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Are There Too Many Jewish Writers?

Are There Too Many Jewish Writers?

The author Gabriel Brownstein takes up the old question — are you a Jewish writer, or just "a writer"? — in an interesting essay for The Millions. He goes over well-trodden territory, like the rea difficulty the first popular class of American Jewish writers — Roth, Bellow and Malamud — had accepting this label.

Despite the fact that their work traded heavily in Jewish characters, they felt their stories were fundamentally universal in nature. Or at least, pace Roth, about America writ large and the challenges of assimilating into it. Many minorities or class groups had that struggle; and there wasn’t anything particularly Jewish about it, Roth once suggested (or at least he publicists did).

Fast forward to today, and most prominent Jewish writers seem focused on their uniqueness, the distinct privilege of their "otherness." Whether it’s Michael Chabon of Jonathan Safran Foer, so many of our best Jewish writers are all about exploring their Jewish roots, even touting them.

Not Brownstein, though. He’d like a return to some of the good ol’ ambivalence of Roth, Bellow and the rest. For at least they had a fight. For them, Brownstein suggests, it was about struggling against a culture that could care less if you were a Jewish, or even disliked the fact that you were.

Roth and Co. were hungry to assimilate and taste the real fruits of American, yet still were wary that it might cost them their Jewishness. Brownstein wants a return to that ambivalence. He argues that it’s no longer unique to be Jewish; we’re accepted, even enamored at times. Sounds like Brownstein is really saying: when you win, you lose.

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