The Jewish Decadence: Jews and the Aesthetics of Modernity 9780226581118

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The  Jewish Decadence

The  Jewish Decadence Jews and the Aesthetics of Modernity

Jonathan Freedman

The University of Chicago Press  C h i c a g o & L o n d o n

The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637 The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London © 2021 by The University of Chicago All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations in critical articles and reviews. For more information, contact the University of Chicago Press, 1427 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637. Published 2021 Printed in the United States of America 30 29 28 27 26 25 24 23 22 21   1 2 3 4 5 isbn-­13: 978-­0-­226-­58092-­0 (cloth) isbn-­13: 978-­0-­226-­58108-­8 (paper) isbn-­13: 978-­0-­226-­58111-­8 (e-­book) DOI: Library of Congress Cataloging-­in-­Publication Data Names: Freedman,  Jonathan, 1954– author. Title: The Jewish decadence : Jews and the aesthetics of modernity / Jonathan Freedman. Description: Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2021. | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2020053635 | ISBN 9780226580920 (cloth) | ISBN 9780226581088 (paperback) | ISBN 9780226581118 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Decadence (Literary movement) | Civilization, Modern—Jewish influences. Classification: LCC PN56.D45 F74 2021 | DDC 809/.911—dc23 LC record available at ♾ This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48-­1992 (Permanence of  Paper).

For my family and all who’ve cared for me, with thanks to the friends who helped this book come to life


Preface, by Daniel Hack and Amy Hungerford  ix Introduction: “Our Two-­Step Is the Modern Decadence!” 1 1  Qu’est-­ce que c’est la décadence? And What Does It Have to 20 Do with Jews? 2 Oscar Wilde among the Jews 50 3 Salomania and the Remaking of the  Jewish Female Body 82 from Sarah Bernhardt to Betty Boop 113 4 Coming Out of  the  Jewish Closet with Marcel Proust 5 Pessimism,  Jewish Style: Jews Reading Schopenhauer 149 from Freud to Bellow 180 6 Walter Benjamin’s Paris, Capital of  Jewish Aesthetic Modernity 206 7 Dybbuks, Vampires, and Other Fin-­de-­Siècle Jewish Phantasms Conclusion: The Deca-­danse; or, The Afterlife of the  Jewish Decadent 226 Notes  253 Index  281


The book in your hands is a labor of  love. For upward of thirty years,  Jonathan Freedman has brought news of the vital, resurgent, brilliant presence of  Jewish life and thought in literature of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-­first centuries. In four monographs and multiple edited volumes, he has ranged across genres high and low—­from the novels of Henry James and the films of Alfred Hitchcock to klezmer bands and French cabarets. A keen interpreter and historian of criticism, he has shown how Jewish intellectuals shaped their times and the institutions we still inhabit today, despite the forces arrayed against their presence and their points of view. His uncontainable gift for language brings art, culture, and a vast cast of characters to life on the page. As few critics can, he connects his readers to his ideas and subjects with the appeal of a friend, by turns gossipy, argumentative, erudite, and lyrical. We are delighted to welcome The Jewish Decadence into the world alongside Jonathan Freedman’s previous monographs: Professions of Taste: Henry James, British Aestheticism, and Commodity Culture; The Temple of Culture: Assimilation and Anti-­Semitism in Literary Anglo-­America; and Klezmer America: Jewishness, Ethnicity, Modernity. Returning here to his enduring interest in aestheticism, Freedman identifies and constellates traces in the archives of cultural history to show how Jewish creativity and  Jewish experience flowed into and reshaped the mainstream of Anglo-­American and French culture at the dawn of the twentieth century. Ranging widely, he tracks the ways Jewish thinkers, writers, performers, and their familiars, from Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt to Marcel Proust and the creators of Betty Boop, found rich materials for self-­making in fin-­de-­siècle European decadence. Freedman


The book in your hands is a labor of  love. For upward of thirty years,  Jonathan Freedman has brought news of the vital, resurgent, brilliant presence of  Jewish life and thought in literature of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-­first centuries. In four monographs and multiple edited volumes, he has ranged across genres high and low—­from the novels of Henry James and the films of Alfred Hitchcock to klezmer bands and French cabarets. A keen interpreter and historian of criticism, he has shown how Jewish intellectuals shaped their times and the institutions we still inhabit today, despite the forces arrayed against their presence and their points of view. His uncontainable gift for language brings art, culture, and a vast cast of characters to life on the page. As few critics can, he connects his readers to his ideas and subjects with the appeal of a friend, by turns gossipy, argumentative, erudite, and lyrical. We are delighted to welcome The Jewish Decadence into the world alongside Jonathan Freedman’s previous monographs: Professions of Taste: Henry James, British Aestheticism, and Commodity Culture; The Temple of Culture: Assimilation and Anti-­Semitism in Literary Anglo-­America; and Klezmer America: Jewishness, Ethnicity, Modernity. Returning here to his enduring interest in aestheticism, Freedman identifies and constellates traces in the archives of cultural history to show how Jewish creativity and  Jewish experience flowed into and reshaped the mainstream of Anglo-­American and French culture at the dawn of the twentieth century. Ranging widely, he tracks the ways Jewish thinkers, writers, performers, and their familiars, from Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt to Marcel Proust and the creators of Betty Boop, found rich materials for self-­making in fin-­de-­siècle European decadence. Freedman

x  Preface

renders them with an incomparably humane imagination, interpreting their struggles and glories as defiant responses to an aesthetic movement that saw decay and decline in their very ways of being. To preface this joyful book is also to acknowledge a loss. Just after the manuscript of The Jewish Decadence was sent to editors at the University of Chicago Press, Jonathan Freedman suffered a catastrophic stroke. It left him unable to bring the book through the publication process himself, and though we can celebrate its publication with him, he cannot be the full participant in its reception that he would surely have been. In addition to celebrating this book, our task and our privilege is to thank the many people whose hands touched it as we carried the manuscript, together, to publication. First among them is Sara Blair, who, along with Jonathan himself, gave us permission to take on the project of manuscript preparation. Sara’s intellectual companionship, as conversation-­and life-­partner to Jonathan, marks many of these pages, even as her advocacy and care for Jonathan in the last three years have ensured that he, and the book, survive. Rona Johnston was our copyeditor extraordinaire. Her passion for precision, devoted bibliographic legwork, and eye for translation ensured that the book’s underpinnings were documented and strong. Her work on the early chapters streamlined the introductions of the book’s main protagonists so that the critical narrative could develop smoothly. What we came to call, lovingly, Jonathan’s fire-­hose sentences, remain, their wonders only slightly tweaked so that we can all keep up with him. Hayley O’Malley gathered images and permissions with diligence, ingenuity, and good cheer. Ethan Goldstein expertly provided some needed omnibus notes and adjustments in the discussions of Proust, responding to the comments of one of the press’s generous readers, Maurice Samuels, who connected us with Ethan and helped ensure we were on the right track in revisions related to the French materials. Anita Norich checked Yiddish sources and details. The University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and Department of English Language and Literature provided generous financial support, with Jane Johnson working her bureaucratic magic to help make that happen. Daniel Hack and Amy Hungerford together coordinated the work and reviewed the manuscript at each stage, working both with this group of collaborators and with the press. Finally, Alan Thomas and James Toftness at the University of Chicago Press were open to this unorthodox process of manuscript preparation, trusting us to respond to readers’ reports and making it possible for Jonathan’s years of research and writing to bear fruit in publication.

Preface  xi

The Jewish Decadence is Jonathan Freedman’s scholarly gift to readers, and to the literature and culture he has loved, studied, taught, and kibitzed about throughout his brilliant career. Its publication will make it possible for us to keep listening and responding to his illuminations and provocations for years to come. Daniel Hack and Amy Hungerford


“Our Two-­Step Is the Modern Decadence!”

I can best account for the origins of this book by taking us back in time. In 1908 a Yiddish periodical called Der kibitser, published on New York’s famed Lower East Side, printed a little poem. Parodying the group of earnest poets and writers who called themselves di yunge—­“the youth”—­the lyric, speaking in their voice, cheerfully enumerates as it embraces the charges that were leveled against them. Here is Ruth Wisse’s translation: Call us Yunge, Call us goyim As you will. Write reviews, write criticism, To your fill. No! We’ll not perform Tradition’s dance. Our two-­step is the modern Decadence! From the void From aery nothing From the abyss Lacking form, without much grace Or artifice, Our verse, too proud perhaps, And happenstance

2  Introduction

Will tunefully accompany our Decadence!1

As a student of the fin-­de-­siècle imagination—­the subject of my first book—­ and of the response of Jews to high and popular culture—­the subject of the next two—­I was struck as perhaps no other critic would be by the Kibitser’s conflation of  Jews and decadent art. And it was not just the fact of that conflation that caught my eye. I was impressed by the sophistication of the response, for the poem not only references decadence in a general sense, but also invokes a crucial piece of  “decadent” imagery, the dance. As Frank Kermode reminded us long ago, for the likes of  Joris-­Karl Huysmans, Oscar Wilde, Paul Verlaine, Stéphane Mallarmé, Arthur Symons, and early W. B. Yeats, dance—­and particularly the dancing woman—­serves as a powerful metonym for art, for poetry, for a louche sexuality inflecting both.2 The Kibitser lampoon doesn’t just reflect a high-­level knowledge of the commonplaces of soi-­disant decadence; it also comments on them. The oxymoronic trope “the modern Decadence” is no doubt intended as a comic conflation of opposing literary impulses and cultural traditions, yet at the same time it’s enormously perceptive in its understanding of the role of decadence within the fin-­de-siècle at large. With its interest in what we would call alterna­ tive lifestyles, its fascination with death, its resolute resistance to Whiggish narratives of cultural progress or Enlightenment narratives of the triumph of reason, its formalist understanding of art and adoration of ornament, its conflation of art and life—­decadence (and its ancillary cognates “aestheticism” or “fin-­de-­siècle”) may best be thought of as the beachhead of what we call “modernity,” at least in that guise under which modernity masquerades as “modernism.” But whence, I wondered, came the familiarity shown by these Lower East Siders—­shoemakers or factory workers by day, poets and polemicists by night—­with the highest of high cultural figures like Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, and Ernest Dowson, and with a literary and cultural movement alien to, if not seemingly contemptuous of, their lives and experiences? Was this sophisticated and wide-­ranging knowledge a significant cultural indicator or just a matter of a few Lower East Side cultureniks showing off ? More generally, was their response part of a greater and more meaningful movement in Jewish culture at large, extending beyond New York or even America to the established and establishing centers of Jewish thought and cultural practice? And if so, did it have a broad effect in the gentile world in which many Jews were moving, and to which many of them fully assimilated?

“Our Two-­Step Is the Modern Decadence!”  3

The more I have worked on these issues, the more I have come to answer these last questions in the affirmative and (more importantly) to see how rich with implication all these questions prove to be. The conjunction of decadence, aestheticism, and their cognate and correlative cultural movements was indeed also apparent in other centers of Jewish cultural production and dissemination—­in London, Vienna, Warsaw, Paris, Berlin, Odessa. This makes intuitive sense. As Jewish writers, artists, and intellectuals made their way into metropolitan places of cultural production and exchange, they engaged fully with a culture obsessed with decadence in its widest set of manifestations, literary, philosophical, medical, and political. What surprised me as I worked on the subject was just how fruitful that response was in the making of  Jewish cultural life—­and beyond. From Caesare Lombroso or Max Nordau through Sigmund Freud and his circle, from Proust to Isaac Bashevis Singer, from Italo Svevo through Saul Bellow, from S. An-­Sky through A. B. Yehoshua, from Claude Cahun through Patrick Modiano, the tropes, figurations, imaginative structures, concerns, obsessions, and topoi that defined this cultural formation were powerfully expressed, contested, and reworked by Jews at every stage of cultural and social articulation, and Jewish artists, writers, and intellectuals emerged from this encounter with vivid and consequential work of their own. And more: cultural entrepreneurs and idealists from Jewish backgrounds, working at the same time and often in tandem with these figures, helped to create institutions that guided, nurtured, and supported the aestheticist avant-­garde and helped steer the transformation to a culture that saw itself as the embodiment of the modern—­whether individuals like Murray Marks, the Dutch-­born importer who kicked off the blue-­and-­white china craze that was so important to Pre-­Raphaelitism, the career of  Wilde, and the aesthetic of  Whistler; or groups of  Jewish intellectuals who clustered in little magazines like La revue blanche in Paris, which mixed poems by Verlaine and criticism by the young Marcel Proust with avid pro-­Dreyfus commentary; or the Jewish patrons and art dealers and houses in Paris and Berlin and Vienna that sustained the multiform and various movements that defined Impressionist and Postimpressionist art. Although, appropriately enough given the decadent tendency toward ornament and arabesque, there will be many twists and turns along the way, it’s this multiform and complex process I try to trace in the argument that follows. Let me sketch its general shape and implications here. As I’ve given talks drawn from this work, and talked with colleagues, friends, students, and even book editors about it, questions have arisen that complicate further my understanding of this phenomenon. Why, for example, use the term decadence? Indeed, the

4  Introduction

very term (like the period) is a conceptual mishmash. If you asked a cultivated observer in America, England, Western Europe, Italy, or the Russian Empire what the term decadence meant, they would have both a very specific and a very general nest of concepts in mind. Specifically, they would probably tell you it refers to a group of poets, writers, artists, and critics whose self-­consciously artificial work was obsessed with sex, death, decline, or decay. Decadent art and literature, the more daring would admit, celebrated (sometimes in coded terms) male homosexuality (Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray), lesbianism (Catulle Mendès’s Méphistophéla), and cross-­dressing (Théophile Gautier’s Mademoiselle de Maupin), not to mention necrophilia (Edgar Allan Poe), sadism (Gustave Moreau, Wilde), fetishism (the Pre-­R aphaelites, and for that matter just about everyone), and so on. More cerebral types would have noted that this sex and gender play was just the tip of the cultural iceberg, that decadence in the local or general sense included among its adherents a bewildering set of  literary, artistic, and philosophical movements, cliques, and cabals, most of them written in capital letters: Symbolism, Pre-­Raphaelitism, Impressionism (literary, artistic, both at the same time), Aestheticism, Parnassianism, Acmeism, Secessionism, and so on. More generally still, they would have connected decadence with a number of larger notions and forms—­not just social decline à la Max Nordau, but also philosophic pessimism à la Arthur Schopenhauer, chromatic and sensual music à la Frédéric Chopin and Richard Wagner (especially the lush passages in Tannhäuser, which no less a critic than Baudelaire instanced as prime examples of emerging decadence), or enigmatic, fantastical symbolic art à la Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon and Gustav Klimt. As Charles Bernheimer points out, even Naturalism à la Zola and George Moore, with its emphasis on human degradation, genetically inherited degeneration, and graphic sexuality, bears more than a passing resemblance to Nineties decadence.3 Given this multiple set of injunctions and imperatives, imaginative experiments, and conflicting group dynamics, why not write, as I did in an earlier book, about this movement under the heading “aestheticism,” or perhaps the general term fin-­de-­siècle—­especially given the loaded and frequently misleading senses in which decadence was used by shocked, if fascinated, contemporaries? While aestheticism, aesthetics, and art-­making are very much at the center of my concerns, and while, like that culture itself, I will be thinking of “decadence” in the context of the fin-­de-­siècle at large, invoking these other terms, I have come to feel, distracts from the dynamics of the moment I’m trying to describe. As Jews entered European and Anglo-­American cultures in the long fin-­de-­siècle, they faced a vexing dilemma. When they confronted decadence

“Our Two-­Step Is the Modern Decadence!”  5

the cultural movement, they also encountered decadence the cultural smear: the claim that Jews were themselves exemplars, if not bearers, of cultural and social decline. With roots in German philosophy and support from the burgeoning eugenics movement, with an impetus from reactionary political movements and from established medical authorities, the identification of Jews as decadent took two opposing forms. On the one hand, they were seen as decayed representatives of a declining race, atavistically clinging to their outmoded rituals and superseded faith. On the other, they were identified as citified, hystericized, sexually dysfunctional avatars of a degenerate futurity. The moment presented acculturating Jews with a discursive double whammy—­and they responded with a multiplicity all their own. Some denounced their denouncers—­Max Nordau’s popular screed Degeneration, for example, discovered degeneracy in just about every cultural production of non-­Jewish Europe, with the implicit agenda of clearing  Jews of the charge of racialized degeneracy, if also with the effect of adding to the notoriety of the movement it set out to denounce. Others internalized this imaginative tendency. Philosopher and cultural critic Otto Weininger took the decadent image of the androgyne and used it to define the Jewish male as a “man/woman” (and led the way for partly Jewish Proust, witty and profound here as ever, to use the man/woman topos to interrogate the structure of desire in the non-­ Jewish social order at large). Still others adopted the topoi of the fin-­de-­siècle to other ends, like Freud, who transformed arch-­anti-­Semite Schopenhauer’s spectacularly pessimistic worldview of universal decline into his own notions of the drive, the power of  Thanatos, and the elaboration of a pessimism that is as metaphysical as it is temperamental. Some used this conjunction as a way to slough off their Jewishness, to craft a new identity as an aesthete, a man or woman of letters, a person of the highest culture and taste irrespective of ethnic or religious origin or identity. Others took it as an occasion to argue for a new form of  Jewish identity altogether, reanimating their art with their connection to Jewishness or building new cultural institutions in which they could simultaneously argue for boundary-­challenging art and  Jewish identity politics, whether Zionist or Dreyfusard in orientation. Whatever path these Jewish critics and artists pursued, it will be my suggestion that responding to a body of thought that saw them as the cause or linchpin of decline and degeneracy generated much of the energy that fueled Jews’ cultural projects and granted them entrée into the zones of high, middle, and low culture between 1870 and 1925. At the same time, however, this ascription enhanced their notoriety in the eyes of reactionaries, traditionalists, and, ultimately, fascists, for whom the combination of decadence and

6  Introduction

Jewishness was manifested in an all-­purpose attack on “degeneracy” that notoriously was directed at Jews and at avant-­gardes across the board, and especially at gay men and lesbians. The give-­and-­take shaped the complex battles fought in this period over such questions as the nature and provenance of art; of populations, eugenically understood or not; of sexuality and its vicissitudes. Another complication to the seemingly straightforward narrative is that it might prove to be dismayingly teleological—­the objection being that my implicit narrative (Jews came, they imbibed, they transformed the cultural productions of decadence) is deeply opposed to the spirit of decadence itself. The imaginative vision of “decadence” reminds us to distrust a Whiggish view of a history that has not necessarily moved in the direction of enlightenment, much less Enlightenment. At its core is a sense of the profound loss of a cultural and artistic glory that expressed redeemed human, and hence social, relations, as in John Ruskin’s vision of the Middle Ages or Walter Pater’s of the Renaissance, both of which were so influential for Proust. And works of this dispensation remind us that the cult of progress obscures the byways and hidden nooks of history. Hence artists and dramatists like Moreau and Wilde focused on the court of Herod rather than the Second Temple; influential shapers of the decadent ideology hymned the decline of Rome rather than the glory of Empire—­or they turned away from the classical tradition altogether, to Hellenistic Greece or medieval Picardy or the Levant or, as evidenced in Gustave Flaubert’s Salammbô, to the must-­be-­destroyed Carthage (and, to continue with my Jews-­in-­culture theme, the operatic version of Flaubert’s novel was composed by Jewish composer Ernest Reyer and performed by Jewish-­born soprano Lucienne Bréval). Moreover, the process I am describing was a diverse and contradictory one, sustained across emerging and transforming national barriers and linguistic systems, accomplished in so-­called marginal languages like Hebrew and Yiddish as well as established ones like French and English; and undertaken across developing and porous cultural hierarchies that were in this period reticulating into zones we might call high-­, middle-­, and low-­brow. As Matthew Potolsky has argued, “decadence” is perhaps the first transnational, cosmopolitan literary/cultural formation in the West and its adjacent precincts that understood itself as such.4 Narrativizing, in any case, involves simplifying this process, smoothing it out to just one or two national or cultural contexts, rather than encountering these broad and contradictory imaginative productions in their full complexity. I do acknowledge these two difficulties. I want to respond methodologically to the first, the critique of a premature teleology, and in terms of my subject

“Our Two-­Step Is the Modern Decadence!”  7

matter to the second, the issue of cultural hierarchies. With respect to the former, I try to cleave to the decadent example by stressing—­by dwelling on, even—­the rich idiosyncrasies of individual texts in whatever cultural venue in which they might be lodged. I do so not only because the idea of detaching the practices of close reading from the Protestant framework in which they originated (Ruskin and Pater) and applying them as well to the social and the psyche (Proust and Freud) is a product of the time and milieu I am focusing on here, but also because the texts in question themselves participate in this protocol by embedding complexities of interpretation in their own modes of articulation. That is to say that even if I can’t tame my own yen for narrative, the texts I am dealing with—­involuted, detail-­obsessed, spatially oriented, formally extravagant—­may serve to keep it in check, and although what I offer here is something of a series of episodes in a cultural history that has not to my knowledge been previously told, my narrative will not hesitate to pause over specific moments in specific texts—­visual as well as verbal—­as a way of making the arguments as richly studded with the beauty of the specific occasion as are those occasions themselves. As for the latter concern, with the question of “major” versus “minor” literatures and languages posed so urgently by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari,5 I have done what I can to supplement my (Western-­) Eurocentrism, since I too believe that Jewish responses to decadence occur not just among the Westernizing intellectuals but also among Yiddish-­and Hebrew-­speaking poets, novelists, and intellectuals responding to European culture and then, later, devoting themselves to the making of a new culture in Palestine and Israel. In their work “decadence” frequently has a different feel than in Western European contexts, not only because it responds to literary and cultural formations emanating from St. Petersburg or the Pale of Settlement, as well as from Paris and Vienna, but also because it responds so immediately to a set of agendas that are different in nature and tonality. Michael Stanislawski has influentially suggested that the matrix of fin-­de-­siècle aestheticism and cosmopolitanism shaped the major figures of early Zionism—­Max Nordau and Ze’ev Jabotinsky in particular, and one can add the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, to the list, not least because he famously invented the concept of Zionism while attending in Paris a performance of Tannhäuser.6 Similarly, Hamutal Bar-­Yosef has traced the links between European decadent poetry and criticism and Hebrew poetry—­including with the first great national poet of Israel, Hayim Nahman Bialik—­and then suggests Israeli literature’s reengagement with decadent tropes in the 1950s “without its authors’ or critics’ being full conscious of the original context of these elements.”7

