Jewish Anxiety and the Novels of Philip Roth

Published February 26, 2015

“In Jewish Anxiety and the Novels of Philip Roth, Brett Kaplan offers a timely reassessment of the notion of 'Jewish anxiety.' Roth's fiction, Kaplan brilliantly argues, exposes an essential contradiction in contemporary Jewish moral life, often displaced into his representations of race, gender, and sexuality. By moving beyond the conventional account of how Roth returns to the mid-century past-how the Jews Roth writes about are driven by fear that anti-Semitism may again victimize Jews as the millions were in the Holocaust-Kaplan engages Roth in ongoing history. She uncovers in his fiction an antithetical anxiety among Jews who confront how Jewish actions during the Israel-Palestine conflict may victimize others. Kaplan's exceptional historical insight enables her to discern in the politics of Roth's novels the manifold ways in which the contemporary Jew may experience moral ambivalence. Kaplan's book will change the way that readers think about Roth and the Jews.” –  Debra Shostak, Mildred Foss Thompson Professor of English Language and Literature, The College of Wooster, USA

“This is a perceptive, perspicacious, and provocative book that offers fresh, persuasive readings of many of Roth's key works. Kaplan has read widely and thought carefully about the tensions that animate Roth's work and her study will be very valuable to both scholars and students.” –  David Brauner, Professor of Contemporary Literature, The University of Reading, UK

“This engaging study of dual anxiety in Roth's work – linked to victimization and perpetration -- breaks new ground in its analysis of his fiction. Widening the complex nature of anxiety and linking it to race and history, Kaplan successfully shows Roth's strategies in facing the complex double bind of his characters.” –  Ira B. Nadel, Professor of English, University of British Columbia, Canada

“Jewish Anxiety and the Novels of Philip Roth suggests that Roth's oeuvre shows the urgency needed to examine central social and cultural concerns such as race, gender, capitalism, terrorism, and genocide. These universal problems are tied up with unique individuals wrestling with overwhelming anxiety of victimhood and perpetration. … How does Kaplan relate remembering to the heroism of Roth's characters that is expressed in almost psychotic rebelliousness against moving on? Does wrestling with the self and with acculturation create an option to remember and usher in a new form of historical relevance and responsibility? In relation to The Human Stain, Kaplan specifically writes that Roth develops a bleak vision and according to it our belonging to the world is disclosed by the stain: 'there is no hope for redemption or reconciliation. Roth thus demonstrates how we are all stained with the blood of our past and with the immobility of that past.” –  Philip Roth Studies

Unwanted Beauty Aesthetic Pleasure in Holocaust Representation

Published  2007

“Kaplan’s stance that the work of memory is enriched by aesthetic pleasure offers a fresh perspective in a field that conversely emphasizes how second-generation witnesses are drawn by the desire to feel the Holocaust’s horror in order to sustain its legacy. Her astute readings of the relation between memory, mourning, and witnessing the Holocaust also Christianity provide keen insights into the intersection between trauma and the aesthetic complexities of the artwork. Unwanted Beauty is a significant contribution not only for scholars of the Holocaust, but also for those interested in the interplay between aesthetics, witnessing, and historical violence.” -- Eric Kligerman, Women’s Studies Quarterly

"A provocative meditation on a fraught subject . . . essential reading for scholars and artists searching for the impossible line between what Susan Sontag has termed an 'easy delight' in the contemplation of atrocity, and the illuminating potential of the aesthetic. Kaplan goes beyond what Holocaust scholars have named the 'crisis of representation,' and beyond the prevalent demonization of beauty in art about the Holocaust, to show that an 'unwanted' or disturbing beauty can ward off forgetting and that pleasure need not preclude understanding." -- Marianne Hirsch, Columbia University

 

"Plumbs more profoundly, more insightfully than any single work I know, the questions of aesthetics that have simultaneously frustrated and shaped our study of Holocaust art and literature. Informed deeply by age-old philosophical debates of mimetic pleasure, Kaplan also brings a fresh and keen eye to contemporary art and literature. Gracefully and lucidly written in its own right, her argument for more representation and beauty, not less, pushes the entire conversation to a higher, more challenging level still. I recommend it wholeheartedly." -- James E. Young, author of The Texture of Memory

 

"Addresses head-on the vexing problem of how to represent historical trauma in art. Kaplan's five lucidly written chapters on canonical Holocaust writers, artists, and key debates about Holocaust representation are provocative and meticulously executed." -- Ulrich Baer, author of Spectral Evidence: The Photography of Trauma

"This book is a gracefully written addition to the growing discourse on aesthetic anxiety in relation to the representation of atrocity and traumatic events such as war, genocide, famine, hurricanes, and other forms of natural disaster or man-made violence. . . . Kaplan's text tackles a large and ambitious subject that has broad and important implications today." -- H-German 

 

"Confronted with the enormity of the questions posed by the Holocaust it is inevitable that we experience the difficulty of understanding. . . . Kaplan confronts the inevitable difficulty of understanding and reminds us that should we ever cease trying, then indeed we would be lost." -- Art and Christianity