

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2004

    Diaspora and Zionism in Jewish American Literature: Lazarus, Syrkin, Reznikoff, and Roth

    Diaspora and Zionism in Jewish American Literature charts the course of Jewish American literature as it meanders between several poles: assimilation and tribalism, universalism and particularism, exilic uprootedness and national athomeness, private experience and collective identity. It offers a broad view that stretches from the late nineteenth century to the present and encompasses all major literary genres. And what it achieves in scope is not at the expense of depth: the study zooms in on four writers who represent different positions on the Jewish American ideological spectrum and whose works it analyzes with meticulous care. Omer-Sherman is at his best when he unpacks the complex, often agonized tensions that subtend each writer¿s construction of Jewish American identity. He shows how Emma Lazarus, the first major Jewish poet in the United States,was torn between her belief in universalism and her proto-Zionist program,between her desire to assimilate and her pained recognition of her marginality.He discusses how decades later, against the backdrop of the Holocaust,essayist and poet Marie Syrkin expressed a firmer commitment to Zionism,insisting on the ``weakness¿¿ of the diasporic Jew and regarding Israel as the inevitable telos of Jewish progression from collective tragedy to collective redemption. And yet, particularly in her later years, Syrkin was forced to confrontthe failure of this Utopian vision as Israel moved away from the principles of socialist Zionism to which she so tenaciously clung. Wedded to Syrkin but not to her Zionist ideology, poet and playwright Charles Reznikoff is shown to have proposed an alternative vision to his Jewish audience. Against the grain of what he regarded as the coercive narrative of Zionism, Reznikoff celebrated the extraterritorial and hybridic character of the Jewish experience,and the anti-utopian, pluralist potential embedded in its culture. Finally, Omer- Sherman turns to Philip Roth, to show how his novels playfully (yet painfully)deconstruct both Syrkin¿s Zionism and Reznikoff¿s ``diasporism.¿¿ Roth repeatedly questions the ethical validity of Zionist ``zealotry¿¿ but also expresses skepticism about the possibility of a vital Jewish diaspora in the United States, given the complacency that governs its existence.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2002

    Jewish American Literature

    Ranen Omer-Sherman is one of our most perceptive literary critics. This vibrant study teaches us a lot about cultural theory, as well as about literary criticism. We are able to appreciate how the background of the Jewish Diaspora and Zionism contribute to similar themes in the work of writers as diverse as Emma Lazarus, Marie Syrkin, Charles Reznikoff, and Philip Roth. Dichotomies in the literature of these writers become multi-layered when viewed from Omer-Sherman's broad perspective. For example, the chapter titled, "'No Coherence': Philip Roth's Lamentations for Diaspora," illuminates many relational dynamics between the novelist and his forebears, between questions raised about Roth's characters and what Omer-Sherman terms "Jewish assimilation and amnesia." With skill Professor Omer-Sherman connects to the literary imagination such events as the Shoah and the birth of Israel, the problem of identity in Israel and the Jewish world as a whole. It is a terrific read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2002

    Diaspora and Zionism in Jewish American Literature: Lazarus, Syrkin, Reznikoff, and Roth

    Ranen Omer-Sherman is one of our most perceptive literary critics. The book teaches us a lot about cultural theory, as well as about literary criticism. We are able to appreciate how the background of the Jewish Diaspora and Zionism contribute to similar themes in the work of writers as diverse as Emma Lazarus, Marie Syrkin, Charles Reznikoff, and Philip Roth. Dichotomies in the literature of these writers become multi-layered when viewed from Omer-Sherman's broad perspective. For example, the chapter titled, ''No Coherence': Philip Roth's Lamentations for Diaspora,' illuminates many relational dynamics between the novelist and his forebears, between questions raised about Roth's characters and what Omer-Sherman terms 'Jewish assimilation and amnesia.' With skill Professor Omer-Sherman connects to the literary imagination such events as the Shoah and the birth of Israel, the problem of identity in Israel and the Jewish world as a whole. It is a terrific read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2002

    Diaspora and Zionism in Jewish American Literature: Lazarus, Syrkin, Reznikoff, and Roth

    Omer-Sherman¿s study is the first to track the impact of Zionism upon the development of Jewish American literature. Where earlier scholars have written about the American Jewish experience by probing the tensions existing between tradition and assimilation, Omer-Sherman shifts the terms of the argument: he demonstrates that an investigation of American Jewish negotiations with Zionism tells us something new about the self-fashioning of a culture. Most strikingly, by mapping the identity struggles of American Jews onto the dichotomy Zionism/Diaspora, Omer-Sherman is able to analyze, in great and telling detail, how representative writers have carved out a Jewish `homeland¿ in America. ¿Stephen Fredman, author of A Menorah for Athena

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2002

    Diaspora and Zionism in Jewish American Literature: Lazarus, Syrkin, Reznikoff, and Roth

    The tension between Diaspora Jewish identity and the rise of political and cultural Zionism in the United States played itself out as much in the world of American Jewish culture as in the world of politics. Ranen Omer-Sherman uses four case studies: Lazarus, Syrkin, Reznikoff and Roth, to illustrate the complex history of a Jewish identity on the American frontier. The span of the book is breathtaking, its execution, elegant.¿Sander L. Gilman, Director, The Humanities Laboratory, The University of Illinois, Chicago

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