8  Introduction

Important as these critical interventions are, they only begin to scratch the surface of the connections between the Jewish cultural project and the aesthetic and cultural avant-­gardes of the 1890s. I’ll argue in what follows, for example, that there are elements in S. An-­Sky’s famous play The Dybbuk that don’t make sense unless one reads them in the context of the fin-­de-­siècle culture An-­Sky experienced in Paris, where he lived at the apogee of the Decadent movement, between 1892 and 1898. Isaac Bashevis Singer returns repeatedly to Schopenhauer in order to understand the incomprehensibly cruel events of the preceding decades, particularly in his great (and oddly neglected) philosophical novel Shadows on the Hudson. Similarly, the great contemporary Israeli writer A. B. Yehoshua turns in one of his finest novels, The Liberated Bride (2001), to the thematics of the last fin-­de-­siècle (especially its fascination with incest and exogamy) and, more crucially, to An-­Sky’s The Dybbuk, a central text of the Jewish decadence, to explore the dynamics of race and desire that course through Israel a hundred years later. In surveying these disparate cultural sites, it’s important to stress not their independence but rather the ways that they were produced by shifting networks of cultural exchange in the wake of the massive transfers of people and intellectual energies that accompanied Jewish emancipation, emigration, and aliyah-­fication. These shifts define new patterns of culture-­making but also repurpose older ones. Try as one might, for example, it’s impossible to escape the centrality of Paris to the conjunction I am tracing—­Pascale Casanova’s nomination of Paris as the focal point of the worldwide twentieth-­century Republic of Letters is at times ludicrously self-­validating, but with respect to the fin-­de-­siècle it has an undeniable logic.8 That being said, when considered under the sign of Jewish decadence, Paris doesn’t just function as a cultural beacon; rather, its own culture is revealed as being actively transformed by the waves of Jewish immigration, external or internal—­whether temporary (like An-­Sky) or permanent (like the Polish-­born Natanson family, the sons of which created the crucial avant-­garde and Dreyfusard periodical La revue blanche). Similarly, Berlin, Vienna, and even Bayreuth take on new symbolic and actual valences when they meet lines of contact that stretch from the Pale to Jerusa­ lem rather than from the Pale to Paris. So while I hope to honor my commit­ ment to the so-­called periphery (hardly peripheral from its own point of view, of course), my chief focus will be on the metropole, morphing and transforming along with farther-­flung places. The question of mass culture I raise is, I think, one of the more unexpected issues that arises from the Jewish/decadent conflation. The late years of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth were those in which

“Our Two-­Step Is the Modern Decadence!”  9

popular theater metastasized into mass entertainment; when the film industry grew out of nothing to become a commanding force across nations and cultures; when new technologies and enlarged readerships created a mass market for periodicals and fiction; when the invention of the phonograph made Tin Pan Alley a cultural power. Decadence was, to be sure, largely a high-­cultural phenomenon; indeed, its promotion of art to a near-­cultish status may be said to have served as a powerful reaction-­formation to the rise of mass culture. But the cultural distinctions here are pretty hard to draw. Decadence itself became an object of mass-­cultural fascination, as figures like Wilde and Aubrey Beards­ ley systematically crossed over the line between high-­art affectation and low-­ culture titillation and as visual artists like Moreau and Redon in France and the Pre-­R aphaelites in England used their experimental styles and shocking subject matter to make a name for themselves outside the traditional avenues of patronage and exhibition, and as—­on the other side of the cultural coin—­ filmmakers and tunesmiths played with the tropes of decadence in works serious (Alla Nazimova’s extravagant 1923 film version of Salomé ) and not-­so-­ much (Irving Berlin’s 1909 song hit “Sadie Salome (Go Home)”). Jews were involved in this process up and down the line, and in a number of contradictory ways. With respect to traditional high culture, for example, Jewish art patrons in London and Paris cultivated Impressionist and decadent art rather than that of more established artists, just as they were soon to do with the Postimpressionists. As I shall suggest in greater detail below,  Jewish art dealers in London and Paris helped create new patterns of patronage and payment that sustained an artistic avant-­garde in both capitals and was soon imitated in Berlin and Vienna. At the same time Jews, who had long found success in the increasingly popular theater in France, merged decadent stylings and artistic genius to create a new role of actress-­cum-­celebrity—­I am thinking here obviously of Sarah Bernhardt, at once idol of the aesthetes and adopter of their styles, but I could cite a whole slew of  Jewish actors and actresses who functioned as much as “the muse of the newspaper,” to quote Henry James’s dismissive putdown of Bernhardt.9 Jewish actresses and stars like Alla Nazimova, Ida Rubinstein, and Theda Bara (née Theodosia Goodman, in Cincinnati, Ohio) all also played the role of Salome or its variants (“the vamp”), with important consequences in theater and movies as well as in the (Jewish-­ dominated) fashion industry. That being said, one reason to give in to my own innate desire for narrative and teleology is that, to give the argument one last turn of the screw, the encounter between the discourses of decadence in their broadest manifestations and the imaginative productions of Western Jews doesn’t stop in the 1920s,

10  Introduction

with the rise of high modernism, on the one hand, or campy cinematic extravaganzas, on the other. Rather, it continues to ramify throughout the twentieth century, even as the rise of Nazism gave hideous new expression to the Jew/ decadent equation, the death camps inscribed a horrific model of what the death-­drive could look like, and Zionism and the birth of Israel gave rise to new, explicitly anti-­decadent possibilities of Jewish self-­expression. The imag­ inative constructions wrought in this three-­way encounter between Jews, the culture of decadence, and a putative modernity are remarkably persistent over time, although put to radical new uses in the post-­Holocaust era. I’ll make the argument for this more fully below with respect not only to Singer but to French chanteur, poet, and roustabout Serge Gainsbourg (properly eulogized by no less a figure than François Mitterrand as a successor to Verlaine and Baudelaire) and conclude with a Nobel Prize winner haunted by Jewish dandyism and collaborationism, Patrick Modiano. In asserting the centrality of Jewish decadence for an understanding of modern Jewish culture, and modernity itself, I am certainly not suggesting that the interaction of Jews and Jewishness with mainstream European cul­ ture originated in the fin-­de-­siècle. Through the whole history of Enlighten­ ment and post-­Enlightenment culture,  Jews have been active in cultural produc­ tion and prominent among objects of aesthetic interest on the part of non-­Jews. In the nineteenth century, fiction by writers like Eugénie Foa in France and Berthold Auerbach in Germany was a veritable laboratory for the articulation of  Jewish modernity, representing Jewishness in a language and literary style familiar to a non-­Jewish reading public while also thematizing the social, economic, and erotic dimensions of  Jewish acculturation.10 And as European writers like Honoré de Balzac faced what Richard Terdiman has characterized as the “semiotic disquiet” of the rapidly changing nineteenth-­century cityscape (when the sign, like Baudelaire’s swan, “had escaped from its cage”11), Jewishness became a figure for the increasing dominance of spectacle and artifice.12 The two most common roles for Jewish characters in nineteenth-­ century French literature are prostitute and banker, both semiotic professions par excellence that traffic in the creeping commodification of Parisian life.13 Over the course of the nineteenth century, the belle juive, which from Walter Scott onward had been exoticized as the “sublime type” of Oriental beauty, metamorphosed into Baudelaire’s affreuse juive, whose mortifying eroticism indexed and engendered modernity’s decay.14 Jewish writers, seeking to maintain sociocultural affinities with both Jewish and European society, confronted these tropes in their fiction and criticism alike, making art into a potent arena for self-­fashioning and self-­assertion.15

“Our Two-­Step Is the Modern Decadence!”  11

In the first half of the nineteenth century, Romanticism was a particularly intensive site of entanglement between Jewish cultural production and gentile tropes of Jewishness.16 The composer Fromental Halévy’s iconic 1835 opera La Juive was a major success, a staple of the tradition of French grand opera that was performed over six hundred times in the first century after its debut.17 Along with other Jewish composers like Giacomo Meyerbeer, Halévy pioneered and popularized the genre of French grand opera, and in the mid-­ nineteenth century the comic operettas of Jewish composer Jacques Offenbach would contribute to the formation of a myth of the Parisian boulevards as a site of cultural modernity.18 Halévy’s example inspired another Jewish artist in her navigation of the French cultural mainstream: Elisa Félix, a performer of neoclassical theater, who, in an explicit homage to the titular character of La Juive, adopted Rachel as her stage name.19 The effect, precisely as Rachel had intended, was to make her career into both a symbol of and a referendum on the Jewish appropriation of the most treasured artifacts of French culture. The example of Rachel demonstrates how the participation of Jewish-­identified artists in popular and high artistic forms was an aesthetic flashpoint for debates about Jewish acculturation and European universalism at a moment when Romantic philosophers sought to articulate a unified national Geist. Jewish art, in other words, was never only about Jews or Jewishness, but always also about European culture writ large.20 From the late eighteenth century onward, then,  Jews not only participated in European culture but also helped to define its parameters and central myths. But I argue in this book that something distinctive is happening with the discourse of decadence, something definitive for the social and aesthetic crises of modernity. By the 1880s, with the massive movement of impoverished  Jews from the Russian Pale into the cities of Western Europe and the rise of political anti-­Semitism across Europe, the tensions in the desired bourgeois  Judeo-­ European synthesis had become apparent.21 At the same time, the material and cultural transformations that writers like Balzac and Baudelaire had chronicled in real time (recall that much of Baudelaire’s “Le cygne” is written in the present tense: “Paris change!”) had been largely accomplished with the rise of mass society, rendering the commodifying drive seemingly irresistible in art and life. The flâneur, for instance, who for midcentury writers was an emblem of creative possibility, becomes an alienated figure of mass society’s anomie.22 The discourse of decadence, then, is an attempt to grapple with the nineteenth century after what were seen as its worst drives had been realized. For Jewish artists, the desire to synthesize Jewish and European identities that runs through the work of writers like Grace Aguilar or Moses

12  Introduction

Mendelssohn no longer seemed attainable amid the fin-­de-­siècle’s racialist political turn. Though ineluctably identified with  Jewishness, many of the artists discussed in this book lacked a strong foundation of  Jewish culture upon which to draw. If their predecessors sought to invent strong  Jewish identities, the Jewishness written about and lived by my subjects here operates in many cases on a more tropological or figural level. As with much else in this book, their complicated relationship to Jewishness is best illustrated through an example: an 1841 short story by Godchaux Baruch Weil, who wrote under the pen name Ben-­Lévi, entitled, appropriately, “Grandeur et décadence d’un taleth polonais” (Rise and Fall of a Polish Prayer Shawl).23 Barely two pages long, Ben-­Lévi’s story chronicles shifts in Jewish identification by following the transgenerational itinerary of a tallit (a fringed shawl worn by observant Jews during prayer) as it passes from the pious Père Jacob to his non-­observant but reverent son Jacobi (perhaps an oblique reference to Meyerbeer, who, like Jacobi, “italianized” his name from Jakob to Giacomo), and finally to Jacobi’s own son,  Jacoubé. For the elder Jacob, the tallit is “a precious talisman,” marking sacred moments of birth, marriage, and death “like a veil placed between this world and eternity.” For his grandson Jacoubé, however, who takes on that name “in order to entirely hide his Israelite origin,” the tallit is put to different use.24 Shifting into the present, Ben-­Lévi’s narrator describes the outfit worn by Jacoubé’s dance partner at a costume ball at the Opera: a piece of wool dyed with azure stripes with gold fringes, Père Jacob’s talismanic tallit transformed into a flashy grisette’s vest. The narrator laments “the ungrateful Jacoubé,” but within this declension narrative lies a more complex story about Jewish identity in European high culture. Try as he might,  Jacoubé cannot escape the tallit, “strange and old” and ornamental though it may have become. This book is largely the story of Jacoubé and his children, who may, like Ben-­Lévi’s grand-­nephew Marcel Proust, have had no more than one Jewish-­identified parent, whose primary identification with Jewishness and Judaism may have been to ask, as does Jacoubé, “what is that?” (or worse), but who nonetheless have remained proximate to the garments their predecessors donned. These identifications are much more tenuous and tense than for earlier generations who had hoped for a détente between Jew and European, but they remain an important part of the history of Jews in European culture. Indeed, as I shall argue throughout, it is precisely these troubled Jewish identifications, the tallit’s decadence more than its grandeur, that are most instructive for understanding European modernity as it developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

“Our Two-­Step Is the Modern Decadence!”  13

But before beginning this path, I’d like to conclude this invitation au voyage with the brilliant novelist Albert Cohen, oddly neglected in Anglo-­America but not in France, where his monumental novel Belle du Seigneur—­published in 1968 but written and rewritten for the previous thirty years—­proved a literary sensation. I turn to him here because, better than any other single work I know, this novel brings together all the strands I have been tracing. To this end, I invite you to consider a dance of an entirely different sort. In the last pages of Belle du Seigneur, Ariane, a beautiful, depressive erotomane who has been having a torrid affair with Cohen’s protagonist, the Jewish League of Nations official Solal,  joins her lover in a suicide pact and swallows a fatal dose of poison: And then once more the waltz struck up downstairs, the waltz that had on that first night unfurled its slow, lingering refrain, and she grew dizzy as she danced with her lord, who held her in his arms and led her, danced oblivious to her surroundings, glancing up to admire herself in the tall mirrors as she whirled, elegant, heart-­stopping, a woman who was loved, for she was fair and beloved of  her lord. But her feet grew leaden, and now she was not dancing, could dance no more. . . . Who was holding her legs fast? The numbness worked upwards, and as it rose it spread the chill before it and her breathing grew laboured and there were dewy pearls on her cheek. . . . She tried to move her hand in a gesture of farewell, but could not, her hand had gone before her. “Wait for me,” he said to her from a great distance. “For see, there comes my heavenly king!” she smiled, and she stepped into the mountain church.25

Ringing with echoes of fin-­de-­siècle texts—­Wagner’s “Liebestod” from Tristan und Isolde; Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt and Edvard Grieg’s famous incidental music to the play; Freud’s death-­drive and nirvana principle; Schopenhauer’s argument for the world’s being an illusion, a lure, and a dream—­the moment transforms the dance as an expression of the most consummate eroticism into an expression of the will to negation, a dance of death. Indeed, the dance of death is itself a fin-­de-­siècle topos: the danse macabre is reflected in the many arts of the period, from our many Salomés through Baudelaire’s 1854 poem to Camille Saint-­Saëns’s 1875 tone poem to (in a sense) August Strindberg’s 1900 play The Dance of Death. Cohen’s invocation of the topos sorts with his anatomization of erotic passion; in its understanding of the fine line between desire and banality, between eroticism and self-­contempt, Belle du Seigneur is close

14  Introduction

in spirit and performance to Proust’s Swann in Love, its spiritual forebearer and ironic model (Solal is Swann-­like but Ariane is no Odette). But Ariane’s dance of death has another partner: Solal himself, who drinks of the same draught, then collapses. Here is how the novel concludes: Suddenly his legs buckled and a cold hand nudged him, and he set her down on the bed and lay by her side and kissed her virginal face, softened now by just the shadow of a smile and as beautiful as it had been on that first of their nights, kissed her hand, which was still warm but heavy now, held her hand in his, kept her hand in his until he reached the cellar where a midget was weeping, weeping openly for her comely king who was dying transfixed with nails to the wart-­ studded door, her doomed king who was weeping too, weeping for forsaking his children on earth, his children whom he had not saved, what would they do without him, and suddenly the midget enjoined him in ringing tones, ordered him to offer up the last prayer in accordance with the ritual, for the hour had come. (Belle du Seigneur, 974)

Again, fin-­de-­siècle topoi run through the passage: the erotic pairing of love and death with the faint suggestions of necrophilia could come right out of Edgar Allan Poe or Catulle Mendès; the grotesque image of the dwarf in the basement could be found in a Beardsley cartoon and ironically alludes to Wagner’s underground dwarves tapping away at the opening of Das Rheingold. Here, however, not sexuality but  Jewishness is at stake. Solal has thrown himself into an all-­consuming erotic love with Ariane in part out of disappointment that he has not been able to use his official position to rescue Jews from the Nazi persecution that is unfolding around him. The midget of whom he thinks is the polar opposite of  “Ariane, my Aryan,” as he calls her at one point: she is a Jew named Rachel whom Solal encounters in a surrealistic passage about halfway through the book, when, having for some suicidal reason dressed himself as an orthodox Jew in Nazi Berlin and been beaten by Nazi thugs, he is rescued and healed by her in a chamber of mirrors beneath the city. That he dies thinking of Rachel and hears in his delirium her injunction to say the Shema (the most important act to be accomplished by a living Jew, the last act to be undertaken by any dying Jew) binds him to his status as a Jew, a status he has attempted to contest, negotiate with, affirm, and deny for the past nine hundred pages. Let me end this introduction, then, with Cohen’s waltz of death, and with the recognition that the complicated dance Jewish artists performed with European aestheticist and decadent culture—­a momentary flirtation in the Kibitser poem, bursting into a full-­scale ballroom affair over the next decades—­is

“Our Two-­Step Is the Modern Decadence!”  15

also the complicated dance of European culture with its Jewish subjects even as music turned from a waltz to, as Paul Celan would put it, a death fugue. If Solal recites the Shema at the moment of his death, Cohen chants kaddish not only for Solal but for an entire tradition of the Jewish decadence that precedes and undergirds him, the gloriousness of his own achievement suggesting how intensely it was lived and how great the legacy it left.

Chapter Summaries Chapter One: Qu’est-­ce que c’est la décadence? And What Does It Have to Do with Jews? Definitions of decadence and its ancillaries—­“fin-­de-­siècle,” aestheticism, art for art’s sake—­abound. Rather than offer another, I home in on three elements of the writing, cultural criticism, and art practices of the turn of the nineteenth century that bear special relation to the experience of  Jews: the idea of cultural decline; the critique of sexual and social reproduction; the ideal of what I will call “art for art.” In each case,  Jews are often objects of a discursive stream of putative degeneracy—­authors of cultural decadence; sexual deviants or, worse, over-­reproducers; exemplars of art at its most problematic, like George Du Maurier’s evil musician Svengali. But in all three of these areas,  Jews entered into dialogue with the ways they were being arrayed, emerging with new understandings of the nature and consequences of social decline; of reproduc­ tion and its discontents; and of the making, collecting, and selling of art. Chapter Two: Oscar Wilde among the Jews Oscar Wilde was the poster boy of decadence, and his life and work were permeated by his contacts with Jews, from the first woman to whom he proposed to several of the men who tended him during his final illness. I focus not so much on Wilde himself (who veered between affection and anti-­Semitism in his relations with Jews) as on the Jews who interacted with him—­including visual artists like William Rothenstein, gay littérateurs like Marc-­André Raffalovich and Reggie Turner, and women writers whose work Wilde frequently championed, like Ada Leverson, Amy Levy, and Julia Frankau. For all of these, establishing a relation to Wilde became a way of negotiating a cultural space for themselves as Jews in an England becoming at once more open to cultural and ethnic difference and (not coincidentally) more anti-­Semitic and explicitly homophobic. I conclude with the enthusiastic response of  Jews to the example

16  Introduction

of  Wilde after his death—­one very much in contrast with the neglect and obloquy with which he was posthumously treated by gentiles. Chapter Three: Salomania and the Remaking of the Jewish Female Body from Sarah Bernhardt to Betty Boop From Gustave Moreau’s exhibition of Salome paintings in 1876 through Alla Nazimova’s film in the 1920s, the story of the vengeful Jewish adolescent who demands the head of John the Baptist (and the neo-­striptease Dance of the Seven Veils that accompanied it) emerged into a full-­blown mania in the early years of the twentieth century, in legitimate theater, vaudeville, popular song, and dance as well as literature and art. And from Sarah Bernhardt through balletomane Ida Rubinstein and actresses Theda Bara and Nazimova, many of the most prominent Salomes were themselves Jewish women. As they came to be identified with the role, they also created a new image of the ideal Jewish woman’s body—­slender and androgynous rather than zaftig and maternal. As it passed from Salomania into mass culture via film and such venues as cartoons starring (Jewish-­identified) Betty Boop, this image merged with new inscriptions of femininity to create a powerful trap for assimilating  Jews, influencing attitudes about food and body whose profoundly problematic effects persist to this day. Chapter Four: Coming Out of the Jewish Closet with Marcel Proust There’s no greater example of the intersection between Jewishness and the cultural formations about which I’m writing than the work of Marcel Proust. Half-­Jewish (on his mother’s side) and stereotypically Jewish in appearance (to the euphemistic dismay of his friends) and behavior (given the conflation in the era of homosexuality with artistic practice and Jewishness), Proust self-­ identified as Catholic and eschewed ethnoracial identification of all sorts. But Jews and Jewishness permeate À la recherche du temps perdu, one of whose themes is the replacement of a traditional aristocratic order (which included some Jews, like the self-­destructive Charles Swann) with a new bourgeois one permeated with parvenu Jews, like Marcel’s friend the maladroit Albert Bloch or the hideous actress and former prostitute Rachel. In order to limn this process, Proust engages not only the discourse of decline and degeneration but also the actual cultural productions of the decadent era, from the works of  John Ruskin and the example of Oscar Wilde through that of Charles Baudelaire and other aesthetes of his own moment. In doing so he aims to give an aesthetic

“Our Two-­Step Is the Modern Decadence!”  17

analogue to the process of cultural decline and to work out, through an engagement with both Jewishness and decadence, a new order that affirms in both the social and the artistic realms an unnatural—­a queer—­form of reproduction that proposes new ethnoracial and aesthetic conflations. Chapter Five: Pessimism,  Jewish Style: Jews Reading Schopenhauer from Freud to Bellow Studies of Jewish thought in the early twentieth century locate Nietzsche as a crucial influence on philosophers and theologians. But a strong case could also be made for Nietzsche’s predecessor, the notoriously pessimistic Arthur Schopenhauer, as an inspiration to intellectual and literary Jews of the era, as he was to so many of their decadent and fin-­de-­siècle peers. Georg Simmel and Sigmund Freud both wrestled with Schopenhauer—­the latter productively embedding much of Schopenhauer’s thought in his more outrageous speculations about the nirvana principle and the death-­drive in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. So did novelist Italo Svevo, whose Confessions of Zeno explicitly cites Schopenhauer and implicitly confirms him in its evocations of the intimate undoings of desire. The fin-­de-­siècle yen for Schopenhauer fits in well with a secularizing pessimism evident among Jewish intellectuals of this era. But after World War II, two crucial Jewish writers turn back to Schopenhauer: Isaac Bashevis Singer, who translated Schopenhauer in his youth and claimed to admire him beyond all philosophers, and Saul Bellow, who explicitly names the protagonist of his novel Mr. Sammler’s Planet “Artur” after Schopenhauer. Engagement with Schopenhauer becomes a way of exploring possibilities of nihilism that open up in the wake of the Holocaust—­and, it would seem, embracing as much as struggling with those negative possibilities. Chapter Six: Walter Benjamin’s Paris, Capital of  Jewish Aesthetic Modernity No critic or theorist has been more crucial in theorizing the nature and practices of modernity than Walter Benjamin. To the many influences on Benjamin adduced by critics we can add one so obvious that it seems to go without saying, but is oddly placed in the background: French literature and culture. After all, some of his most important writing focused on the Parisian Arcades, Proust, and above all the poet, critic, and greatest advocate of aestheticism and decadence Charles Baudelaire. Along with this engagement perforce came an engagement with the traditions of anti-­Semitism that infected French thought

18  Introduction

and powerfully rose to the surface first in the Dreyfus affair and thereafter in the 1930s. Benjamin’s response was to acquit anti-­Semitic contemporaries like Georges Sorel and Louis-­Ferdinand Céline of anti-­Semitism in ways that we should find problematic. But at the same time, his engagement with Baudelaire’s anti-­Semitism ends with him affirming a vision of language and its relation to mimesis not dissimilar to that in kabbalistic Judaism. Benjamin achieves in this work what he could not effect in his other writings or his life, the merger via decadence of the French and the Jewish traditions. Chapter Seven: Dybbuks, Vampires, and Other Fin-­de-­Siècle Jewish Phantasms The fin-­de-­siècle was a sea awash in monsters, from the one-­eyed globules of Odilon Redon and the sirens of Gustave Moreau to Walter Pater’s horrific take on the Mona Lisa. Many of these monstrous tales emerged parallel with or directly from the work of folklore gatherers, inspired by Herder in the first half of the nineteenth century and by the rise of folklore studies and ethnology in its late half. In the 1910s, Shloyme-­Zanvl Rappoport, better known as S. An-­ Sky, undertook an ethnographic expedition to the Pale of Settlement and returned with a tale of demonic possession he turned into a play, The Dybbuk. Not only is the play an extension of the fin-­de-­siècle fixation with monstrous influences over Jewish lives; it also deploys both themes and techniques from the decadent and Symbolist poetry and drama An-­Sky was exposed to during the years he spent in exile in Paris. A century later, the Israeli novelist A. B. Yehoshua imagined in his novel The Liberated Bride a performance of The Dybbuk in the Occupied Territories. Bringing the topos of possession to the vexed relation between Jew and Arab, his scene repurposes An-­Sky’s narrative for new, different ends. The varieties of sexual dysfunctionality that swirl around this novel and its concerns with the role sexuality plays in fashioning and problematizing national identity stamp it as a text that uses the topoi of the last fin-­de-­siècle to limn the complexities of the most recent one. Conclusion: The Deca-­danse; or, The Afterlife of the Jewish Decadent As I’ve been suggesting, the relation between Jews, Jewishness, and decadence didn’t come to an end with the rise of modernism; it simmered as Jews turned and returned to the fin-­de-­siècle as a trove of images, possibilities, and problems. Self-­proclaimed Jewish aesthetes or decadents, too, continued to

“Our Two-­Step Is the Modern Decadence!”  19

emerge, frequently building on the work of the figures I have surveyed above. Particularly important is Claude Cahun, lesbian niece of  Wilde’s friend Marcel Schwob and a prophet not only of queer but of trans identities. One might also think of  Maurice Sachs, gay gigolo, man of  letters, aesthete, and Nazi collaborator. And the tradition continues. Serge Gainsbourg, the great French rock star of the 1970s and 1980s, not only affirmed his Jewish origins and lived the decadent life of the poète maudit, but also embedded decadent tropes, citations, and allusions in his lyrics. Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano (son of a Sephardic Jew) returns again and again to the themes that motivated his first novel: the shifting nature of identity, the power of collaboration with ruling authorities. La Place de l’Étoile (the Parisian intersection; the place of the Yellow Star) focuses on a collaborationist Jew who is, among other things, mentored by Maurice Sachs. All of these figures, major and minor, testify to the paradoxical vitality of a movement dedicated to celebrating deliquescence and courting decline, and to the continuing ways that Jews engaged emotionally and imaginatively with it to consequential effect.

