MLA Panel on Jewish American Literature

Inside Higher Education has a very sober account of a panel at the annual Modern Language Association meeting on why English departments tend to ignore American Jewish literature, while spending significant resources on other ethnic literature.  Despite its sobriety, the account left me alternatively laughing and shaking my head (and sometimes both: “Jewishness has been associated with Israel, white privilege, colonialism and racism”) at the banal idiocies of modern academia.

One serious point raised in the article is that Holocaust studies dominates the study of Jewish literature.  I remember when I was a student at Brandeis, with what was then the top Jewish Studies department in the country, by far the most popular Jewish Studies course, and one of the most popular courses in the entire university, was a course on the history of the Holocaust.  It says something disturbing and unhealthy about American Jewish life that for both Jews and non-Jews, a three thousand year old living tradition and culture is so reduced to the horrific events of the mid-twentieth century.

UPDATE: And here’s a cogent comment on the IHE piece from one “Michael Greenspan”:

What most strikes this non-academic is the reasoning with which some of those quoted argue for greater study of Jewish literature. Prof. Cutter points not to great Jewish writers but to Jewish traumas. Prof. Hoffman appears to accept the logic that a group’s “marginal status” decides whether that group’s literature is worthy of study. This attitude — that the greater the group’s perceived success, the less deserving of attention the art produced by members of that group — is remarkably small-minded. And if suffering supplies cachet, no wonder that “Holocaust literature . . . should be so much more present — in literature departments in the United States — than American Jewish fiction and culture.” How could it be otherwise?