Chapter 1

Qu’est-­ce que c’est la décadence? And What Does It Have to Do with Jews?

Before going further, it’s important to specify the wide variety of practices and predilections that were bundled under the heading of “decadence”—­and to delineate how the discourse of decadence affected Jews. Predications of  “decadence” proliferated throughout “the long fin-­de-­siècle,” roughly 1870 to 1920, especially in the heyday of the so-­called decadent movement, when advocates and critics stepped over each other publishing articles, books, polemics, and feuilletons describing something called “decadence” as a vast, if ill-­defined, social phenomenon with specific literary and artistic instantiations. A rough-­ and-­ready accounting of what these critics meant by the term would include some of the following: a sense of omnipresent social decay and degeneration; a diagnosis of worldwide enervation (or hyper-­nervousness, which results in the same thing, a condition of febrile exhaustion); a falling away from physical, moral, and national rectitude and the expression of will on a trans-­European if not global stage; and a cultural expression of anomie, degeneration, race-­ suicide, and other such conditions, manifested in falling rates of birth and rising rates of mental illness, hysteria, and other forms of distress. Subsidiary features would include a cultivation of these mental states, frequently induced by drugs like hashish or drinks like absinthe, and a predilection for the exotic and the erotic, the latter often conjoined with omnibus forms of non-­normative erotic experience ranging from male homosexuality and lesbianism to, at the more extreme end, incest, fetishism, and even necrophilia. Among writers and artists, it would be marked by a correlative stylistic turn toward the excrescential, the ornamental, the useless. And superintending all of these, the predisposition to art for art’s sake, to valuing the aesthetic as an end in and of itself (the

Qu’est-ce que c’est la décadence?  21

perfect end, writes Walter Pater, and perhaps the only one). An age of literary slogans and movements, many such—­Aestheticism, Symbolism, Acmeism, Parnassianism—­found their clearest articulation and widest circulation at the moment of decadence. So did many of the artists who either enlisted or were enlisted under its banner, from, say, Charles Baudelaire in the 1850s to T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound in the 1920s, all producing literature and art that ran the gamut from parody to high seriousness, affectation to achievement, silliness to beauty and even profundity. The occasion for this book, and the centerpiece of its argument, is that in the mid-­to late nineteenth century decadence formed a vital, if controversial, part of the landscape Jews encountered as they sought to enter the mainstream of European cultural life. For if, like the aspiring heroes of Honoré de Balzac’s early novels, Jews emerged into the middle classes in large measure via the professions, including the literary and artistic professions, they made their way into a world profoundly obsessed with aestheticism, degeneration, sexual alterity, and death—­a cultural situation of which they were frequently accused of being either source or symptom, but to which they responded dynamically, indeed transformatively. Some reacted to this cultural ferment by entering into it. Fin-­de-­siècle fiction was influenced by now-­neglected Jewish novelists who fully exploited the idiom of decadence, like Catulle Mendès in France or Reggie Turner in England; poetry and criticism were shaped by Jewish poets and critics who explored or explicated the avenues of aestheticist or Symbolist art, like Gustave Kahn in France or Georg Brandes in Denmark. Others continued the process in the twentieth century: Marcel Proust, Sigmund Freud, Walter Benjamin, Italo Svevo, S. An-­Sky, to name five, were influenced at a significant point in their early careers by aestheticism and decadence and repurposed its topoi and imaginative structures to rich, if different, ends. And on a more material but no less consequential level, Jewish patrons, dealers, and gallery owners in Paris, London, Berlin, and Vienna created the conditions in which Pre-­R aphaelite, Symbolist, and Postimpressionist art and Art Nouveau got produced and disseminated—­a system that led to the ways in which modernist art (Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, et al.) sustained itself. In what follows, I offer a partial rather than a synoptic map of the terrain of decadence considered as broadly as possible. Specifically, I focus on three loci: the idea of cultural decline, the privileging of non-­normative, nonreproductive sexuality, and the ideal of art for art’s sake and its instantiations in literature and visual art. I’ll be generalizing about decadence in Europe and America on the basis of a number of local traditions, religious determinations, and cultural peculiarities. But I do not do so only because decadence is a phenomenon

22  Chapter One

that was at once global and local, although it was. Rather, I do so to highlight those aspects which throughout the Western world assimilating and non-­ assimilating  Jews alike would have experienced most immediately, and with which they had to deal as they encountered Western modernity in all its fierce contradictoriness—­a contradictoriness that frequently worked itself out with relation to the figure of the  Jew and served as both a challenge and an opportunity for the Jewish decadent. To adopt David Nirenberg’s trope, the attachment of ideas of decline, decadence, and deliquescence to Jews is one of the ways in which the culture thought about itself through the Jew.1 But it needs to be added, it’s also one of the ways in which Jews rethought the terms and possibilities of the culture that was thinking through them. In so doing, they remade both that culture and themselves.

C u lt u r a l D e c l i n e At the end of the nineteenth century, lamentations rang throughout Great Britain and Europe asserting that corruption and decay had befallen the lands, instancing, variously, perverse cultural production, declining fitness of soldiers, pestiferous urban environments, dissolute urban elites, financial scandals, and homosexuality as signs of a widespread social malaise. But this woe-­crying was nothing new. Diagnoses of the decadence of current times have been foundational to the most potent imaginative structures governing the cultures of the West at least since Genesis. The habit of viewing Jews as the active agents of cultural decline had long since become entrenched in the imaginative system of Christian Europe. Reified, in Jonathan Boyarin’s resonant terms, as the “other without”—­described from the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) forward as cursed, devilish enemies of the Christian state rather than just another minority within it—­Jews were installed in late medieval and early modern discourses as the other within, as subversive presences whose very being contaminated the state and the body politic.2 The Jew/decadence conflation became further entrenched as the collocation of phenomena we have come to call modernity assembled and defined itself. To understand this we have only to look at Shakespeare, in so many ways a gathering point of medieval and early modern attitudes, in so many ways the first avatar of the modern. Shakespeare’s plays are full of gloomy evocations of cultural loss and social chaos—­think of Hamlet’s description of the rottenness of the state of Denmark, soon to be full of corpses as it falls into the hands of its Norse foe Fortinbras; or think of the corrupt kingdoms in Measure for

Qu’est-ce que c’est la décadence?  23

Measure and the ironically named All’s Well That Ends Well, not to mention in the late romances like The Winter’s Tale or The Tempest. Shakespeare was also a central maker of attitudes toward Jews: arguably no single work of art has had a more consequential effect on attitudes toward Jews and Jewishness than has The Merchant of Venice. But Jews are the least of it when it comes to problems in this proto-­problem play. Its new gentile mercantile order conflates affect and economics, love and money, in ways that exceed the triumph over the archetypal Jew Shylock, staged by the likes of Portia and Bassanio. The Jewish moneylender may cry out, in comic pathos, “My daughter! O, my ducats!” but his economic lust is trumped by a more primitive yearning for revenge—­after all, Shylock refuses to accept money in lieu of his loan, seeking the soon-­to-­become-­proverbial pound of flesh in its place.3 To the Venetian gentiles, by contrast, money is everywhere and everything, true value wavering and indecipherable. Bassanio cleverly solves the riddle of the casket by choosing the leaden one over glittering gold or caskets made of silver, but he, like the rest of the Venetian yuppies, is quite happy to accept portions of Shylock’s fortune, the quarrelling over which occupies an unseemly amount of time after the trial proper has been concluded with Portia’s famous appeal to the quality of mercy that never really gets shown. And in the fifth act, Bassanio’s marriage to Portia is reaffirmed by tricks having to do with gold rings, not those made of brass or lead. It is as if the negative stereotypes that attach to the Jew are being split, the primitive ones attaching to the figure of Shylock, the “modern” ones—­the connection to commerce, avarice, mercantile enterprise, greed—­to the gentiles. The jumble of affects about money, commerce, desire, and sexuality isn’t so much resolved by Shakespeare as displaced out of the corrupt,  Jew-­ridden Venice to Belmont, with the result that Jews, Judaism, and Jewishness get invoked in odd and overdetermined ways, as shadows of that which is most troubling about the new, emergent order, even as they are seen as evocations of an older, more primitive, more “degenerate” order being left behind. The function of the Jew in this central and ramifying representation, in other words, is to serve as both an expression of and a cure for a perceived corrupt, declined modern city-­state—­a cure, it should be added, effected only by the Jews’ humiliation and extirpation. It’s a twofold function Jews have been called upon to perform ever since, as the discourse of decadence in the face of the immanence of modernity creates dual and contradictory roles for them to step into, and be constrained by. No wonder they sought to transform those roles through their imagination, wit, and creativity.

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T h e J e w i s h I d i o m o f C u lt u r a l D e c l i n e To perceive the roles that European decadence thrust upon them, however, is not to ignore the complicated part that the idiom of decadence and the narrative of social deliquescence have played in Jewish life itself. Much of the Torah is taken up with stories of recurrent decline and catastrophe: the Fall; the egyptianization of the Hebrews before Pharaoh hardens his heart against them; their worshiping of false idols while wandering in the Sinai wilderness; the corruption that preceded the Babylonian exile, lamented so beautifully by the angry prophet Jeremiah: “my people were lost sheep; their shepherds caused them to stray . . . they forgot their resting place” (Jeremiah 50:6). This vision of the Jews was perversely echoed in the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment of the early nineteenth century, which turned away from biblical ways of knowing but unwittingly underscored the prophetic denunciations by defining the majority of the Jewish people as hopelessly primitive, immured in a cultural, linguistic, and social backwardness. Its figures saw the poverty-­stricken traditional world of the shtetls (shtetlakh, small towns in Eastern Europe) or the ghettos of the West, the intellectual sterility of rabbinic Judaism, and especially the enthusiasms of the Hasidic movement as standing in stark contrast to the new European culture emerging around them. Acculturating Jews responded multiply. On the one hand, many sought to claim their due as vital philosophers and moral thinkers: it was not for nothing that Moses Mendelssohn entered a contest run by the Berlin Academy for the best essay on metaphysics, and won—­Immanuel Kant placed second. But on the other, they frequently sought to critique Christian culture as limited in its own right. Thus Mendelssohn reverses the Christian typological insistence on Christianity’s supersession of Jewishness by suggesting that Judaism, a religion of  laws and ethics, is compatible with rationalism in a way that Christianity, which depends on revelation, is not. Despite these defensive maneuvers, the sense that Jews—­largely Eastern European Jews—­were irrevocably primitive endured in (Jewish) theorizing of the later years of the nineteenth century. In the work of fin-­de-­siècle criminal anthropologist Cesare Lombroso, for example,  Jews become examples of his theory that evolutionary progress is accompanied by evolutionary atavisms: We are often struck, on a very rapid glance at the condition of even an advanced nation, by noticing, amidst all its civilisation, distinct retrograde characteristics, which take us back to the prehistoric world. Thus the Hebrews in Moses’ time got as far as monotheism, and with Marx—­may we not say with Jesus?—­reached

Qu’est-ce que c’est la décadence?  25

the idea of socialism. They invented bills of exchange. In the Middle Ages they were the very kernel of the capitalist bourgeoisie; and today in many countries they furnish the apostles of the Fourth Estate. So that in the progress of civilisation we see them very far advanced. Yet they still religiously retain the Peruvian quippa, or knot-­alphabet in their talith (the sacred garment which they wear in their synagogues); and they use stone instruments for the rite of circumcision—­a rite which is itself a survival of cannibalism. They have hardly established themselves in any country for any length of time without preserv­ ing among themselves its customs, and even its dress and language, though all these have disappeared among the people with whom they originated.4

But like the haskalah intellectuals a century before him, Lombroso did not hesitate to indict his society at large for the same atavisms he decried in Hebrews, particularly its criminals, who represented regression par excellence. One can—­critics have—­seen this as an anti-­Semitic move on Lombroso’s part; or one can—­as I would—­view it as anti-­anti-­Semitic, as part of a rhetoric of reversal, adopting cultural aspersions commonly circulating in scientific discourse about  Jews but extending them outward to the social order at large.5 As Lombroso concludes: No people, however lofty its position, can boast too much over the lowest savage, or the unhappy criminal, who so often reproduces the savage type, for in some respects, it may be their inferior. Nature, the pitiless leveller, teaches us all to be humble and modest. (“Atavism and Evolution,” 49)

The same strategy of reversal is central to the work of Max Nordau, prominent Zionist and author of Degeneration (1892). Nordau was unsparing when detailing the condition of his coreligionists, to put it mildly. For him, the overwhelming intellectualism of traditional Jewish life combined with the enervating effects of modernity to create the weak, unmanly Jewish (male) body; the solution was a cultivation of sport and physical labor, preferably in Palestine, to create the figure he calls “the Muscle Jew.” But he also turned his energies to critiquing the culture at large, cataloging and castigating the many manifestations of a putatively degenerated social sphere, focusing particularly on cultural production as indices and transmitters of this rot. He turns especially to the twinned phenomena of aestheticism and decadence, and his prime example becomes Oscar Wilde, who united these with sexual transgression. As I’ve argued elsewhere, what Nordau thereby does is to shuttle the culturally loaded charge of degeneracy from Jews to gentiles—­except that the former have at

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least the option of a kind of regenerative work, while the latter are lashed with the full force of Nordau’s scorn.6 Nordau’s influential critique shaped the ways that Jews and gentiles alike thought about aestheticism and decadence, although many critics noted that Nordau went into such exaggerated detail in his denunciations that his work could be thought of as a breviary of decadence as well as a denunciation. And it reflected an intra-­Jewish critique in the years to come. As Hamutal Bar-­Yosef has reminded us, Captivated by [European idioms of ] Decadence, [Hebrew-­revivalist poet I. M. Bialik] conferred decadence upon Jews even when they were victims of cruel anti-­Semitism. The decadent mood of inner death—­indifference, cynicism, depression, the death wish—­appears as personal experience. . . . Characteristic of Bialik’s poetry is the complete harmony between personal and national experiences, including the decadent mood and Jewish decadence. Thus Bialik gave literary expression to the ideas of  Jewish Decadent identity, an idea that [critic David] Benner, [expressionist writer Uri] Gnessin, [anarchist/agitator Issac] Steinberg . . . and others continued to develop in their writings.7

Most but not all of these writers turned the topos to Zionist ends. But the idea of the decadence of the Eastern European Jew was also available for transformation of a different sort, as witnessed by the young Martin Buber, who lectured in 1912: “We need only look at the decadent but still wondrous Hasid of our days; to watch him as he prays to his God, shaken by his fervor, expressing with his whole body what his lips are saying . . . and we will feel: here, stunted yet distorted yet unmistakable, is Asiatic strength and Asiatic inwardness.” The decadent but devout Ostjuden thus possess powers to undo the decadent West. George Prochnik, to whom I am indebted for these references, quotes Gershom Scholem writing in his diary at the same time, turning Buber’s tropology against the Europeans who stigmatized Jews: “You [meaning ‘we’] are Orientals not Europeans. You are Jews and humans, not Germans and degenerates, and your God is named Ha-­Shem and not the belly.”8 But this is to speak of only one side of the relation between Jews and the culture of aestheticism and decadence, and I want in what follows to direct attention to other crossings, sometimes compatible with these, sometimes less so. For while many Jews sublated aestheticism and decadence in their passage to renewed religious faith or Zionism, many others attempted to engage directly with this cultural formation in such a way as to claim proudly the conflation of the two. It would be wrong to draw a direct opposition between

Qu’est-ce que c’est la décadence?  27

them—­Proust’s aestheticism, like that of many of his contemporaries, was fully compatible with his Dreyfusism because the two were annealed together under the heading of  his multiple sense of otherness, as a (partially) closeted gay man and as a (more closeted) Jew. And there was also a line for other intellectuals from aestheticism to Zionism: I am thinking here of Gustave Kahn, who began as an innovative prose poet in the 1880s and chronicler of aestheticist life in the 1900s and who twenty years later became editor of the Zionist semimonthly magazine Menorah, the financing of which was arranged in part by Chaim Weizmann. And then in addition to these were the Jews who wore their aestheticism and decadence with pride, sometimes seeking to extinguish their connection to their Jewishness, sometimes affirming it, sometimes doing both at the same time. To invoke some resonant terms, they were neither (as Hannah Arendt might put it) pariahs or parvenus, but rather (to cite Peter Gay) outsiders who became insiders, if insiders who traded on outsiderness of a different sort, as artists, writers, aesthetes, gay men, lesbians, or some combination of these. Rather than continuing to list names here, let me merely say that they—­ and both the institutions they built and the art they created—­will be the chief focus of much of the book that is to follow.

Reproduction and Its Discontents The emergence of Jews into the cultures of the West accompanied what one might want to call the crisis of reproduction at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, a crisis that did much to fuel the discourse of degeneration and the charges of cultural decadence. In France, En­ gland, Germany, and the United States, degeneration became a master trope for the effects of putatively low birth rates (more a worry in France and England than in Germany or the United States), sexual “inversion,” the lack of physical strength among soldiers, and alleged increases in “mental defectives.” All of these were blamed on urbanization, proletarianization, and immigration, all with putatively negative effects on the national gene pool registered by the new “sciences” of eugenics, criminal anthropology, and psychology. A sense of social continuity, too, was threatened by the rise of mass cultural formations, the possibility of a working-­class uprising—­these being the subject of  Matthew Arnold’s pivotal masterwork Culture and Anarchy (1867–­1868), in which Jews, via “Hebraism,” are made part of the Arnoldian dialectic, ultimately to be sublated by a triumphant Hellenism. The transmission of people, ideas, culture, and power from one generation to another—­reproduction in the broadest sense of the word—­was, or at least

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seemed to be, very much up for grabs at this moment. To be sure, in choosing the loaded word “reproduction” to describe this process, I’m not only following a convention of leftist sociological thought—­of Pierre Bourdieu in particular, who adopts the term to talk about the perpetuation of class structures over time. I’m also foregrounding changes in the understanding of gender, family, affectional patterns, and sexuality, all of which were redefined in a series of rolling revolutions that transformed the ways American-­Anglo-­European culture conceptualized the sexes and subjectivity alike. In linking all of these under the sign of reproduction, I’m thinking of Michel Foucault, who sees these processes as co-­implicated, as a bundle or nexus of practices whose origins he pushes back to the late eighteenth century and groups under a distinct heading, that of  “biopower”: During the classical period, there was a rapid development of various dis­ ciplines—­universities, secondary schools, barracks, workshops; there was also the emergence, in the field of political practice and economic observation, of the problems of birthrate, longevity, public health, housing, and migration. Hence there was an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugation of bodies and the control of populations, marking the beginning of an era of  “bio-­power.”9

This is the era that foregrounds the generation and elaboration of the body and “sexuality” as objects of social control, a process that begins with the Enlightenment and reaches its consummation in High Victorian culture, manifesting itself in such diverse phenomena as psychoanalysis, the creation of the homosexual, scientific racism, and, ultimately, under the sign of the control of death as well as life, eugenics and race war. This analysis couldn’t be more salient to the emergence of the so-­called Jewish question—­a question with which Foucault’s own discourse has always seemed dis-­engaged; he seems to me never to have missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity to connect his concerns with Jewish issues, contexts, and concerns, ranging from his (non)treatment of the arch-­Foucauldian institution of the Spanish Inquisition through his evocations of race consciousness and race war.10 It has taken the more recent work of Giorgio Agamben to link systematically the Foucauldian notion of biopower to the Holocaust, and even Agamben misses the full force of the role of discourses on Jewishness as opposed to those on “the camps,” which include Jews but transcend their putative particularity.11

Qu’est-ce que c’est la décadence?  29

The importance of Foucault for our concern lies as much in his occlusions and evasions as in his insights. Consider, for example, Foucault’s take on sexuality: Basically, why did sexuality become a field of vital strategic importance in the nineteenth century? . . . Sexuality, being an eminently corporeal mode of behavior, is a matter for individualizing disciplinary controls. . . . But because it also has procreative effects, sexuality is also inscribed, takes effect, in broad biological processes that concern not the bodies of individuals but the element, the multiple unity of the population. Sexuality exists at the point where body and population meet. . . . It is, I think, the privileged position it occupies between organism and population, between the body and general phenomena, that explains the extreme emphasis placed upon sexuality in the nineteenth century. Hence too the medical idea that when it is undisciplined and irregular, sexuality also has effects at two levels. At the level of the body, of the undisciplined body that is immediately sanctioned by all the individual diseases that the sexual debauchee brings down upon himself. . . . But at the same time, debauched, perverted sexuality has effects at the level of the population, as anyone who has been sexually debauched is assumed to have a heredity. Their descendants also will be affected for generations, unto the seventh generation and unto the seventh of the seventh and so on. This is the theory of degeneracy: given that it is the source of individual diseases and that it is the nucleus of degeneracy, sexuality represents the precise point where the disciplinary and the regulatory, the body and the population, are articulated.12

Adopting a stance slightly more attentive to Jewish difference would allow Foucault—­and does allow us—­to see that the essential ligature between two prongs of the exercise of biopower was already in place, incarnated by the stereotype of the Jew. Again this cultural aspersion was nothing new. One of the most noteworthy features of medieval anti-­Semitism was its focus on the sexual unnaturalness of the Jew, associating the Jewish man with bestiality, sodomy—­ largely male-­male sex—­lusting after Christian women, especially virgins, and child molestation. More generally, circumcision was equated with castration and the Jewish man with endogamous marriage, seen as leading to incest. This medieval conception is well known to the point of cliché. Well known, too, is that these associations were revived, and even enhanced, at the end of the nineteenth century, when anti-­Semitism, then named as such for the first time,

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surged into popular awareness, as medical authorities, psychologists, ethnologists, and the like struggled to classify and arrange the multiplicities of human sexual behaviors into stable categories. As a result, as Sander Gilman, probably the most authoritative student of this interchange, puts it, “ ‘Jews’ and ‘perverts’ were virtually interchangeable categories at the turn of the century.”13 Indeed, we might go further and say that the terminology of the first—­the Jew—­shapes the lineaments of the second, as the category of the pervert gets modeled, as Gilman and other critics like Jay Geller have abundantly shown, on the figure of the Jew, partly by channelers into these new venues for traditions of anti-­Semitism like Jean-­Martin Charcot or Richard von Krafft-­Ebing, partly by Jewish medical professionals like Freud.14 What marks this period’s anti-­Semitism and makes it so labile is that at the very same time that Jews were seen as disruptors of the sexuality/reproduction nexus, Jews were also indicted for being over-­reproductive, for (like other such groups, for example, the Irish in England or the poor everywhere) having too many children, packing the city streets, swamping scanty public services, diluting the national character. “Swarming,” “flooding,” “overwhelming,” “hordes”—­these are terms one finds again and again used by gentry elite in America like Henry Adams, or in the anti-­immigrant expostulations of his colleagues in America and England, or in the anti-­Semitic writings of  Édouard Drumont, not to mention the writings of Western Jews (Bernard Lazare: “Thanks to those hordes with whom we are confused, it is forgotten that we have lived in France for nearly two thousand years. . . . [We must] halt, dam up . . . the perpetual immigration of these predatory, vulgar and dirty Tartars who come to feed unduly on a country that is not their own”).15 Now, there’s some reason for this sense, as the Jewish population was increasing rapidly, at least in Eastern Europe, largely as a result of improved nutrition and decreasing rates of infant mortality.16 That said, underneath these latter notions of rampaging Jewish population growth lies the notion, as old as Paul’s animadversions against “carnal Israel,” that Jews were a particularly bodily, licentious population. Such notions, like the idea of the Jewish pervert or the association of  Jews with child sacrifice, may have been near to the surface in Western Europe from the medieval period forward, but they crested with particular force in our period. Here, for example, is Henry Mayhew explaining the prevalence of  Jewish prostitutes in his monumental London Labour and the London Poor: Among the Jews  .  .  . the continually reiterated allusions to harlots, in the Scriptures, the abominations perpetually charged to their account, the threats

Qu’est-ce que c’est la décadence?  31

pronounced upon their wickedness, the frequent allusions to their licentious manners, indicate a wide prevalence of this system [of organized prostitution, on the Babylonian model]. Among a people so commonly guilty of nameless crimes, we cannot expect to find chastity a peculiar virtue.17

And while licentiousness among Jewish men and Jewish women eventuated itself in terms of prostitution, pimping, and lusting after gentiles, it also caused the putative overpopulation of unchaste Jews, and hence (rather than an iniquitous social order or prejudice and persecution) made them the cause of their own poverty.18 So Jews are responsible in two ways for population decline and hence social malaise. At once un-­and too-­heterosexual in their couplings, they cause gentile births to plummet while replenishing their own stock; hardy but corrupt, they pollute but perpetuate degraded populations. The deep contradiction here is not surprising. Prejudice often works in precisely this dual way—­witness the simultaneous labeling of  Jews as the very cynosure of capitalism and the fons et origo of anarchism, socialism, and communism. But as with the early modern angst about nascent capitalism that is at the center of The Merchant of Venice, what is most important vis-­à-­vis reproduction is the conceptual aporia that Jews were brought into the picture to manage: what exactly is the role of sexuality in a new regime of  biopower? How can it be squared with the necessity—­ ideological though it might be—­of reproduction in all senses of the word? This association of Jews with problematic reproduction became even more powerfully the case as discursive energy among the elite flowed from issues of social decline to those of eugenics and its fears of “race suicide.” Jews were very much on Margaret Sanger’s mind when she began her birth-­ control crusades in the 1910s: she cited her experience with a Jewish woman who died in childbirth (probably a composite of many such) as the impetus for her activism, and opened her first clinic, cannily, in Brownsville, in eastern Brooklyn. Birth control was also on the minds of  Jewish women and men alike. Some rushed to support the efforts of, not just radicals like Emma Goldman and Rose Pastor Stokes, but also ordinary Jewish women who flocked to the clinics.19 Others criticized the emphasis on limiting population on the grounds that, along with assimilation, it would lead to the extinction of the Jewish people—­or such I take it was the burden of prolific playwright Harry Kalmanowitz’s Geburth Kontrol, oder, Rassen zelbstmord (Birth Control; or, Race Suicide), which played in the National Roof Garden Theater with much success in 1916. (Attempting to capitalize on this sentiment, one of the prosecution’s charges, when Sanger was tried, was that her birth-­control clinics

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“attempted to do away with Jews.”20)  Jews, in other words, were not only the subject of eugenicist discourses about overpopulation but had to come to terms with the consequences of those discourses as they entered mainstream Western society. The largely assimilated Jewish figures about whom I am writing were, by and large, alienated from both of these communities of discourse—­with the exception of figures like Stokes, they were outsiders in the largely gentile-­ dominated worlds of medicine, public health, and progressive reform and at a distance from their own community. As a result, many were far more radical in their speculations and complications than were their gentile peers (with the possible exception of Nietzsche), much less the Jewish community at large, especially in Europe. Freud didn’t just separate sexuality from reproductive instincts; in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905) he freed the idea of the sex drive from the object of the sex drive entirely, thereby rendering perversion inevitable, if not normative. Marcel Proust complicates the culturally instantiated ideal of reproductive closure at the end of À la recherche du temps perdu in ways that point to a new, queer form of sexless reproduction linked to art. And many of the less famous but fascinating figures about whom I write—­the minor aesthetes and writers, artists, and art dealers; the celebrities and actresses and dancers like Sarah Bernhardt and Ida Rubinstein or Alla Nazimova—­pursued what we today would call alternative lifestyles: they were gay, bisexual, engaged in spirited extramarital affairs. And while there’s nothing intrinsically Jewish about these efforts, their Jewishness positioned them outside the social dominant in ways that generated counter-­normative visions with profound and powerful effects vis-­à-­vis both the culture at large and the culture of the Jewish communities that were entering it.

Art for Art The last, and perhaps most salient, point of contact between Jews and decadence that I’d like to mention is the privileging of art that gives its name to Aestheticism and that became the linchpin of the decadent movement (and the source of much of the obloquy of its critics). That privileging—­usually bundled under the heading “art for art’s sake”—­was the single most-­controversial aesthetic program of the nineteenth century and underlies and indeed was polemically argued for by most of the writers and artists I am considering here. Although aestheticism has Kantian sources—­the most extreme formulation of the term is usually credited to France and to the 1830s effusions of Théophile Gautier.21 Gautier, however, was popularizing the arguments of French

Qu’est-ce que c’est la décadence?  33

philosopher and lecturer Victor Cousin, who was himself popularizing Kant. The idea then passes to England, where it is picked up by Algernon Charles Swinburne, who cites Gautier in his first use of the word, and America, where it had already been strongly instantiated by Edgar Allan Poe, who in turn—­to keep the daisy chain of influence well-­braided—­would influence Baudelaire and the French at large. I mention this German-­Franco-­British-­American entente to suggest just how widespread was the privileging of art throughout a burgeoning European aesthetic sphere. And the subsequent century bears out this omnipresence. The idea of l’art pour l’art and the privileging of the aesthetic gets worked out in “Symbolist” poetry (Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé), “Parnassian” poetry (e.g., Leconte de Lisle, Catulle Mendès) and its rivalrous and resentful cousin, the poetry of the French “decadence” (again Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine). It gets expressed in the poetry, art, and aesthetics of the Pre-­Raphaelite Brotherhood in England and in their successors in the 1890s—­Oscar Wilde, Ernest Dowson. It was articulated in the Nineties circle of Stefan George in Germany, in that of the so-­called Acmeists in Russia, even in the writing of minor figures like Trumbull Stickney and George Cabot Lodge in the United States. It manifested in the visual art of Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon, Claude Monet and Édouard Manet, and in the increasing turn to abstraction in Postimpressionist art. One can get lost in the maze of all these “isms” and competing formal genealogies; alternatively, one can seek to distinguish a distinct line leading from late Romanticism to high decadence that follows out an ineluctable logic from Gautier (or for that matter Percy Shelley) to a Wilde or a Verlaine or an Aubrey Beardsley. Neither response is entirely wrong, and neither is entirely right. I’m less concerned here with extracting a distinctive genealogy of decadence from this definitional mess than with noting that this broad dispensation tied the ideal of art for art, the privileging of the alienated artists leading bohemian or sexually transgressive lifestyles, and the sense of art as sterile, useless, and artificial into a lumpy, controversial, and problematic bundle. And what’s salient to our enterprise here is that many Jews were packed into this same bundle, either involuntarily shoved there by a culture that didn’t quite know what to make of them or placed there by their own self-­sorting. Thus Jews were connected to the idea of the artist in two of the most critical issues of the era, as seen in George Eliot’s Klesmer in her great novel Daniel Deronda (1876) and in George Du Maurier’s pestiferous Jewish musician Svengali in his not-­so-­great but best-­selling novel Trilby (1894). The two are mirror images. Klesmer is one of the few characters in Eliot’s deeply troubled

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text who emerge with anything like a positive spin. According to his besotted student, Miss Arrowpoint, “Herr Klesmer is something more than a pianist. . . . He is a great musician in the fullest sense of the word. He will rank with Schubert and Mendelssohn.” And he articulates basic values that situate one pole in the novel’s dialectic between social cosmopolitanism and the demands of art. “Herr Klesmer has cosmopolitan ideas,” Miss Arrowpoint goes on to say. “He looks forward to a fusion of races.”22 But lurking beneath the banter is the anti-­Semitic commonplace of the Jew as sexual transgressor: when Klesmer puts his theories into practice by marrying his pupil, he brings to life the tabooed crossing of racial lines, the lusting after gentile women (and in this case its more-­than-­avid reciprocation) that is frequently alleged against Jews, shadowing cosmopolitanism with miscegenation. Miscegenating desire is the scandalous subtext, too, of Du Maurier’s Svengali, who is also the greatest musician of his time and is involved in a cross-­racial liaison with the gentile grisette Trilby O’Farrell. Extending the creepiness of this relation, underlining its perverse unnaturalness, Svengali controls O’Farrell hypnotically, producing (as Du Maurier made clear in his responses to fans) an amatory and artistic tribute to his will. As with the rhetoric of cultural decline or the cultural anxieties about reproduction, Jews responded to their double construction with a doubleness of their own. While some, like Max Nordau, did everything they could to affirm traditional notions of art-­as-­morality and explicitly called on middle-­class norms to rein in aesthetic extravagance, others were drawn to the privileging of the avant-­garde artist–­cum–­social rebel, participating avidly in the aesthetic movement in the early years of the nineteenth century and in the later, decadent phases of the fin-­de-­siècle. The gay Pre-­Raphaelite painter Simeon Solomon frequently found his sexuality and his Jewishness crossing, as in an image from 1871 (see fig. 1.1), in which the Jew’s love of Torah and the beauty of the young rabbi gloss, enhance, and inform each other. As we shall see,  Jews proliferated in the Oscar Wilde circle in London in the 1890s, including in their ranks minor novelists like Julia Frankau, Ada Leverson, and Reggie Turner as well as aesthete, novelist, queer theorist avant la lettre, and Wilde-­hater Marc-­ André Raffalovich. A number of French Jewish writers and artists engaged directly with the idiom of decadence in the 1880s and 1890s. One of the most important of these was Gustave Kahn, editor of literary magazines, man of letters, and minor poet in historical perspective but an influential one in his own day—­he claimed to be the inventor of a form, the prose poem, that Wilde practiced and Mallarmé perfected. Kahn turned from author to chronicler of the aestheticist and

Qu’est-ce que c’est la décadence?  35

F i g u r e 1 . 1 . Simeon Solomon, Young Rabbi Holding the Torah, 1871. Private collection. Photo © Peter Nahum, Leicester Galleries, London/Bridgeman Images.

decadent milieu he inhabited—­his Symbolistes et décadents (1902) offers a rich, personal idiosyncratic vision of the Paris that sustained these movements—­to advocate of a fervid if somewhat vague Zionism, which informed his editorship of Menorah, the important journal funded by the World Zionist Organization, as well as his Contes juifs (1926), which (a few years after S. An-­Sky’s

36  Chapter One

anthropological expedition in postwar Russia) mingled folktales with accounts of life in the traditional Jewish communities of Alsace-­Lorraine. Bernard Lazare, conversely, is remembered as the great, ferocious, proudly Jewish opponent of anti-­Semitism, but he was also, in his youth, a writer of Symbolist and decadent prose. So too, but without the political sensitivities, was Marcel Schwob (son of rabbis, aesthete writer, friend of Wilde’s). Proust is the greatest product of this milieu, and there will be much more in the pages that follow on him, but I might also mention a number of figures in the Proust circle. His childhood friend and crush-­object Daniel Halévy (Protestant-­ raised great-­nephew of Fromental Halévy, the distinguished Jewish composer of La Juive) began his literary career with a number of ostentatiously deca­ dent works, although he ended it as a conservative, indeed rightist, historian. Or I might cite Proust’s friend and lover Reynaldo Hahn (Jewish on his father’s side, like Proust’s character Swann), who was well known for setting Verlaine’s poems to music, moving the poet himself to tears. In the artistic sphere, a group of young painters founded a group called Les nabis (colloquially “the Prophets” in Hebrew and Arabic), who continued the program of rebellion against representational forms by pushing even further in the direction of abstraction than their Impressionist predecessors and contemporaries. What’s important for us is not the Jewish origins of several of these artists but rather the symbolic capital they accorded Semitic identity: the prophetic otherness of the Jew here being invoked for the artistic as well as ethno-­religious vanguard. To be an artist was for them to be a Jew, whatever one’s origins. The perhaps most notorious Franco-­Jewish figure involved with high decadence—­preceding all of these but connecting them to the generation of Gautier—­is little known today: Catulle Mendès, one of the most prolific men of letters of his era and, indeed, by its end so established a figure that he was called upon to write a report on the progress of French poetry for the Ministry of Education. Mendès was the son of a Portuguese Jewish family from Bordeaux, Gautier’s handsome son-­in-­law (if only briefly), and the author of a number of works that skirt the line between the aesthetic and the pornographic—­lesbianism, incest, and orgies are the common stock of his novels and stories, along with every other form of perversity. Although it was his father, not his mother, who was Jewish (indeed he was a distant relative of 1950s prime minister Pierre Mendès France) and although he was raised Catholic (baptized, according to his biographer, by a monk who seized him out of his parents’ hands on the way to a feast chez Rothschild23), Mendès was taken as irretrievably Jewish by a number of contemporaries, a quality linked to the perversity of his subject matter. Here is Jacques de Biez,

Qu’est-ce que c’est la décadence?  37

historian and cofounder with Édouard Drumont of the Ligue antisémitique de France, writing of the “précieuses perversités de M. Catulle Mendès”: Oh! ils sont jolis, très jolis même,  jolis comme est jolie une jeune Juive qui est jolie, les vers de ce poête, et sa prose elle-­même a des saveurs enivrantes de myrrhe et d’encens qui rappellent autant les exercices du culte en Orient que ceux des gynécées les plus affriolants. Mais supposez un moment Victor Hugo more-­né, et vous verrez ce qu’il adviendra des vers si bien ciselés de M. Catulle Mendès. Oh it is pretty, very pretty, as pretty as a young  Jewess is pretty, the verse of this poet, and his prose has the intoxicating scent of myrrh and incense that evokes cult practices of the Orient, of which those in the harems are the most titillating. Suppose for a moment Victor Hugo stillborn, and you will see what becomes of the so well-­chiseled verse of M. Catulle Mendès.24

Mendès here is defined as Jewish by the same means that define him as decadent: his work is at once redolent of the scents of the Orient and reminiscent of its harems (gynécées). And he seems as proud of the former as of the latter. Among his many plays is a dramatization of the Bar Kokhba revolt, set to music by Jewish composer Camille Erlanger. And among his many novels is Zo’har (1886), in which fantasies of brother/sister incest and female domination get worked out in and around the performance of an opera by that name (refer­ ring to the cave in which Lot hid after the destruction of Sodom, not the mystical book of the kabbalists) in a language completely unknown and unknowable to the audience. Again Jewishness, even in some ill-­defined and exotic way, and sexual depravity, ditto, are merged under the sign of, and through, a work of art—­and in the body of Mendès, who was and was not Jewish, and was and was not a credentialed member of the literary elite despite or because of the near-­pornographic nature of his writing. Thus, for example, his closest friend and collaborator in formulating so-­called Parnassianism—­the extension of art-­for-­art principles into a doctrine of impersonality and autotelic perfectionism—­was Leconte de Lisle. When the two had a falling-­out, Leconte de Lisle would make fun of Mendès’s origins. And his father-­in-­law Gautier refused to attend his daughter’s marriage to the hyper-­handsome if not entirely dissolute Mendès not only on grounds of his moral defects but also because of his Jewishness.25 These figures, fascinating as they may be, remain minor, with the obvious exception of Proust, who comes very much at the end of this era. But this is not

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to understate their importance in building aestheticism and decadence into the cultural infrastructure. In literature and art,  Jews created many of the institutions that supported, nurtured, published, bought, sold, and exhibited the work produced under the aegis of this broad movement. Thus, for example, the Natanson brothers, Alexandre, Thadée, and Louis-­Alfred, sons of a Polish banking family who emigrated to Paris, founded an important journal, La revue blanche, that published both soi-­disant Parnassian and “decadent” poets, including Mallarmé and Verlaine (as well as the first effusions of the young Proust), and became patrons of a number of avant-­garde painters, like Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard. Wide-­ranging though its writers may have been, the journal was branded “Jewish.” Edmond de Goncourt wrote in 1896: But now the young generation of  Jews has understood the all-­powerful weight of criticism and the kind of blackmail that critics can exert on theaters and publishers and has founded La Revue blanche, which is a real nest of “Yids.” One can well imagine that with the help of their elders, who provide the money for almost all newspapers, they will control French literature within twenty-­five years.26

But at the same time, and not by coincidence, La revue blanche became after 1889 a major outpost of Dreyfusard sentiment. Indeed, the journal offers a great example of the cross-­fertilization among decadents, aesthetes,  Jews, and the Left: Verlaine hung out at its offices, and in the adjacent cafes and bars; so did Kahn, who contributed literary criticism as well as soaking up material for his critical account of decadence and aestheticism. Another contributor was the young Léon Blum, who wrote on sports and music, not politics. But what was most important about this journal was its combination of advanced aesthetic and political thought, midwifed by Jewishness. As Jacqueline Rose puts it, “If the Revue blanche is exemplary, it is . . . because it is was one of the few public forums in which Jews were willing to speak out in defense of Dreyfus.”27 And it can also be said that it was one of the few journals that consistently welcomed the offerings of the young  Jewish aesthetes who considered themselves part of both the literary and the political avant-­gardes. Beyond the Natansons, patrons were less political but equally committed to promulgating the latest in art. Charles Ephrussi, who managed to be good friends at once with Gustave Kahn and the notorious anti-­Semite nationalist Maurice Barrès, collected art first of the Symbolist/decadent school and then of the Impressionists—­as we shall see, Ephrussi took pride in adding one of Moreau’s magnificent Salomes to his collection. So too did other wealthy Jews

Qu’est-ce que c’est la décadence?  39

like Charles Hayem, also a major Moreau collector. Although it’s beyond my focus here, it should be noted that the same pattern holds with local variations in Vienna, as Elana Shapira has demonstrated, and in Berlin, as Veronica Grodzinski has suggested.28 One can understand why wealthy Jews would be drawn to this specific form of patronage. Art was a prestige preoccupation of the classes that Jews were seeking to join, a guarantee not just of Bildung—­of cultivation in the deepest sense of the word—­but of the faculty of discernment, taste, a discrimination that had social as well as individual cachet. Yet for all but truly exceptional figures like the Rothschilds or the Pereire brothers, established routes of patronage and collection were already occupied, which meant that if  Jews wanted to follow this path, they would have to find and cultivate their own artists and create their own networks of acquisition and display. Richard Cohen offers a description of the course from Bildung to aestheticism of yet another famous Jewish collector, which held for many of his wealthy peers: Isaac de Camondo, a descendent of the Turkish banking philanthropist Abraham Camondo, was a voracious collector. In an extraordinary hotel he had built in Paris by the celebrated French architect Charles Garnier, the designer of the Paris Opera, Camondo housed a diverse collection that he himself likened to the composition of an opera. It consisted in part of Japanese art and eighteenth-­century French furniture and was distinguished by its breadth of modern art, in particular avant-­garde impressionists. . . . A very wealthy Jew, Camondo based his collection on what was part of the new French experience and did not seek out either the French historical paintings then in vogue or the Old Masters, the goal of the native aristocracy. He excelled in the innovative field of French art and then donated his collection to the French nation—­the Louvre—­well expressing his sense of appreciation for his new homeland. . . . Art patronage [on this model] was clearly a way for wealthy Jews to display patriotic attachment to their country, in the hope of making legitimate their standing in society.29

All this is true and important: anyone who has visited the Musée d’Orsay in Paris is in Camondo’s debt. (It might well be added here that he tried to donate his collection three times before it was finally accepted in 1911—­a tribute to the marginality of Impressionism or Jews or both in the eyes of the reigning aesthetic authorities.30) What Cohen doesn’t mention, though, is that Camondo’s role model might well have been Joris-­Karl Huysmans’s Des Esseintes, in his classic of decadent writing À rebours, who a generation earlier also created an

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“extraordinary hotel” (in his case a country house) filled with art of all sorts, but most specifically that of his own avant-­garde contemporaries, namely Moreau and Redon. And the synesthetic metaphor he came up with for describing his collection—­it is, to Camondo, like an opera—­is also deeply in the tradition of decadent culture, where the crossing of senses was systematized, if not routinized. The route to francité for Camondo, and for so many of his contemporaries, ran not only through the patronage of avant-­garde art, but also through the fulfillment of the decadent paradigm that governed avant-­garde artistic expression. The significance of the Jewish patronage should not be underestimated, although it has been. Avant-­garde art on the model of Impressionism, as Pierre Bourdieu reminds us, was nourished outside the established venues of affirmation like the Académie royale, the École des Beaux-­Arts, and the salons, which canonized certain artists and certain kinds of art (largely historical in subject matter and classical in execution) and brought those artists to the attention of collectors and patrons.31 Manet’s revolution, which reached its decisive moment with his decision to exhibit his own art in 1867, Bourdieu goes on to argue (in an uncharacteristic burst of idealism), was effectuated by Manet’s genius, his ability to alter the very conditions of perception that people brought to their experience of art and hence the world. Bourdieu essentially buys into and concretizes the essential myth—­or as he himself might put it, one of the crucial doxa—­of the avant-­garde: that of a solitary genius challenging the order of art and reorienting the ways people saw, felt, and experienced. This move has more than a few problems, but one of the greatest, it seems to me, is its bracketing of the question of money. Manet subsisted on an inheritance, and this independence of income allowed him to free himself from the Académie royale/salon system. Many of the impoverished artists of the fin-­de-­siècle, living the proverbial impoverished life of the bohemian, were not so lucky. They did find support, however, as one of the foremost students of the social history of Impressionism, Robert Herbert, puts it, not from “long-­ established members of high society, but [from] wielders of money: the financier Ernest May, the banker Albert Hecht, the retailer and speculator Ernest Hoschedé”—­all, it might be added, as Herbert does not, Jews.32 “The links between the new money and the new painting are doubtless there,” Herbert adds, “but will remain speculative [no pun intended?—­JF] until someone does the work.” 33 The link between Jewish “new money” and the desire of the Impressionists to break away from the traditional forms of artistic representation is almost painfully obvious—­both existed on the margins of respectability, so there is an elective affinity as well as an obvious shared set of compatible

Qu’est-ce que c’est la décadence?  41

social goals to cement the alliance. Be that as it may, the presence of such financial support enabled the making of Impressionist and Postimpressionist art, with complicated and labile results. As Linda Nochlin has reminded us, anti-­ Semitism was not unknown among the Impressionists, with Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas the most prominent examples.34 And I suspect Degas reflected a resentment other painters must have felt in the face of their nouveaux-­ riches Jewish patrons when he represented Ernest May in an ostentatiously anti-­Semitic manner in his painting Portraits at the Stock Exchange (fig. 1.2). But as problematic as they may have found it, few Impressionists turned down the patronage that these wealthy Jews offered them. Jewish patrons, as significant as they were, provided just one strand of the intricate web supporting avant-­garde art. Others were formed by Jewish gallery owners, dealers, and entrepreneurs in ways that lasted even after the demise of Impressionism and its succession by a manifold of other isms. In the first category, I would place the crucial figure of Siegfried Bing, an importer of aesthetic goods from Japan who also brought William Morris and other Pre-­R aphaelites to Paris and whose famous Maison de l’Art Nouveau (with windows designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Henri de Toulouse-­Lautrec) became a prime impetus to the movement that bore its name. Even before Bing, however, Dutch-­born importers and entrepreneurs Murray Marks and the Durlacher brothers (George and Alfred), acting first separately and then together, formed a crucial integument in the making of aestheticist and Pre-­R aphaelite taste in London; indeed, they imported to England many of the objects Bing then imported to France. I’ll have more to say about Marks; here we can note that he began by expanding the family business by acquiring blue-­and-­white Chinese porcelain from the source, using his friendships among the Pre-­Raphaelites to turn its collection into a craze in the 1870s, when it became immortalized not only in the precincts of the avant-­garde but also in the pages of Punch. Marks was not above shady practices—­virtually none of his peers were—­ bidding up his friend Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s paintings at auction to help the painter gain a greater price for his work, for example, or buying for the Victoria and Albert Museum, for which he served as an advisor later in life, work he knew (or ought to have known) was fake.35 But the significance of Marks in the making of aestheticist culture in general, and in the blue-­and-­ white china craze in particular, ought not be underestimated, at least from a sociological point of view, for it suggests how ethnicity—­the kinds of trading networks with which Dutch  Jews like Marks and the Durlachers had long been involved—­intersected with the new avant-­garde outsider artists like Rossetti

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F i g u r e 1 . 2 . Satan whispering in Eve’s ear? Edgar Degas, Portraits à la Bourse, ca. 1878–­ 1879. Courtesy Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Photo: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY.

(also a first-­generation Englishman) and Wilde (an Irishman)—­and the new mass media to reinvigorate a cultural phenomenon, “Chinamania” in specific, the taste for aesthetic objects in general. Similar effects were created by dealers and the galleries they opened. Many galleries of this period were owned by Jews, the most important of which was Bernheim-­Jeune. Bernheim-­Jeune supported many of the figures associated

Qu’est-ce que c’est la décadence?  43

with the avant-­garde, from the Impressionists (who were friends with and were exhibited by the first generation of the gallery’s owners) through the Neoimpressionists (Georges Seurat et al.) and artists affiliated with the group Les nabis (e.g., Bonnard and Vuillard) and beyond (Henri Matisse, Georges Rouault, et al.). From its founding in 1856 through to its eventual dispossession at the hands of the Nazis in 1941, when it was bought out for a song by a gentile Frenchman, Bernheim-­Jeune justified its reputation as the cradle of the avant-­ garde—­and, it might be added, of sharp businessmen who did not fail to profit from the wealthy collectors who turned to them. These dealers were supplanted in the early years of the twentieth century by a number of  Jews who took matters one step further, essentially developing the painters who were to become famous as modernists. In the 1890s and early years of the twentieth century, independent Jewish art dealers like Berthe Weill (who made her reputation by representing a young Spaniard named Pablo Picasso), Wilhelm Uhde (who specialized in Henri Rousseau and Primitivism), or Daniel-­Henry Kahnweiler (who represented the Cubists, the direct descendants of Les nabis, as well as Picasso) emerged to support struggling young experimental artists. In the years that followed, these and other Jewish dealers bought, traded, and added cannily to their own collections of contemporary art of all sorts—­Impressionist, Postimpressionist, Expressionist—­only to find themselves, in many cases, selling their art for very little to make their escape from the Nazis or having it expropriated by them or both.36 These dealers and gallery owners offered a different economic arrangement than either the academic system or the patrons who supplanted it: they paid artists a small stipend in exchange for the exclusive right to sell their work, thereby supporting them in the years it took to produce it.37 True, the origins of this system lie with a Catholic royalist, Paul Durand-­Ruel, who (like Camondo) did not hesitate to seek out rich Jewish clients, and who, as Robert Jensen has observed, first wrought the combination of “altruistic ‘virtues’ ” and “speculative practices” that later defined the practices of the proper dealer/ gallery owner.38 It’s true as well that one of the greatest—­most skinflinty—­ practitioners of this new system was Ambroise Vollard, who was tolerant of Degas’s anti-­Semitism but nevertheless commissioned the early work of a Russian artist by the name of Marc Chagall and specialized in that of an Italian-­born Jew named Amedeo Modigliani. Nevertheless, a disproportionate number of the dealers and gallery owners who sustained the artists of the fin-­de-­siècle and early twentieth century were Jewish (one might add Leo Stein to the mix, and point forward to others like Leo Castelli). Their status as outsiders of the system, combined with family backgrounds in business (often the business of

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buying and selling art), helped them create a structure that sustained artists and transformed art for the century to come. And even those who were not Jewish were frequently described in terms that made them Jewish in a symbolic sense; note how Eugen Schmidt, writing in Germany’s “most prestigious” art periodical, Die Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, recycles standard anti-­Semitic slurs in his account of Durand-­Ruel’s effects on the art world: When Durand-­Ruel some forty years ago harnessed the first Impressionist to his carriage, he took possession of this movement and since then it has not been delivered from the circle of dealers. In fictive sales the prices of pictures were raised to swindling heights and held up there, while artists, for good or bad motives, who did not belong to the bondage of the dealers, gave up their cause in order to earn their bread and butter. Behind Sisley, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Herr Durand’s first Impressionists, now march thirty or forty young people, who all work for the dealer ring and who all strive . . . to imitate the hacking and spittle of their predecessors.39

But however grounded or hysterical the responses, they suggest the extent to which Jews acting singly and together utterly changed the conditions of art-­making. The system of production and distribution that made the artistic avant-­garde possible was conflated with them—­establishing not just a goût juif, but a Jewish-­identified and facilitated enterprise. The same path—­from the culture of fin-­de-­siècle decadence to modernity—­ was blazed by Jewish women. Embourgeoisified women, raised as cultured and cultivated subjects, found in the engagement with the avant-­garde a chance to exercise their energies as patrons and companions. Much of the interaesthetic quality of the French fin-­de-­siècle arts can be attributed to exchanges in salons like that presided over by Madame Geneviève Straus née Halévy (her first husband was composer Georges Bizet)—­a model, perhaps, for Proust’s Madame Verdurin—­at which composers (including Claude Debussy), artists, and writers (like the young Proust and the aging Guy de Maupassant) mingled with aristocrats and dandies, like Robert de Montesquiou, the original of Proust’s Baron de Charlus. Moreover, some of these Jewish women became lovers of the artists who composed the decadent and post-­decadent avant-­garde. Lucy Hessel, wife of a partner in the Bernheim-­Jeune gallery, became Vuillard’s supporter, muse, advocate, lover, and friend for most of his adult life, and Vuillard responded with some of his most beautiful and intimate art. But the erotic interplay of  Jewishness, culture-­making, and gender was not limited to (biological, cultural, or

Qu’est-ce que c’est la décadence?  45

otherwise) Jews. Thus Thadée Natanson’s wife, the (Catholic-­born) Polish pianist Misia Godebska—­Thadée was the Jewish son of her father’s Jewish second wife by her first marriage, and is usually referred to as her cousin rather than her half-­sibling—­served as a mentor and muse to many of the men in the Nabis circle, including Natanson’s school chum Vuillard, before opening a salon in Paris in which many of the foremost artists and intellectuals of the avant-­garde could be found: Renoir, Redon, Debussy, Mallarmé, André Gide, and Proust all frequented her drawing room. That marriage ended when a wealthy press baron, Alfred Edwards, who had become Misia’s lover, agreed to rescue Thadée Natanson from financial catastrophe and fund La revue blanche on the condition that he grant his wife a divorce. Her position in Paris only rose during her subsequent marriage to Edwards. Like Proust’s hideous Madame Verdurin, who became “a sort of accredited representative in Paris of all foreign artists . . . an aged Fairy Godmother, grim but all-­powerful to the Russian dancers,” Misia (who sponsored and funded the Ballets Russes during its first trip to Paris) used her mastery of the avant-­garde tastes to make her way into social centrality, albeit of a fairly racy sort.40 She didn’t settle, as did Madame Verdurin, for respectability; rather, she married again, this time to Catalan painter Josep Maria Sert (who had worked with Léon Bakst on the Ballets Russes), conducted a long-­term intimate relationship with Coco Chanel, and became addicted to morphine, even as her home became a major center of modernist art and culture. In life and in art, Misia Godebska (Misia Natanson/Misia Sert) served as a link between the aestheticist/decadent moment and the burgeoning new artistic modernism. Something of this role can be glimpsed in a Vuillard portrait of her and Félix Vallotton—­a Belgian member of Les nabis whose work influenced Beardsley and Edvard Munch (see fig. 1.3). The detailing here is iconically aestheticist/fin-­de-­siècle: as Emily Coit has observed (in personal communication), the wallpaper is a William Morris print, probably the one that graced the walls chez Natanson (Misia’s taste) along with art by Vuillard and Bonnard. Something of the same confusion between art and life is rendered here. The barrier between painting and wallpaper is nonexistent: the still life on the wall echoes and may be a version of the flowers underneath it in (represented) “real life,” and the red in those flowers (the only sign of “nature” in the painting) is subordinated to the artificial as it is picked up in Misia’s gorgeous frock. The other props in the painting partake of the same impulse. The blue-­and-­white china teapot in front of Misia is woven into the color scheme, for example, as it is picked up by the blue of Vallotton’s smock. In both its subjects and objects and in the ways it represents them, the portrait offers a

F i g u r e 1 . 3 . Vuillard, Misia Natanson, and Félix Vallotton at Villeneuve. Edouard Vuillard, Misia et Vallotton à Villeneuve, 1899. Oil on board laid down on cradled panel. Private collection. Photo © Christie’s Images/Bridgeman Images.

Qu’est-ce que c’est la décadence?  47

series of allusions to the aesthetic context of the 1890s, and more generally to the milieu in which art and life are systematically conflated. But there are ways in which the painting thematizes these allusions to the art of the fin-­de-­siècle, putting quotation marks around them and exploring their implications. First, while the painting apparently derives from a photograph (as do many of  Vuillard’s), it systematically undermines photographic realism. Any sense of depth, for example, is undermined by multiple failures of perspective—­ look at Vallotton’s huge hand looming in what should be the background. Regarding the painting as a whole, one has the sense of separate, layered planes, as in a collage—­first the floral-­papered wall, then the painting of flowers, then “real” flowers, then Vallotton, then Misia—­rather than a realistic portrait of a man and a woman in a room. The sense of separation is heightened by the differing glances of the two main figures. The male artist is looking to the left, engaged in conversation with a figure identified by critics as Natanson. The female is solitary, ostentatiously not regarding her husband or his friend and gazing instead toward—­well, who knows where or at what she is looking. This objectless gaze is a sign of her marital and social alienation, but its symbolic significance is greater still. It positions her, I would suggest, as the avatar of a futurity—­she is gazing forward, even if she is gazing, as Walter Benjamin might put it, in a condition of distraction—­while Vallotton is looking into the past, engaged in a voluble conversation with his peer rather than facing, however abstractly, the future. The transition from male artist to female consumer, from an art that is backward-­ looking to a spectator who is future-­pondering, from a married woman to one looking forward to a freedom that would arrive the very next year—­all of these place the painting on the cusp of a transition from the fin-­de-­siècle to modernity, however spectatorial and consumerist the new century may be. I conclude with this painting because it is emblematic of my entire argument. The only Jew here, Natanson, is literally consigned to the painting’s margins, yet everything about the painting’s life and afterlife is supported by a Jewish infrastructure. The house, the plush wallpaper, the expensive coffee cup, the beautiful clothes were made possible by Natanson’s family fortune, accrued as bankers in Poland and sustained by his younger brother in Paris. Murray Marks, the Jewish art entrepreneur in London, had much to do with the blue-­and-­white china, which Misia may well have bought, browsing along with the rest of fashionable Paris, at Bing’s Maison de l’Art Nouveau. Less materially, the atmosphere in which Vallotton, Vuillard, and Misia thrived was shaped by the Jewish-­identified periodical La revue blanche, to which all three contributed in one way or another—­Misia, not to put too fine a point on it, with her body, both as a cover girl (fig. 1.4) and through her journal-­saving

F i g u r e 1 . 4 . Henri de Toulouse-­Lautrec, poster (and cover) for La revue blanche, 1895. Lithograph, 130 × 93.2 cm. Courtesy Musée Toulouse-­Lautrec. Photo: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY.

Qu’est-ce que c’est la décadence?  49

liaison with Alfred Edwards. The subsequent life of the painting was also entangled in a web of Jewishness. Jews owned the galleries that exhibited and sold the painting (first Paul Rosenberg, a Jewish gallery that was to specialize in modernist art, then Bernheim-­Jeune, then much later the Wildenstein Gallery in New York, which ironically came under critical scrutiny for selling art confiscated by the Nazis from the Jewish families the Wildenstein family had discreetly served in Paris41). Nor does the entanglement end here: I first saw the painting at, and learned much about it from the catalog of, an exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York devoted to Vuillard and his muses, including, of course, Misia.42 Turning to gender, then, reinforces the point I have been making throughout this chapter: the transitions that marked the avant-­garde enterprise in the era about which I am writing—­from Pre-­R aphaelitism and Symbolism/ decadence in England and France through Impressionism and Postimpressionism through Expressionism to something we think of as modernism—­ would not have been possible without a network of Jewish patrons, lovers, salonnières, supporters, dealers, critics, gallery owners, art historians, museum curators, and cultural institutions. Sometimes old money, more often new money; sometimes parvenus who parlayed their businesses into new forms of aesthetic entrepreneurship; sometimes businesspeople who adored and advocated the new works being produced under the aesthetic banner and sought social standing through their cultivation; sometimes Jewish intellec­ tuals looking to exploit new cultural formations in new cultural media; sometimes women seeking to exercise agency in high culture in the only ways they could; sometimes the institutions created out of the collections of or gifted by these figures—­the efforts of all of these, operating separately but taken in the aggregate, were indispensable to the creation of the new avant-­garde emerging throughout this period. And over the course of the half-­century or so that I am taking as my focus here, aestheticism, decadence, and Jewishness intertwined and, extending through and beyond Jews through Jewish-­inflected cultural institutions and networks, remade structures of affect and opened new possibilities of identity and agency not only for Jews but also for the culture at large—­all of which eventuate in, and indeed make possible, the transition into modernity, the topic I address in the pages that follow.

Chapter 2

Oscar Wilde among the Jews

Oscar Wilde, the Jewish Sphinx Oscar Wilde’s final resting place, after a tumultuous and scandal-­torn life, is a tomb in Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris that is topped by a gigantic flying androgynous Sphinx-­like totem (fig. 2.1)—­technically, it is the god Ammon, who appears in a line in Wilde’s poem “The Sphinx.” (The penis of the creature was broken off by vandals and is rumored to have been kept by the superintendent of the cemetery before being replaced in 1956.) The tomb offers vivid testimony to Wilde’s status as a cultural icon. Marked by lipstick from admirers’ kisses, the monument has now been covered with glass at the order of Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland, who somewhat incomprehensibly ordered the enclosure to force Wilde’s admirers to “try to behave sensibly,” a course of conduct Wilde himself could never have been accused of following.1 The monument offers testimony to the intertwining of both Wilde’s life and his afterlife with Jews. It was designed in 1911 by a Jewish, Lower East Side–­ born sculptor, Jacob Epstein—­commissioned, with explicit instructions that Epstein be employed, by Lady Helen Carew, a friend of Wilde’s, whose son, Sir Coleridge Kennard, was a school friend of Wilde’s son Vyvyan. Scholars have recently identified the source of the commission as William Rothenstein, a Jewish-­born and -­identified artist and late addition to the Wilde circle who had previously arranged a grant from the Jewish Aid Society for Epstein and who defended him during a ridiculous 1908 controversy sparked by his sculptures of male nudes in the front of the British Medical Association Building—­a controversy marked by the anti-­Semitism that greeted Epstein throughout his career. The Orientalized design was Epstein’s choice. Wilde’s friends had urged him to sculpt a classical figure and he planned on a Narcissus, but he

F i g u r e 2 . 1 . Sir Jacob Epstein’s (1880–­1959) monument for Oscar Wilde, with kisses, sans penis. Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. Photo © Clement Guillaume/Bridgeman Images. Monument © Tate, London 2019.

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abruptly changed his mind and after rereading Wilde’s works, fixed on “The Sphinx,” selected the lines referring to Ammon, and went to work.2 The reference does complex work. It ties Wilde to Epstein as a kind of Orientalized, foreign other—­as a fellow outcast in an increasingly homophobic and anti-­Semitic England. (As a sign of the continuity between these two social malaises, we might pause to note that Henry Labouchère, the sponsor of the amendment criminalizing homosexuality under which Wilde was imprisoned, was also a raging anti-­Semite, whose magazine Truth crusaded against Jews with unremitting bile from the 1900s through the 1920s.) And it links Wilde to Jews and Jewishness even more directly. Wilde’s “Sphinx,” ten years in the making, was dedicated “in friendship and in admiration” to Wilde’s friend Marcel Schwob, a Parisian aesthete of Jewish birth—­descended through his mother from a long line of rabbis—­who along with several others helped Wilde with the French of Salomé in 1892. Regenia Gagnier suggests that Wilde dedicated the poem to the Frenchman in hope of seducing the straight-­seeming Schwob; Richard Ellmann, that the dedication is a gesture of thanks to Schwob for his translation.3 Perhaps the dedication was impelled by both motives. What remains clear is that Schwob, unlike Wilde’s other close friends, disavowed his connection to Wilde after the latter’s disgrace, going so far as to challenge a French journalist to a duel for claiming that Schwob was one of Wilde’s familiers—­the word denotes “acquaintances” and connotes, perhaps, more. (Catulle Mendès, also included in the all-­purpose smear, actually fought a duel with the same journalist; they nicked each other’s arms.) Schwob was attacked in turn by his fellow translator Robert Sherard, whose anti-­Semitic display at the time of Dreyfus made even Wilde, an anti-­Dreyfusard, uncomfortable—­drunk, Sherard cried out, “À bas les juifs,” when he saw a Jewish man on the street and then tried to assault him, to Wilde’s disgust.4 I’m not sure Epstein was aware of any of these overlapping, conflicting connections between Wilde and Jews. But they begin to suggest just how fully Wilde had become not only exoticized but Jewified—­enfolded into community with his Jewish contemporaries in enigmatic and rich ways. Oscar Wilde’s life and works alike were shaped by Jews—­whether privileged or social outcasts; gay or straight; newly entering members of London high society or artists, bohemians, aesthetes, dancers, actresses. Looking more closely at these interrelations can tell us something important about Wilde, his multiple and contradictory affiliations, and the remaking of his reputation in the aftermath of his disgrace, imprisonment, and death. But it can also tell us much about Jewish negotiations with high culture, and the use Jews made of the

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cultural formations Wilde exemplified in the long fin-­de-­siècle and epitomized thereafter.

Leonard Montefiore and Jewish Aestheticism I begin with a little-­discussed datum: the first woman Wilde proposed to (in the end, there were three) was Jewish, Charlotte Montefiore. And Montefiore was no run-­of-­the-­mill Jewess. She was a member of the fabulously accomplished Montefiore family, which included the unofficial leader of the Jewish community of Britain, Moses Montefiore, and was linked by marriage to the Rothschilds. Her brother Claude was a brilliant student at Balliol College, Oxford, at the same time as Oscar excelled at Magdalen College; Claude fell under the liberalizing influence of Benjamin Jowett, and after Oxford he essentially invented Liberal Judaism, guiding it in the direction of cross-­religious dialogue with Christianity. Her other brother, Leonard, was also an Oxford classmate of Wilde’s and joined Wilde in John Ruskin’s brigade of young men in building a road to link a poor neighborhood to the rest of the town in 1874. Wilde wrote a beautifully heartfelt letter to Claude on the occasion of Leonard’s premature death, at the age of twenty-­seven, and sent a note of condolence to Charlotte. Not one to waste time, Wilde also proposed to Leonard’s grieving sister, who promptly rejected him, leading to a snarky response that anticipates George Bernard Shaw’s riposte to Ellen Terry by two decades: “Charlotte, I am so sorry about your decision. With your money and my brain, we could have gone far.”5 I find this moment illegible. It’s not clear exactly what caused Wilde to fall for Charlotte, or even to think that she might be inclined to him—­she married a high-­level gentile civil servant a few years later and retired from the historical record. His response may be a sign that he was genuinely hurt by her refusal, or that his feelings were not fully engaged. My hunch is that Wilde’s real emotional involvement was with the deceased Leonard and that Charlotte may have rightly thought that he sought to concretize his affections for her brother through the expression of desire for her. Whatever the case, it is to Leonard Montefiore we must turn, because he was a remarkable figure in his own right—­and especially significant for the ways that he attempted to mediate between Jewishness and the culture he was trying to enter by means of aestheticism. Leonard Montefiore was not just a member of one of the most distinguished Jewish families in England; he was also a presence to be reckoned with in the Oxford hothouse that formed a crucial matrix for ruling-­class England at large.

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A fine student, generous and openhearted with his friends, Montefiore was appalled by the snobby, athletics-­mad, fine-­dressing mediocrities among whom he found himself. According to a memorial pieced together by his friends and published by his family after his untimely death, There was one class of men in particular, to whom he had throughout life the greatest difficulty in being civil. These were the men in buckram, the fine gentlemen, whose claim to predominance over their fellows rested upon the perfection of their dress and the lordliness of their demeanour. . . . For a man of this sort he had an almost physical repulsion, and his struggle to command his manners in the presence of the alien monster was often quite ludicrous to watch.6

That last trope is interesting in context, since it is precisely as an “alien monster” that Montefiore would have appeared to the “men in buckram.” Oxford and Cambridge were just opening their doors to Jews in the later years of the nineteenth century and remained deeply Christian in tone, orientation, and mission.7 Unlike other Jews who started to enter Oxbridge in the later years of the century, Montefiore was intensely aware of both the importance and the difficulty of his maintaining his Jewishness at the university. True, he does not seem to have attended the small Jewish congregation in Oxford, but he thought long and hard about how to keep the Sabbath, ultimately deciding on social outreach: Being a Jew, he never worked on Saturday; but he did not care to pass the day in idleness and soon began to cast about for some means of turning his leisure to the advantage of others. The means suggested to him,—­a weekly visit to the workhouse, to talk with and entertain the old people there—­seemed very unattractive. . . . But it was difficult to discover any kind of usefulness that was not work, and therefore prohibited. Besides, here was an opportunity for much unpretentious kindness, and that was enough for him. (Essays and Letters, xxi–­xxii)

And he continued this endeavor in London’s East End, where he was active in reforming schools, organizing a gigantic flower show—­for he saw “that the rearing of flowers might teach the children (and perhaps even the parents) to love beauty in the house as he loved it himself ” (xxx)—­addressing the Jewish Workmen’s Club and the Tower Hamlets branch of the Society for the Extension of University Teaching, and distributing toys to the children who crowded around him. (There is a fountain devoted to his memory in the East

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End.) True to his class, he did not seek social transformation: “he felt intensely all the disadvantages under which [the poor] labour, but he felt also that any attempt to lighten those disadvantages, which might result in weakening their self-­reliance and injuring their self-­respect, was the greatest wrong which could be done them” (xxxii–­xxxiii). Rather, he focused on the dissemination of high culture: “His own enjoyment of art and literature was so keen that he found a real pleasure in diffusing it. . . . Though he gloried in avowing his nationality, he gained the ear of Christian and Jew equally well, for no audience could resist his happy blending of gaiety and humour” (xxxii). To be sure, this endeavor seems a touch on the risible side—­flowers and art lectures seem all well and good but in the face of grinding poverty and budding class warfare might appear a bit frivolous. Yet they firmly place Montefiore in the context of both Jewish and British high culture, that of his family, on the one hand, and that of his mentor, John Ruskin, on the other. As far as the first is concerned, his aunt Charlotte Simcha Montefiore (after whom his sister, Wilde’s would-­be intended, was named) was one of the pillars of the charitable Jewish world in the 1840s and 1850s. A leading member of the Cousinhood, that remarkable group of Sephardic families that dominated  Jewish culture in the nineteenth century, her chief charitable activity was the Cheap Jewish Library, which offered books to working-­class Jews, ranging from tracts to novels by the likes of Grace Aguilar and Charlotte Montefiore herself. Several decades before Matthew Arnold would prescribe culture as a means of advancing the working classes, Charlotte Montefiore and other members of the Cousinhood were doing the same—­ironically controverting Arnold’s typology, in which Hellenism betokened the pursuit of culture and Hebraism, Puritanical mean-­ mindedness and overstrenuousness. But Arnoldian Hebraism was not absent from Charlotte Montefiore’s endeavor. Michael Galchinsky stresses “a lack of interest” on Charlotte’s part “in the details of aesthetics,” noting, “In fact, her . . . work reveals her belief that, to be valuable, fiction must subordinate any aesthetic ends to the end of usefulness”—­her emphasis is on morality in the place of art or beauty in the pantheon of virtues.8 For the source of the predilection for the aesthetic in Leonard Montefiore, we will have to turn beyond the Jewish uplift tradition to its Protestant double, as embodied in his and Wilde’s Oxford mentor, the Victorian sage, art critic, and all-­purpose scold John Ruskin. Ruskin struggled to make the aesthetic and the moral speak to one another. In his early writing, this struggle gave birth to a dynamic reading of J. M. W. Turner as a figure who united beauty, truth to nature, and ethical critique. Later, it led to Ruskin’s famous deconversion experience in Venice, where, under the influence of

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Renaissance art, he was forced to decouple the love of art from his Protestant faith. Later still, it governed his turn to social action, not only the road-­building enterprise on which Leonard Montefiore and Wilde were both engaged, but also the formation of working men’s colleges. We can trace Ruskin’s influence here quite directly. As Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford and as a fellow of Balliol College, Ruskin cultivated Montefiore along with other prominent and successful young men, inviting them to social events in his quarters and including them on his long walks in the Oxfordshire countryside. There he preached his late-­career doctrine of social improvement through adult education and exposure to the beautiful things of life. Even the love of flowers is present in late Ruskin: fascinated by them all his life, he began the serious study of botany in his sixties, publishing just before taking his Slade professorship the remarkable study—­one gets a sense of it by citing the full title—­Proserpina: Studies of Wayside Flowers while the Air was Yet Pure among the Alps and in the Scotland and England Which My Father Knew (1897). Doubtless he pointed out and commented on the wildflowers during the tramps in the country on which he led Montefiore and his fellow Oxonians.9 Far from being frivolous, then, Montefiore’s endeavors in the East End partook of an attempt to unify his Jewish background with the Ruskinian/ aesthesticist currents he encountered at Oxford—­currents that Wilde, at least in his earliest years, shared, explored, and even, in his wonderful, surprisingly earnest social criticism like “The Soul of Man under Socialism,” continued to espouse. Leonard Montefiore, and Wilde’s seeming crush on him, are significant on both sides, reminding us of the attraction Jews held to British gentiles in the high aesthetic circles and of how their engagement with the aesthetic helped Jews weave themselves into the fabric of England. Indeed, the early days of the aesthetic movement—­even pre-­Wilde—­were marked by the entry of a number of Jews into the gentile world by means of art and connoisseurship. In the first group one would include the alcoholic painter Simeon Solomon, who studied in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s studio and turned from his early studies of Jewish life (“the first attempt by a Jew to portray graphically . . . customs and ceremonies outside a purely religious framework,” according to Richard Cohen) to Pre-­Raphaelite phantasmagoria.10 Solomon was considered part of the Pre-­Raphaelite Brotherhood but was dropped from the record following his arrest for propositioning a man at a urinal (Murray Marks, who bailed him out of jail for public drunkenness on a number of occasions, could not save him on this one). At a slightly later date, one would want to mention Solomon Joseph Solomon (no relation to Simeon Solomon), a minor artist in the tradition of

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Laurence Alma-­Tadema, and his fascinating sister, in many ways more talented than he, Lilly Delissa Joseph.11 These Jewish artists were drawn in many ways both to the traditional worlds from which they came—­lower in class and more regular in observance than Montefiore’s—­and to the possibilities opened up in the democratizing world of Pre-­Raphaelite and post–­Pre-­Raphaelite art. Lilly Joseph’s self-­portrait (see fig. 2.2) offers a telling portrayal of this ambivalence: on the one hand, she is carrying the candles to some kind of ritual observance, to shabbat dinner perhaps; on the other, she is winsomely looking back at the viewer of the painting, as if to suggest she is temporarily leaving but fully acknowledging the modern world. As she did in real life: although Joseph remained quite true to her community of origin, she was also a political firebrand who was imprisoned for suffragette activities in Holloway, the same prison to which Oscar Wilde would be remanded during his trial. Not only was artistic practice becoming more open to Jews; so too was the infrastructure that supported the making of the avant-­garde in England, as well as on the Continent. In chapter 1 I noted the prominent Jewish dealers who initiated the blue-­and-­white china craze and promoted Pre-­Raphaelite art. Along with the Durlacher brothers, I mentioned Murray Marks, and he merits special emphasis. Marks provided, for example, much of the material for two of the most important projects of the era: James McNeill Whistler’s Peacock Room and the Queen Anne–­style home of Frederick Leyland, the latter of which he helped transform into “a dwelling of perfect harmony, where nothing offends the eye and everything charms it,” in which “the inspirer and owner of the mansion, Mr. F. R. Leyland, realizes his dream of living the life of an old Venetian merchant in modern London.”12 Marks was so fully integrated into the early aesthetic movement that his business card was designed by no less than three of its luminaries—­Rossetti, William Morris, and Whistler, “perhaps the only case on record,” his biographer observes without hyperbole, “in which three men of such importance united to originate a business card.”13 He in turn conspired on their behalf, fixing prices, for example, at an auction of Rossetti’s works to add to his friend’s profit—­slicing off a goodly percentage for his own. And from the gentile end, many other Pre-­Raphaelite/aestheticist groupings entered into consequential relations with their Jewish counterparts. Rossetti taught Simeon Solomon, and John Everett Millais taught Solomon Solomon; these Jews and Pre-­Raphaelites and aestheticist artists and writers all moved in the same circles. William Holman Hunt, for example, consulted with Jewish friends in London while planning his trips to the Holy Land and continued to correspond with them as he critiqued missionary activities in Jerusalem. Later

F i g u r e 2 . 2 . Lily Delissa Joseph, Self Portrait with Candles, ca. 1906. Oil on canvas, 126 × 80.4 cm. Courtesy Ben Uri Collection/Bridgeman Images.

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he advocated a Zionist solution to the Jewish question well before the rise of political Zionism.14 As high aestheticism veered into soi-­disant decadence in the late 1880s and 1890s, Jewish critics, writers, and artists were increasingly involved in the latter’s creation and dissemination, especially as they came into contact with Wilde. When Wilde, with his genius for publicity, became the center of the decadent movement, and many of these Jewish artists, writers, aesthetes, and hangers-­on organized their complicated bundle of affects and idealizations around him. I want here to describe three of these groups: the men, largely queer, who circled around Wilde in the 1890s; the women who did the same; and the Jewish critics at large who apotheosized Wilde after his death. For each of these, the example of Wilde became a way to negotiate their own relations to a rapidly opening, but still gentile-­dominated, British public sphere—­and a way, tentatively, incrementally, but powerfully, toward remaking that sphere itself.

J e ws , H o m o s e xua l s , A rt i s t s i n t h e W i l d e C i rc l e To begin with the first of these groups, I call upon Edouard Roditi, a Sephardic Jew of Turkish descent, a surrealist poet who adopted Jewish themes, a gay man, an epileptic: a multiple other, in other words. Roditi published in 1947 an excellent little book on Wilde, who was then consigned to cultural oblivion, in which he paused as few other critics had, or for that matter have, to note the prevalence of Jews among Wilde’s defenders: From Frank Harris’ otherwise unreliable Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions, one gathers that several of Wilde’s Jewish friends were among the few who rallied most spontaneously to his assistance both during his trials and imprisonment and after his release from jail, perhaps unconsciously because Jews still felt that their position in English society that was still so fraught with prejudices, was in a way as marginal and precarious as that of homosexuals, a fact that Proust later remarked again and again about the position of Jews in French society too.15

These categories overlapped in the Wilde circle as much as they did in Proust’s (and, for that matter, in Proust himself ). Wilde’s friends and confreres included queer theorist avant la lettre Marc-­André Raffalovich; Reggie Turner, a lover of Wilde’s and a comforter of him till the day of his death, when Wilde affectionately addressed him as “You dear little Jew”;16 and painter and cultural entrepreneur William Rothenstein.

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This group represented different strains of British Jewry. Raffalovich, the wealthy son of a Russian family, was raised in Paris, studied at Oxford, and then moved to London, where he became friends with, then had a nasty falling-­out with, Wilde after taking as his close friend and life companion the poet John Gray, also a lover of Wilde’s and thought by many to be the original for Dorian Gray. Turner was the natural son of one member or another of the fabulously wealthy and powerful Levy-­Lawson family, who controlled the Daily Telegraph, the first and most prominent of England’s penny newspapers. Rothenstein was descended from a wealthy, German-­born merchant family in West Yorkshire; after studying in Paris he returned to England, ultimately becoming a card-­carrying member of the art establishment. About the only important group of Jews not represented were the thousands of impoverished Ashkenazic Jews who immigrated to London’s East End in the 1880s and 1890s. They, ironically enough, are represented in Wilde’s own work, especially The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), with its portrayal of a greasy Jewish theater owner and his musical accompanist—­not the most appetizing representation, but one that suggests the interest of decadent culture in the figure of the Jew. All faced explicit and increasingly ugly anti-­Semitism, but each adjusted his sense of his Jewishness differently—­and often with respect to Wilde. Raffalovich’s renegotiation of the terms of his Jewishness, for example, is inseparable from his relations with Wilde. Although the two were friendly enough until a definitive break occurred in the 1890s (Raffalovich was close to Wilde’s wife, Constance, and felt that Wilde was mistreating her as his liaisons multiplied), the seeds of their later antagonism were planted by the origins of their friendship, which seems to have begun with a by-­and-­large favorable review of Raffalovich’s 1885 book of verse, Tuberose and Meadowsweet. After praising the book for its mastery of the decadent style and alluding to its knowing allusions to male-­male eroticism in the fin-­de-­siècle decadent mode (talk about flowers and decadence!—­the stem of the tuberose resembles an erect penis and their flowers give off a heady, almost cloying scent), Wilde goes on to assert: Indeed, in his way he is a boyish master of curious music and of fantastic rhyme, and can strike on the lute of  language so many lovely chords that it seems a pity he does not know how to pronounce the title of his book and the theme of his songs. For he insists on making “tuberose” a trisyllable always, as if it were a potato blossom and not a flower shaped like a tiny trumpet of ivory. However, for the sake of his meadowsweet and his spring-­green binding this must be

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forgiven him. And though he cannot pronounce “tuberose” aright, at least he can sing of it exquisitely.17

Wilde’s mockery of his friend’s foreignness here is direct and personal. Raffalovich spoke, as Wilde well knew, with a pronounced foreign accent, and that he couldn’t pronounce a word properly was a reminder of his foreign status. Moreover the “potato” blossom evoked by Raffalovich’s scansion (“tuber-­ rose”), as opposed to the tongue-­tripping “tiny trumpet of ivory” (“tube-­ rose”), may have reminded Wilde’s readers that potatoes had taken the place of grain as a staple in the diet of Eastern European peasants in the later years of the nineteenth century. The insult is therefore of a piece with the rest of Wilde’s sneers, classifying the aristocratic Raffalovich as a peasant as well as a Jew. Yet as is so often the case with Wilde, the irony ramifies inward as well as outward, for potatoes were also a dietary staple of the impoverished Irish, and “potato-­eater” was an anti-­Irish slur in England as in America. So Wilde, here as elsewhere, both adopts the tones of a snobby British aristocrat and gestures toward his communion with the people who would be sneered at by such a person: the Irishman, in this case, is indistinguishable from the Jew, and Wilde the aesthete is a little bit of both while at the same time distinctively neither.18 Raffalovich took none of this lying down—­indeed, his response to Wilde mirrored Wilde’s to him. He countered Wilde’s criticism in the Pall Mall Gazette with a letter in which he outflanks Wilde, invoking a passage in which Percy Shelley similarly scans “tuberose” trisyllabically—­a discerning choice given Shelley’s influence on Wilde’s politics and poetics alike.19 After the two broke with each other, Raffalovich wrote a tract, Uranisme et unisexualité (1896), that took a number of potshots at Wilde and treated him and his trial with a significant degree of asperity in the course of arguing for the power of a chaste, idealized homosexuality. Here the Jew lapses into a series of slurs that one might find shocking—­Fred Roden, who has written wonderfully on the subject, certainly does20—­if one didn’t see them as a climax to this long set of racialized putdowns exchanged between Wilde and Raffalovich: Oscar Wilde (son of a well-­known Irish doctor and a mother still living who, under the name Speranza, wrote Irish poetry) has always been very Irish, able to speak for hours on end without tiring himself out, loving the sound of his own slow voice, laughing violently at his incessant pleasantries, often seeming to devour his own words as if they were bon-­bons. You couldn’t watch him speak without noticing his sensual lips, his discolored teeth and his tongue which

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seemed to lick his own words. . . . My readers have probably seen him: tall, a blanched or blushed negro, beardless, coiffed in poor taste.21

In this poker game of identifications and insults, Raffalovich sees Wilde’s snooty but self-­indicting anti-­Semitism and raises it, not only by spouting anti-­Irish insults but also by articulating out-­and-­out racism; and he follows through to win the hand (or so his tone throughout Uranisme et unisexualité would suggest) with a conversion to Catholicism and priestlike chastity. True, in this position he is no longer a Jew, but he is a superior version of  his sneering rival—­the lover of Wilde’s former lover, the better advocate of his passion, even in the end the better Catholic, an affiliation with which Wilde wrestled most of his life and that he affirmed in 1900 on his deathbed. From a queer point of view, this interplay is of great moment. As Roden shows, the maneuvering between Wilde and Raffalovich defines the contours of male-­male identity politics as they emerged for the first time into public prominence. From a Jewish point of view, however, it suggests some of the difficulties within the shared precincts of queer identities, with Wilde constructing himself as an Irish-­born Englishman in direct contradistinction to that other emerging category, the assimilating Jew, and the Jew entering the Wilde circle only to leave it, affirming himself as a different kind of outsider than either Jew or homosexual. For both, it’s important to nail down some kind of distinctive identity against which they could define themselves—­in Wilde’s case, Raffalovich’s; in Raffalovich’s, Wilde’s. In both cases, Jewishness enters into the churning process of identity formation and reformation, providing models of both identification and dis-­identification for queer gentiles and queer Jews alike. The same phenomenon, with less satisfactory results, was evident in the case of Reggie Turner. Turner’s experience of himself as a conflicted and assimilated but nevertheless unmistakable Jew was shaped by his family, the Levy-­Lawsons. The scion of the family, Joseph Levy, bought the Daily Tele­ graph in 1855 to settle a debt and promptly reduced its price to a penny, essentially inventing the mass-­market journalism associated by many with Jewishness from the nineteenth century up until our own day.22 His son Edward, who was probably Turner’s father, changed his name to Lawson and converted to Anglicanism. Although the bulk of the family fortune passed to Turner’s legitimate half-­(?)brother, who provided generously but not extravagantly for him after the death of Edward, Turner was raised in a series of Church of England–­saturated school environments, culminating at Oxford. But both his family and Turner himself were identified throughout the period as irrevocably

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Jewish, and not just by Max Beerbohm. Edward Lawson got embroiled in a controversy with the vile Henry Labouchère: after an attack on Lawson in Labouchère’s explicitly anti-­Semitic periodical Truth, Lawson thrashed Labouchère outside their club, then sued him for libel—­and lost. No matter how fully accepted Lawson might have been—­indeed, he was literally a member of the club, at least until the thrashing incident forced his resignation—­he remained something of an outsider in ways that were to have uncanny echoes in Wilde’s disastrous libel suit against another homophobic anti-­Semite, Lord Queensberry. As for Turner himself, he seems to have evinced no consistent Jewish affiliation. Yet he was persistently identified (as was Raffalovich) in terms that highlighted his putative ugliness but really characterized him in essentially racializing terms: Turner was considered [by Beerbohm’s circle] stunningly ugly. Sitwell said, “The ugliness of his appearance at first took strangers aback. . . . It was a hideousness hard to describe, because the features and the whole face were rather formless. Out of a chaos of sallow skin and wrinkles shone two quick but contemplative, amused but rather melancholy, blue eyes.” Acton said that he was “small, quietly dressed, with a sallow complexion, thick purplish lips and perpetually blinking eyes.” Max, when asked what his friend Turner thought about the huge noses Max gave him, replied that “when you exaggerate as much as that, there can be no offense in it.”23

And exaggerate Beerbohm did. Witness the difference between a Beerbohm caricature and a photograph of Turner (with Robbie Ross, Wilde’s most devoted friend) taken at roughly the same time (figs. 2.3a–­b). The caricature, a representation wrought by its subject’s very best friend from college days forward, is of a piece with anti-­Semitic representations circulating broadly in the culture at large—­the exaggerated nose, slanted eyes, frizzy hair, and cap are all staples of such representations. Racializing descriptions of  Turner proliferated. Here is David Cecil’s: “fantastically ugly, with a nut-­shaped head, blubbery lips and a huge, snout-­like nose.”24 And according to Stanley Weintraub, Turner was “observed brooding over his image in the looking-­glass. ‘God, I am ugly!’ he exclaimed.”25 He might as well have been saying, “God, I am a Jew!” Turner’s response to his place in the aesthetic and decadent sphere into which he was swept (he was openly homosexual, like most of that circle, and from an early age) can be read as a complex negotiation between this sense of

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F i g u r e 2 . 3 . A caricature of  Turner . . . and a photograph, with Turner on right—­both at Oxford. Max Beerbohm, Reggie at Oxford, ca. 1895. Lithograph. Private collection. © The Estate of Max Beerbohm. Stapleton Collection/Bridgeman Images. Robert Ross and Reginald Turner, ca. 1895. Black-­and-­white photograph. Private collection. Tallandier/Bridgeman Images.

himself as an alienated subject—­not fully Jewish by either birth or upbringing but always perceived as such by those around him—­and a world of assumed privilege that was as full of parvenus like Wilde as of grandees of established wealth like the Douglases or the Labouchères. Although he was not without talent—­his story published in The Yellow Book in 1896, “A Chef-­d’œuvre,” is actually quite estimable, although derivative of late Henry James, and his many novels do contain patches of clever dialogue—­Turner persistently seems unnecessarily self-­negating, apologetic in his relations with the other members of the Wilde circle, especially Alfred Douglas, to whom he composed in his youth a poem of no little obsequiousness. Turner seems, moreover, not only to have been the object of a good deal of humor as well as caricature (Raffalovich joined in the raillery, with a parodic account of Turner in a 1897 novel, Self Seekers: A Novel of Manners) but to have internalized that commentary in his constant barrage of self-­deprecating remarks and positions (most notably

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his famous remark that the second, rather than the first, editions of his books were rare). In this process, Turner’s Jewishness was a crucial, if shifting, element. Identified by others as a Jew, he occasionally self-­identified as Jewish, particularly during the latter stages of the Dreyfus affair, when he advocated Dreyfus’s case with passion even to his aesthete friends who were not fully on board, and later, when he decried the rise of Nazism with all his “50% of Jewish blood.”26 But he also remained firmly self-­identified as an Anglican and launched the standard assortment of anti-­Semitic wisecracks. But matters here remained complex, volatile. Consider his portrayal of aesthete, art critic, and scoundrel Bernard Berenson in his 1910 novel Count Florio and Phyllis K.: Barnard Barnardsohn is the greatest expert in the world, and can find out the origin of every picture. The only thing he isn’t clever enough to find out is his own nationality. He’s a Polish Jew educated in England and America and living in Italy, and generally to be seen in Paris. He’s a most pleasant man, and sometimes people think he’s Irish.27

The cosmopolitanism of “Barnardsohn” flits from the Jewish to the Irish—­ Irish here being, as it was for Turner’s friend Wilde, the default mode of otherness to which Jewishness like Turner’s aspires. But there’s much of Turner himself in his description of the fraudulent art expert, especially in the jab that Berenson/Barnardsohn can’t discover his own origins although they are undeniably Jewish, since this matches Turner’s own situation exactly. Jewish, illegitimate, homosexual, he would find a place as a Wilde-­like Irishman if he could, but he appeared to most of the world in the guise of otherness that Berenson and Barnardsohn both wore, that of the cultured, cultivated, parvenu Jew. These cases underline Roditi’s point but also complicate it. Jews were sympathetic to Wilde not only because of their shared status as outsiders but also because they encountered, even in aesthete and decadent circles, versions of the anti-­Semitism they encountered elsewhere in public, an anti-­Semitism that was sometimes sporadic (as was the case with Wilde), sometimes structural (as was the case with Alfred Douglas, who, true to his father’s hateful nature, matured into a card-­carrying anti-­Semite and founded an anti-­Semitic magazine), and sometimes uncertain and undecidable (as was the case with the multiform responses to Turner). There they could use their Jewishness to neutralize, to negotiate, to contest the understandings or seduce the representatives of the dominant culture and in doing so internalize, subvert, or reproduce their

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attitudes. This stance largely led to attempted but deficient assimilation and/ or conversion to Catholicism, self-­hatred, self-­division. Another stance, a more productive one, was possible—­simply to assert oneself as Jewish and let the chips fall where they may. Of all the figures I am describing here, the only one who played this relatively healthy role was a late addition to the Wilde circle, the painter, cultural entrepreneur, and networker William Rothenstein. Born the son of a self-­made Jewish manufacturer, an acquaintance of Edgar Degas and Auguste Renoir, Rothenstein returned from his studies in Paris to England in 1893 with a mixture of cultural capital and inherent moxie and entered Oxford as an artist/aesthete, comporting there with similar spirits, not the least of whom was Max Beerbohm, who does seem to have had a fascination with the Jews he mocked. Beerbohm’s response and Rothenstein’s reaction speak volumes about the conditions for Jews in the high cultural world they were seeking to enter. Max drew Rothenstein repeatedly—­at least 48 times. . . . In most of the drawings, from early to late, Rothenstein is monumentally ugly, and scowling. In 1893 Max wrote that his brother Herbert’s wife thought Rothenstein “the ugliest man in the wide world: I think he is rather nice to look upon with his huge spectacles and his thick raven hair combed over his forehead. He looks like a creature of another world.” Fifty years later, Max recalled, “My caricatures of him were very cruel, I am afraid. He knew they were, and yet he took it manfully. . . . One day Sickert said to me, “Your caricatures of dear Will and of Oscar Wilde were so deadly. I know how Oscar feels about them—­he can’t bear them—­but doesn’t Will resent them? Isn’t he angry? “More frightened,” I said, “than angry.”28

Frightened or not, while still at Oxford, Rothenstein made his way into Wilde’s circle, along with John Lane, Aubrey Beardsley, and the rest of the 1890s brigade. Rothenstein first met Wilde in Paris in 1891 and encountered him again in 1894, when he pleased Wilde with a caricature of Douglas. Even after the catastrophe of 1895, he remained on the periphery of the Wilde circle, bringing his wife to meet Oscar in Paris, soliciting (but then rejecting) a comment from Wilde on W. E. Henley for a book of literary/artistic portraits, and helping with the commission for Wilde’s memorial. Rothenstein confirms the pattern we have seen elsewhere of Jews using art and aestheticism to enter the precincts of respectability via a studied unrespectability, a process that usually ended in what Todd Endelman calls “radical assimilation.”29 But Rothenstein is distinguished from everyone else I’ve

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discussed by his affirmative relation to his Jewishness. Like many figures I have been surveying, he was initially alienated from his own origins—­he left home for good at age sixteen—­and from the Jews flooding into London’s East End as well. But unlike any of the others I’ve named, he worked to establish his own relation to the latter, hence to Jewishness itself. In his autobiography, Rothenstein tells us that in 1901 he found himself in the East End conducting business with the brother of painter Solomon Joseph Solomon. Solomon frère proposed they visit the Spitalfields synagogue in the heart of the East End, and Rothenstein found himself entranced by the sight that greeted him: My surprise was great to find the place crowded with Jews draped in praying shawls; while in a dark-­panelled room sat old, bearded men with strange side-­ locks, bending over great books and rocking their bodies as they read; others stood, muttering Hebrew prayers, their faces to the wall, enveloped from head to foot in black bordered shawls. Here were subjects Rembrandt would have painted—­had indeed, painted—­the like of which I never thought to have seen in London.30

Finding that he could not paint them in the synagogue proper, Rothenstein rented rooms in the East End and began to churn out a series of sketches and paintings: I haunted the Jewish quarter, where one observes astonishing types of men and women. The orthodox Jews from Russia and Galicia never shave, and some of the younger men put me in mind of portraits of Titian; for beards give grace and radiance to a face. The old gray-­bearded men, noble in mien if ignoble in dress, wear the pathetic look of Rembrandt’s Rabbis. It was the time of Russian Pogroms and my heart went out to these men of a despised race, from which I too had sprung, though regarded as a stranger among them. The men who sat to me, emigrants from the Russian ghettos, were rigidly orthodox, extremely poor and feckless; but their children would, belike, get on in the world, for they in no wise follow the ways of their fathers. Though the men were small, some of their daughters were magnificent creatures. No wonder Sargent admired the women of the race; though when Sargent went to Palestine he was little impressed by the people, a decadent generation, he thought. (Men and Memories, 36)

Noteworthy is Rothenstein’s recognition of the otherness of these Russian Jews while not disavowing, and in fact affirming, the continuity between himself and his Russian cousins. To be sure he aestheticizes them, and not only

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F i g u r e 2 . 4 . William Rothenstein, Jews Mourning in a Synagogue, 1906. Oil on canvas, 127.5 × 115.5 cm. Acquisition presented by Jacob Moser J.P. through the Trustees and Committee of Whitechapel Art Gallery in commemoration of the 1906 Jewish Exhibition; 1907, Tate Gallery, London. Photo: © Tate Gallery, London/Art Resource, NY.

in his web of comparisons to Rembrandt, whose portraits of Jews document the day-­to-­day interplay between Jews and gentiles in seventeenth-­century Amsterdam, as Steven Nadler has shown,31 or to John Singer Sargent, whose portraits of Jewish women mark the greatest decades of his work (for example, Mrs .Carl Meyer and Her Children [1897]) but also in the restraint with which he distances himself from them, evident in the symmetries that guide his composition. In Jews Mourning in a Synagogue (fig. 2.4), note in particular

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the careful balancing of triangles organized by the two standing celebrants, as perfect in its structuring as any classical painting. By its very symmetry, the painting testifies to the distance between the modern observer and these Jews; it reflects the order the painter creates out of his own assimilated, Westernized background from the welter of otherness that is these observant Jews and suggests his alienation from them. This engagement with the East End has been seen by some critics as just a stage in Rothenstein’s progress from outsider to pillar of the British art establishment.32 So suspect was Rothenstein that novelist Gilbert Cannan caricatured him as Edgar Froitzheim in Mendel (1916), a fictionalized account of his friend Mark Gertler’s youthful struggles as an artist (Gertler was doubtless a source): He [Mendel] had an enormous reverence for Mr. Froitzheim as a real artist, but as a man he instinctively distrusted him. It takes a Jew to catch a Jew, and Mendel scented in Mr. Froitzheim the Jew turned Englishman and prosperous gentleman. . . . [Froitzheim] had suffered so much from being a Jew, had been tortured with doubts as to whether he were not a mere calculating fantastic, and here in this boy’s work he had found a quality which took his mind back to his own early enthusiasm. That seemed so long ago that he was shocked and unhappy, and hid his feelings behind the solemnity which he had developed to overawe the easy, comfortable, and well-­mannered Englishmen among whom he worked for the cause of art. He was the first self-­deceiver Mendel had met.33

And to add to the parade of obloquy, although Rothenstein was included in the first exhibit of  Jewish art at the Whitechapel Gallery, held in 1906, he was conspicuously not represented in its successor, curated by the cubist David Bomberg in 1914. The dismissal of Rothenstein continues to this day. A Guardian account of Migrations: Journeys into British Art, a 2012 show at the Tate Britain that included Rothenstein’s art (ironically, Rothenstein’s son, Sir John Rothenstein, had been the director of  the Tate for twenty years), summarizes views of his art and social project alike that had been sustained over the previous hundred years: Rothenstein . . . wanted to be part of the middle class of English art. In 1906, the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s exhibition of Jewish art made religion the touchstone of Jewish identity, as in Rothenstein’s painting Jews Mourning in a Synagogue, but claimed that Jewish artists identified themselves completely

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with England, with no distinctive thought or differentiation of artistic sentiment. Ten years later, David Bomberg (born 18 years after Rothenstein, son of a Polish-­Jewish leather worker) and his contemporary Mark Gertler (born to Austrian-­Polish fur workers in Spitalfields) used avant-­garde techniques to paint a far more conflicted, complex picture of English art, as well as of English-­ Jewish identity.34

While I agree with the aesthetic judgment, the condescension seems unwarranted. I’m not sure that Rothenstein’s aspirations were for “the middle class of English art,” whatever that means. I assume that this is a thrust at his birth rather than his aspirations, and that the working-­class and Eastern European origins of Bomberg and Gertler guarantee for the Guardian an authenticity that the upper-­middle-­class, German-­Jewish–­born Rothenstein couldn’t match. Indeed, one’s sense here is that for his avant-­garde contemporaries and the Guardian alike, Rothenstein served as the Sammy Glick of the British art world, his quest for upward mobility combined with his own mediocre talent leading him to an assimilationist cravenness evident in his art and work. Perhaps.35 But consider the following: Rothenstein not only stood by Wilde when he was abandoned by all but a small band of friends and supporters, but also launched a spirited defense of Jacob Epstein in the early controversies over his work; recognized Gertler’s talent at an early age and pushed him into the Slade School of Fine Art (against whose dictates Gertler rebelled, leading to his expulsion in 1915); and drew on a fund for impoverished Jewish artists (on the board of which he sat and as a recommender to which he operated) to support not only Epstein but also Gertler and Bomberg. Moreover, he did not follow his two brothers, who changed their names in 1915 to “Rutherston” under anti-­German pressure during World War I. He would never disavow his Jewishness even when that Jewishness brought him suspicion as a different kind of alien, another Other. For all Rothenstein’s establishmentarian leanings and upwardly mobile maneuverings, his Jewishness and his engagement with aestheticism ultimately worked in tandem with each other, allowing him to fulfill the agenda of Leonard Montefiore and establish himself fully as both a Jew and an Englishman by means of art.

Women in the Wilde Circle The dynamics associated with male-­male activity in and around Wilde during his life and after his death were replicated in his relations with women. This was clearest in the aftermath of Wilde’s first trial, when Adela Schuster, the

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daughter of a Frankfurt banker who had settled his family in Wimbledon, generously contributed £1,000 to his defense, at a time when Wilde’s own funds were frozen. Similarly, Ada Leverson welcomed Wilde into her home after he had been kicked out of his own, recording in her memoirs the frantic meetings that he held with his friends and lawyers in her living room, as well as his rueful smile when he promised not to kill himself in her house. To be sure, for all the courage of these acts—­and in the utterly mad climate of the aftermath of the trial, when Wilde was confronted by howling mobs, found his name stripped from the playbills of his own dramas, and was barred from his own house, clubs, and even hotels, they were unmistakably brave—­ they were also somewhat limited. Reggie Turner, along with Robbie Ross, tended Wilde during the three years between his release from prison and his death; Leverson saw him again only once after he left her drawing room (a paranoid Wilde accused her husband, who managed the funds, of profiting from Schuster’s contribution). Clearly, none of these women deserved the term that critic Gary Schmidgall reserved for Leverson, whom he calls “a handsome bon vivant fag hag.”36 That being said, there is an element of social maneuvering evident in their interactions with Wilde and each other. Consider the relation of novelist Julia Frankau to Leverson. Frankau knew Wilde in their youth—­she and her sister, the fashion and costume writer Eliza Davis, grew up on Merrion Square in Dublin alongside the Wildes and were friends with them in London thereafter (Davis tried to get her lover, Sir Henry Irving, to produce Wilde’s Florentine Tragedy, with little success.)37 Frankau was a spirited controversialist: her first novel, Dr. Phillips (1887), offered a withering critique of the materialism of bourgeois Jewish society. (Frankau came by her critique honestly: her tutor growing up was Laura Lafargue, daughter of Karl Marx and a socialist activist in her own right.) Her rivalry with Leverson over Wilde surfaced in her 1906 novel The Sphinx’s Lawyer. A central, looming presence in that novel is Algernon Heseltine, a disgraced, deceased aesthete modeled on the by-­then also deceased Wilde. The Sphinx, his widow, Sybil, is a dissolute morphine addict dying of an unknown affliction caused by unspecified degenerate acts who attempts to keep Heseltine’s memory alive even while she is clearly the victim of his unspeakable practices. The account of Heseltine/Wilde is remarkably sympathetic. The title-­character, Errington Welch-­Kennard (shades of Wilde’s son Vyvyan Holland’s close friend Coleridge Kennard) delivers impassioned defenses of Heseltine, his initial and most famous client, and refuses to truck with anyone who will insult his memory. Sybil the Sphinx, by contrast, plays the conniving, jealous, and angry virago, corrupting innocent

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souls and entrapping Welch-­Kennard in a disastrous affair with a beautiful young  Jewess. The nickname “Sphinx” is not inconsequential. It was the subject and title of a poem Wilde worked on for many years and finally published in 1894. It was also the nickname Wilde gave to Leverson, who proudly played off it by publishing a parody of Wilde’s poem in Punch. Although Leverson’s biographer claims that Frankau’s use of the moniker “Sphinx” is the merest coincidence, the use of this name for a dissolute, manipulative, addicted, and decadent femme fatale well past her prime also seems a thrust by one Jewish woman writer at a more acclaimed and better-­connected peer—­wrought through the attempted appropriation of the memory and advocacy of her most famous literary friend and connection. Sadly, if perhaps justly, the novel was a commercial failure.38 This posthumous elbow-­throwing should not distract us from Wilde’s generous response to the women who cultivated him. He reacted to Leverson’s parody of his own work not with the kind of sustained mockery he displayed with Raffalovich but with affectionate intimacy. He apotheosized the Jewish actresses Rachel and (especially) Sarah Bernhardt. And as editor of The Woman’s World, he published two pieces by the most talented of the Jewish women writers of his time, Amy Levy, whom apparently he knew through the mixed salons they both frequented. This bisexual or lesbian Jew (the second Jew to graduate from Newnham College at Cambridge) was a critic of bourgeois Jewish and gentile norms alike (her novel Reuben Sachs [1888] is even more dismissive of Jewish upper-­middle-­class mores than was Frankau’s earlier, acidulous Dr. Phillips, and she throws in a parody of George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda to boot) and a bold, increasingly experimental writer.39 Levy’s papers have only recently been opened to scholars, and not much has emerged yet to tell us about her responses to Wilde. It is doubtful that she emotionally engaged with Wilde in the way that the other Jewish women I have canvassed here did—­she reserved her most intense feelings for women, especially older women, like Violet Paget (“Vernon Lee”), the aesthete and art critic, who was respectful of Levy’s talent but utterly unattracted to her as a person. (Levy’s response to this and to her other romantic disappointments was, like Reggie Turner’s, to see herself as ugly.) The elective affinity between Wilde, satirist of bourgeois mores with an unexpectedly sentimental streak, and Levy, career melancholic with a streak of social criticism, is striking, and was acknowledged by Wilde himself. Although he wrote a not-­uncondescending review of her first novel, The Romance of a Shop, he also wrote a gorgeous obituary for her, extravagantly

F i g u r e 2 . 5 . Amy Levy, ca. 1888. Photograph. From The Woman’s World, vol. 3 (1890), edited by Oscar Wilde. Courtesy University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-­Champaign.

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praising her second, Reuben Sachs. “To write thus at six-­and-­twenty,” wrote the six-­and-­thirty-­year-­old Wilde, his own career temporarily stalled as he turned from being a bright young man about town to a married editor of a middlebrow women’s magazine, “is given to very few; and from the few thus endowed their readers may safely hope for greater things later on. But ‘later on’ has not come for the writer of ‘Reuben Sachs,’ and the world must forego the full fruition of her power.” Then the self-­identification with the depressive, queer, enormously talented Jewish writer turns oddly prophetic: “The loss is the world’s, but perhaps not hers. She was never robust; not often actually ill, but seldom well enough to feel life a joy instead of a burden; and her work was not poured out lightly, but drawn drop by drop from the very depth of her own feeling. We may say of it that it was in truth her life’s blood.”40 The Wildean conflation of life and art and the extension of that merging into a self-­ pitying sense of self as martyr to one’s art, which afflicted his later career—­all this is implicit in his heartfelt obituary and brings to the fore again the multiplying and ramifying echoes of Jews’ experience of him and his experience of  Jews.

Wilde, the Jewish Prophet From Leonard Montefiore to Amy Levy with many stops in-­between, Wilde’s responses to the Jews he encountered in the increasingly mixed world of London literati and culture-­makers were charged, intense, and cathected, and Jews entering into that world under the sign of aestheticism perforce found themselves enwrapped with Wilde, whether affectively, ideologically, institutionally, or some mixture of all three. And to bring the argument full circle, Wilde was received with increasing enthusiasm not just by assimilating Jews among the London literati but also in the emerging  Jewish public sphere, where Yiddish-­ and Hebrew-­speaking and writing intellectuals were publishing newspapers, feuilletons, little magazines, novels, and poetry as well as political tracts of all varieties. Translations of and admiring commentaries on almost all his major works and many of the minor ones poured forth in cheap popular editions in both Hebrew and Yiddish: Dorian Gray and the plays and the prose were prominent, but the fairy stories, charming tales Wilde wrote for the children to whom he was denied access after his trial and imprisonment, seemed to win particular favor among Jewish publishers. His plays were performed in the Yiddish theater—­not surprisingly, Salomé was popular; even when banned in London, it was playing in New York in 1907, with a sensational performance by a young Jewish actress named Bessie Thomashefsky. But Salomé was not the

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only Wilde play to open in New York: the first season of Maurice Schwartz’s famous Yiddish Art Theatre in 1918/1919, included Wilde’s society comedy An Ideal Husband. Avid attention was paid in the Yiddish press to Wilde’s trial and subsequent decline and death. A portrait was included in a long memorial essay by Yiddish-­writing intellectual Baal-­Makhshoves (see fig. 2.6). Movingly, the picture is of  Wilde the youth, indeed Wilde on his American tour at the age of twenty-­four, not the bloated, defeated Wilde who expired in Paris on the eve of a century that would have embraced him. All this stood in distinct contrast to the mainstream gentile press and literary opinion, which at his death treated Wilde as an embarrassment and an anachronism. “In fact,” Shachar Pinsker writes, “when one examines the translations of Wilde into Hebrew and Yiddish, and the prominence of those who translated and presented Wilde and his writing, we might conclude that Jewish culture in the first decades of the twentieth century was caught up in a kind of ‘Wildemania.’ ”41 Like Pinsker, I will soon turn to the most spectacular manifestation of this mania, the enthusiasm for Wilde’s play Salomé evident throughout the Jewish as well as the gentile worlds. But before getting there, I want to note that there were three chief strains in the Jewish response to Wilde. The first, and not an inconsequential one, has to do with his politics. Robert Sherard (yes, the drunken anti-­Semite) was doubtless exaggerating when he wrote, Amongst the very poorest and most forlorn, and most desperate of the helots of Europe, the Jews of Russia and Poland, Oscar Wilde, known only to them as the author of this essay [“The Soul of Man under Socialism”], is regarded in the light of a prophet, a benefactor, a saint. In many of the awful kennels of Warsaw and Lublin, in Kieff and Libau, his portrait is pinned to the wall.42

Oddly enough, though, he was not wholly wrong: exaggerated though his response may be, it is clear from the sources we possess that “The Soul of Man under Socialism” was a crucial text for Yiddish revolutionary intellectuals, particularly those of the anarchist dispensation. Yiddish editions were published in London (as a cheap paperback) and New York; it was also serialized in Emma Goldman’s English-­language journal Mother Earth, which appealed to the American version of this demographic. (Goldman herself was a vociferous public defender of Wilde and frequently quoted him in her own works.) Wilde was often apotheosized in the Yiddish press as a bold and innovative beholder of a new form of social organization, a sense summarized by an essay published in Warsaw in 1925 that referred to Wilde as a “prophet.”43 His

  F i g u r e 2 . 6 . Illustration of Oscar Wilde accompanying Baal-­Makhshoves’s memorial essay, published in Warsaw, 1909. From De Profundis: Oyftseykhnungen un brif fun der tfise in Reding. Courtesy Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

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punishment was also taken as a sign of his status as a social rebel; such at least is the abundance of translations and republications of The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Wilde’s mixture of self-­pitying account of his own life and brilliant critique of a carceral, repressive society. A second and not uncontradictory dimension of the construction of  Wilde-­ as-­prophet was to instance him as herald of an art-­for-­art’s-­sake philosophy, a dicey proposition in a community wracked with a three-­way conflict between traditional religion, socialism, and Zionism, none of them particularly friendly to a perfervid aestheticism. But as Ruth Wisse reminds us, there were indeed Yiddish poets in the United States who made an explicit claim on this position, and they turned to Wilde as an example.44 For example, Yoel Slonim, one of the group of poets known as di yunge, wrote a long account of Wilde extolling his exemplary devotion to art-­for-­art’s-­sake, a devotion that the Yunge poets sought to bring to Jewish life in America: And regardless of what one thinks about Oscar Wilde’s opinion about himself and if you ignore that many of Wilde’s ideas, very many, were articulated before him by Mallarmé and others in France and by Keats, Swinburne and Rossetti in England, one must admit that no one, until Oscar Wilde, had bound together different ideas about beauty, assembled the different pearl-­stones into one pearl-­temple. For others, this art-­doctrine was a side-­thing; for him it was the essence. For them it was only minutes of their lives, for him, however, it was his whole life. There is practically no work of his that does not embody his philosophy of beauty, not only in form but also in content.

Slonim’s essay was far more inclusive and far more measured in both praise and criticism than anything I know in the contemporary Anglo-­American press. It concludes with the Wildean conceit that Wilde’s own greatest work of art was himself, and it is this quality of self-­invention that made him the preeminent spokesman for the values for which he argued: And if  Wilde did not display ingeniousness in a special branch of his creative-­ tree, Oscar Wilde is, together with all his creations, a work of genius, a “timeless creation.” And this, we believe, is the achievement that explains why Oscar Wilde takes such precedence in international art and why, in the world’s art-­ circles, people are more and more interested in Oscar Wilde than in Baudelaire or Verlaine, and even more than in such divine poets as Swinburne or such alluring poets as Keats, William Morris, and Rossetti.45

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Similar sentiments were articulated—­and similar moments from Wilde cited—­by Baal-­Makhshoves, writing in Warsaw (but not in a kennel!), and by Yiddish and Hebrew writers and polemicists like Yosef Chaim Brenner, Yoel Entin, and David Frishman.46 Even after its banning in England, Salomé became a staple of the Yiddish theater—­or so claimed Robbie Ross, Wilde’s friend and executor, who waged a lonely campaign to get Salomé staged in England. Ross asserted, “the play is often performed at the American Yiddish theatres, . . . in London . . . it is whispered that, unknown to the Censor, the play can also be seen in the Yiddish tongue.” Jews, in other words, proudly circumvented the official organs of censorship, the enforcers of which couldn’t speak their language.47 Although a Yiddish translation of Salomé was published in London in 1907, Ross exaggerates; I have found no records of  Yiddish performances of Salomé there. But he does not exaggerate excessively, at least when America is added to the mix. Translated into both Hebrew and Yiddish, the play was particularly admired by intellectuals, who identified it as the cynosure of modern theatre. Here is Slonim: Salomé is one of the most wondrous, poetic plays in modern literature. The power and beauty in it is incomparable. The writer had fit into the little play a whole period, a terrifying portrayal of decadence. A portrayal that captivates the reader as it does the audience, with a magic-­force, a frenzied power. Salomé will always remain the crowning-­work of the poet, the work that will make him immortal in English dramatic history.48

Slonim couldn’t have been more erroneous in his estimation of the vicissitudes of Wilde’s reputation. When Salomé was finally performed in En­ gland, critics saw it as a creaky anachronism, and it is The Importance of Being Earnest that lays his claim to theatrical immortality. But Jewish literary culture responded with equal enthusiasm to Wilde’s incandescently vengeful Salomé, with her over-­the-­top desires for mutilation and necrophilia. It is this figure that informs a brilliant sonnet by the Yiddish poet Fradl Shtok, which, as Kathryn Hellerstein has noted, alludes directly to the tropes of   Wilde’s play: My friend, my terrible friend, how you are evil, And proudly chaste as any saintly John who made the nights of the king’s daughter sleepless And as she hated him, I hate you now.

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Your face is not as pale and cool as ivory, Your hair does not curl, writhing like young snakes, Your youth’s heart is not as pure as any other’s—­ So why am I engulfed by burning hate? I hate you. I reiterate it now: And as I dance the sinful dance once more, I gesture at the bidding of the devil. And for my dance he’ll show his gratitude With pay well-­worthy of a sinful heart: He’ll give me what I crave—­your lilac tongue.49

Hellerstein—­whose fine translation I have given above—­observes that Shtok could have read the Yiddish translation of the play first published in London in 1909 or seen a version of it performed by Thomashefsky in New York in 1907—­ the sonnet dates to 1914. It serves, in other words, as a marker for the penetration of  Wilde into the consciousness of  Jewish culture in the early years of the twentieth century. But it is more than that: it suggests a writer wrestling not only with a lover who has rejected her but with the example of Wilde himself, and all that Wilde represents for the poets in the Yunge circle: art, poetry, language. True, Shtok plays off of  Wilde’s tropes to belittle her fallible love-­object and to transcend Wilde himself. Her lover is no John the Baptist; by extension, even Wilde’s language is not adequate to the speaker’s rage. But the last line of the poem suggests that matters are yet more complex. When Salomé sings to the head of  John the Baptist in Wilde’s play, she seeks to still the tongue—­“And thy tongue, that was like a red snake darting poison, it moves no more, it speaks no words.”50 What Shtok craves, however, is not silence but rather the active possession of her lover’s “lilac tongue,” that is, of the very capacity to speak, so possession of language itself. And more: a lilac is a heavily scented flower that like all such flowers was associated with homoeroticism, and with Wilde in particular—­see as far as the first is concerned, Walt Whitman’s beautiful elegy “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” and as far as the second is concerned, the opening lines of The Picture of Dorian Gray, the Yiddish translation of which was also available to Shtok: “The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-­flowering thorn.”51 So in asking for this not–­John the Baptist’s “lilac tongue,” the speaker seems to be both

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condemning him as an effeminate—­if you don’t want me, you’re gay, is one not-­very-­nice way to read the lines—­and asking for Wilde’s verbal power, too. And perhaps she is asking for his facility in multiple languages as well. Wilde’s lilac tongue may have come to life in the theatrical version of Salomé, but it’s a play he originally wrote in French translated into English; after his death, it was translated into a multitude of tongues, including Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, and German. Her wish, then, may well be for the multilingual fluency Wilde achieved—­for the success as a Yiddish-­speaking writer that eluded her when she tried her hand at writing in Wilde’s lilac tongue, with her failed novel Musicians Only (1927). There’s one more way in which Wilde’s importance was felt: as an advocate and representative of new inscriptions of sexuality. Warren Hoffman, in his study of queer identities on the Lower East Side, reminds us that the American Hebrew wrote of Scholem Asch’s sensational lesbian-­themed play El Neckomos that it has “a plot which in itself is grossly realistic, but Asch cannot refrain from adding repulsive details, erotic and neurotic, that suggest Oscar Wilde without his musical utterance.” Hoffman goes on to argue that because Yiddish translations of Wilde did not appear until later than Asch’s, it’s questionable that “Yiddish audiences would have been familiar with his work.”52 It’s not clear if he is referring to the audiences of Asch’s play, which is arguable, or to audiences in general, which is false, but the claim is useful in that it reminds us how extensive was the Jewish knowledge of not just Wilde but also Wilde’s queerness. Details of Wilde’s trial were reported throughout the Yiddish-­and Hebrew-­language press, and his legal difficulties were discussed extensively in the memorial essays I’ve cited above from 1900 forward, so much so that his name had become a byword for decadence by the 1910s. The American Hebrew’s comparison of Asch’s play to the decadent dimension of  Wilde is the tip of the iceberg, a way that Jews not just in the Lower East Side but throughout the Western world were seeking to come to terms with a radically new world of possibilities at once freeing and destabilizing. Pinsker suggests that “the decadent qualities of Wilde’s early modernist writing and the way he fashioned himself as an artist, as well as the ways in which Wilde and his texts deal with gender and sexuality, would become vital to the emergence of Hebrew modernism.”53 I have been arguing here that if anything Pinsker understates the case: Wilde’s example in its many manifestations—­as satirist, celebrity, rebel, political prophet, socialist, martyr, explorer of new configurations of gender, sexuality, and desire, advocate of the aesthetic—­became crucial to a wide variety of Jews—­English, Yiddish, Hebrew, French, Russian, Polish—­ who were to come to terms with, indeed ultimately to make, modernity.

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To underline this point, I want to turn now to a case study of the response to a specific, crucial text of Wilde’s, a response that had vast consequences for European and American culture at large and specific ramifications for the Jewish women who made their careers through performing the text and for the Jewish women who consumed, admired, and imitated their performances. That text is Salomé, and the response became known as Salomania.

Chapter 3

Salomania and the Remaking of the Jewish Female Body from Sarah Bernhardt to Betty Boop Call me Salome—­like they do in the movies. — L­ e n a L a m o n t ( J e a n H a g e n ) , playing a vamp in Singing in the Rain (1954)

Jewish Salomania In September 1908, Fanny Brice (birth name, Fania Borach) took the stage at a Friars Club benefit in Arverne, Rockaway—­the far reaches of the New York City borough of Queens. Although the venue was hardly first-­rank, the stakes were high.1 Brice had reached something of a career impasse: having been dismissed from the chorus line at her most prestigious job to date, George M. Cohan’s New Follies Review, she realized that a terpsichorean future was probably not in the offing. She needed to land more than a bit part; while she had been hired in that capacity for the variety show The College Girls, Brice aspired to a more prominent role. The producer, Max Spiegel, offered her a chance at a lead, and asked her to perform a “specialty”—­her own trademark act—­as an audition. This was the big break Brice was looking for. There was only one problem: she didn’t have a specialty to perform. Resourceful as ever, Brice turned to a friend, an up-­and-­coming Tin Pan Alley tunesmith by the name of Irving Berlin. Berlin offered her a newly composed song and insisted that she learn to sing it with a Yiddish accent (the Borachs, Hungarian in origin, were of a class that didn’t speak Yiddish). Dressed in a sailor suit that rode into her crotch, sporting a Yiddish accent that she picked up from an ethnic comedian and perfected with the help of Berlin, she flounced and writhed her way through the song, a ditty called “Sadie Salome (Go Home).” Performing first as a Jewish boy named Mose (of course) lamenting the career path of his girlfriend—­

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Don’t do that dance, I tell you Sadie, That’s not a bus’ness for a lady! ’Most ev’ry body knows That I’m your loving Mose, Oy, Oy, Oy, Oy, Where is your clothes? . . . Sadie Salome, go home.2

—­Fanny then switched roles, performing her own parodic version of Sadie’s version of Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils. Whether because of the wardrobe malfunction or her innate comic talent, Fanny brought down the house, resulting in her getting the lead and propelling her to stardom. When she returned from her tour with The College Girls, a contract with the Ziegfeld Follies was waiting for her—­as a comedienne, not a showgirl. She never looked back. I see three separate nodes of significance in this moment. The first is suggested by the choice of Salome as the subject of a “specialty.” Berlin’s song emerged at the moment of, and enthusiastically contributed to, an enormous American vogue for all things Salome that began in 1907 with the arrival of Richard Strauss’s opera (translated into German from the original French, Oscar Wilde’s play served as the libretto). Added to the repertory at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Strauss’s Salome was performed exactly once before the horrified daughter of J. P. Morgan prevailed upon her father, who owned the lease on the building, to strong-­arm management into canceling the remainder of the engagement. Oscar Hammerstein (the first), who owned a chain of lowbrow theaters but was seeking respectability by opening the Manhattan Opera House, pounced on the Met’s self-­censorship, engaging British soprano Mary Garden to perform Strauss’s fiendishly difficult role, and premiering it to critical acclaim and public excitement. It was, however, the burgeoning mass culture that saw the greatest burst of excitement. Bianca Froelich, who had performed Salome’s dances at the Met (a heavyset soprano named Olive Fremsted handled Strauss’s demanding vocals but refrained from any further exertion), took the act to the Lincoln Square Variety Theater, where her rendition of the Dance of the Seven Veils became a sensation. Savvy entrepreneurs rushed to exploit Froelich’s success: Florenz Ziegfeld included a wildly popular Salome number in his Follies of 1907; the next year, Willie Hammerstein did the same at his father’s theater, after sending one of his prime dancers, Gertrude Hoffman, to London to study

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the Salome performances of dancer Maud Allan. Hoffman recreated Allan’s act (even copying the costumes) in New York to enormous enthusiasm, a response augmented when Hammerstein arranged for her to be arrested on charges of indecency. From that time forward, a full-­blown Salomania raged. Musicologist Larry Hamberlin tells us, “By October 1908 there were twenty-­four Salome dancers in New York City alone, each one prancing in pearls and kissing a papier-­ mâché head.”3 As every commentator, including me, has not failed to observe: “Mlle Dazié [Daisie Peterkin from Detroit] opened a school for Salomes for two hours each morning . . . [that produced] one hundred and fifty Salomes a month.” Critic Toni Bentley, herself a former ballet dancer who toyed with striptease, continues, “By 1909 there was not a variety or vaudeville show in America that did not offer a Salome act as part of its entertainment.”4 Unsurprisingly in an America where surging immigration was transforming the body politic, Salomania brought ethnic complexities in its wake.5 The year 1907 saw a ditty called “When Patricia Salomé Did Her Funny Little Oo-­La-­ Pa-­lome,” in which an Irishwoman posing as a Spanish dancer named Patricia Salome is performing the song mentioned in the title when she is unmasked by an audience member who recognizes her as his countrywoman Bridget McShane. That same year witnessed another popular song offering much the same narrative, “Mariutch (Make-­a the Hootch-­a Ma Kootch) Down at Coney Isle,” in which an Italian-­American man jumps on the stage after recognizing that the Salome dancer is his sweetheart and attempts to pull her back to ethnic safety. And this is the central situation of “Sadie Salome (Go Home)” as well. Dramas of female ethnic passing and its enticements via Salome per­ formances—­and of the recall to a firm sense of ethnic identity by despairing men—­pervade Salomania, suggesting that ethnicity in this period was both malleable and up for grabs, and at the same time a powerfully residual marker of identity for both genders and sexes. Brice perhaps was reflecting on as well as reflecting these complexities when she mused over the fateful circumstance of Berlin’s handing her a song about a Jewish Salome: “That was a crucial moment in my life . . . though I didn’t know it, I suppose. If he had given me an Irish song and done it with a brogue, I would have been an Irish comedienne forever.”6 Perhaps. But amid this welter of conflicting racializing and ethnic performances, the turn is inevitable to a second crucial context: her culture’s increasingly urgent confrontation with Jewishness. Although Jews were a minority among the millions of immigrants who came to the United States between 1880 and 1924, their status—­as recipients of aggravated or banal anti-­Semitism in

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popular and genteel cultures alike; as city dwellers in an urbanizing but not urban country; as people manifesting a particular presence in New York, the emerging center of book and journal publishing as well as film and popular song—­made them into the first among equals as representatives of ethnic difference. As Susan Glenn in particular reminds us, Salomania was part of this process. Salome as protagonist had long been associated with Jews in general and Jewish women in particular. Indeed, Salome was first named (rather than alluded to anonymously) by a Jewish historian,  Josephus; the biblical texts that describe the story, the Gospels of  Mark and Matthew, mention only Herod and Herodias, her parents. The association between Salome and Jews was crucial to the first mass cultural enthusiasm for the figure, for Gustave Moreau’s Salome and The Apparition, exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1876, which attracted enormous crowds to the exhibition. And for obvious reasons, the figure of Salome was especially affiliated with Jewish female performers, and hence with Jewish women tout court. From Sarah Bernhardt, who in 1892 was slated to premiere the part, through balletomane Ida Rubinstein, who performed it privately in St. Petersburg in 1908 and then publicly in Paris in the 1910s; from Bessie Thomashefsky, who played the role to acclaim in the New York Yiddish theater in 1908, to Theda Bara and Alla Nazimova, who played her with panache in the movies in the 1910s and 1920s—­Salome became a path to glittering stardom for Jewish actresses and dancers, a route that Fanny Brice’s song both parodied and adumbrated. Brice’s comic performance works out a deep logic of Salomehood as an expression of  Jewish femininity before, during, and after the advent of Salomania. There is a third aspect of Brice’s performance I find significant—­her appearance. For if at five feet six inches and a hundred pounds Brice was almost comically unsuited to the demands of venues like the Ziegfeld Follies—­the archetypal showgirl of her time, the Ziegfeld (or American) Girl, was famously tall, buxom, and gentile7—­she also diverged significantly from prevailing models of Jewish femininity, in which plumpness was prized, for obvious reasons in a population that had suffered under conditions of famine. Moreover, this same body type was exemplified by many of the other Jewish Salomes: Bernhardt, Rubinstein, and Nazimova were all spectacularly, notoriously thin, and culturally prized (or condemned) for this slenderness. The cultural ramifications of this body type extended broadly. Peter Wollen has provocatively argued that the modernist female body—­thin, nonreproductive, capable of giving pleasure to and taking pleasure from men and women alike—­was created out of the matrix of Orientalism, fashion, and dance

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brought together for the first time in Salomania and fully embodied by Rubinstein.8 But adding Jewishness to the conceptual mix complicates Wollen’s story. It stresses the ways in which Jewish women from Bernhardt through Nazimova leveraged their status as emancipating Jewish women to position themselves outside both Jewish and gentile norms of femininity—­and in so doing reshaped those norms in their culture at large. In this, if nothing else (and there is a considerable else), it can serve as a vivid illustration of the process by which assimilating Jews entered into dialogue with the discourse of decadence to help create modernity.

Salome, Bernhardt, and the Skinny Jewish Woman As I suggested at the end of the previous chapter, none of  Wilde’s works seems to have been more popular with Jews than Salomé. But why this Jewish enthusiasm for Salomé ? While it is a play on a biblical theme, it’s one in which Jews do not come out all that well, and the representation of Jews within the text makes them seem either dim-­witted, like the soldiers whose low-­level kvetching begins the play, or weak-­willed, like the ineffectual, libidinous King Herod, or sexually perverted, like the virgin/ seductress/necrophiliac Salome herself. Indeed, as Sander Gilman has also reminded us, the problematic dimensions of the play were accentuated in its Viennese production, where the Jewish soldiers spoke in accents of the Eastern European Jewry, which may have been intended to appeal to the anti-­Semitic fervor sweeping through Vienna at the fin-­de-­siècle.9 Perhaps Jewish audiences were willing to overlook these implications for the vicarious pleasure of watching the decapitation of a Christian saint—­the same thrill that the Viennese Jews who patronized Gustav Klimt presumably got from his famous Judith and the Head of Holofernes, a painting that was actually confused with, and frequently entitled, Salome. But I think that the origins of the elective affinity between Jews and Salome goes earlier, to the first instance of Salomania, that on offer in Gustave Moreau’s paintings in the late 1870s. These paintings offered the origins of a new Jewishness, and especially a new Jewish femininity, which was profoundly appealing to Jews seeking to make their way out of their traditional roles and constructions. Moreau was fascinated by Salome, sketching the subject no fewer than seventy-­odd times and creating three famous paintings depicting her. But the fascination was not his alone. His Salomes attracted enormous crowds (more than half a million viewed the two exhibited in the 1876 Salon), and friends and

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patrons were so enthused that Moreau churned out drawings and sketches for their private collections, as well as adding a Salome to his own. The paintings directly inspired Joris-­Karl Huysmans, who gives a lavish description of these many Moreauian Salomes in his 1884 novel À rebours, and indirectly inspired Flaubert to take up the subject. Wilde, who was in Paris in 1876, claimed that the Moreau paintings served as inspiration for his play, either directly or by way of À rebours.10 Jewishness figures directly into this cultural transaction, since Moreau was famously taken up by Jewish collectors like Charles Ephrussi and Charles Hayem—­the latter of whom bought two of the Salome set, leading Auguste Renoir, a committed anti-­Semite if friend of Ephrussi’s, to comment, “It was clever of him [Moreau] to have taken in the Jews, to have thought of painting with golden colours. . . . Even Ephrussi fell for it, who I really thought had some sense.”11 Why were these French audiences so taken with Moreau’s Salomes? And why did the enthusiasm so irritate the likes of Renoir? Surely it was not the choice of subject matter: Salome had been portrayed by numerous artists from at least the Renaissance forward, with amazing versions by (among others) Caravaggio, Titian, and Guido Reni. Just six years before the emergence of Moreau’s paintings, Henri Regnault offered a controversial Salome (fig. 3.1) that was based on either an African model, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s catalog entry, or an Italian woman he flirted with in Rome, according to art historian Marc Gotlieb. Whatever its origins, in its “union of eroticism and barbarity,” with its striking yellow-­gold background, its insouciant pose (look at the bend of her arm and crossing feet), and the frank stare of the subject—­at Herod? at the beholder?—­Regnault’s representation of Salome “seemed fundamentally to depart from the academic tradition of ambitious historical painting.”12 Another art historian suggests that Moreau’s withdrawal from public exhibitions was occasioned by the success of Regnault’s painting at the Paris Salon of 1869, where Moreau’s paintings went unsold.13 Moreau’s turn to the same subject might therefore be seen as a riposte, extending elements already present in the Regnault—­the emphasis on gold in particular—­while staging a more extreme break with convention, pushing in the direction of abstraction by posing Salome frozen in the midst of a dance before Herod and/or transfixed by the image of the man she has had beheaded. Nearly nude, certainly tattooed, Moreau’s ca. 1874 Salome Dancing before Herod (fig. 3.2) extended the limits of the visual language of art. Temporally out of sync with the art of its moment, it employs an artistic language at once more primitive and more advanced than that of Regnault. Consider, for

F i g u r e 3 . 1 . Henri Regnault, Salome, 1870. Oil on canvas, 160 × 103 cm. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York/Bridgeman Images.

F i g u r e 3 . 2 . Gustave Moreau, Salome Dancing before Herod, also known as Salome Tattooed, ca. 1874. Oil on canvas, 92 × 60 cm. Courtesy Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris/Bridgeman Images.

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F i g u r e 3 . 3 . Interior of  St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice. Photo: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY.

example, Moreau’s use of gold, the feature that fixated Renoir. Although the architecture in the background of Moreau’s paintings resembles that of the Prado, the golden tonality looks back to the play with gold leaf in Byzantine art. This Moreau encountered in his early student days in Venice, where he spent half of a two-­year stay in Italy, imbibing Byzantine art while studying Bellini and Giorgione. Note how the interior of the masterpiece that merges these traditions, St. Mark’s in Venice (fig. 3.3), resembles the background of

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Moreau’s painting. But simultaneously the Salome paintings look forward to the far more abstract work of the fin-­de-­siècle, like Klimt’s gold-­leaf design, influenced by Moreau (as well as Klimt’s own family; his father and brother were goldsmiths). What Moreau’s Salomes did, in other words, was to conflate Byzantine Orientalism with the stirrings of modernity. This mixture may be what Renoir responded to with such anti-­Semitic fervor; Moreau’s Salomes were always already “Jewish” in the curious way that Jewishness was construed in France (and indeed, in Europe at large) as being simultaneously a representative of an age-­old Orient and an avatar of a problematic modernity. Moreau’s Salome paintings were remarkable in a different way as well, for they foretold a scandalous new representation of the eroticized Jewish body. As few previous representations had acknowledged, the biblical Salome was in her midteens, and Moreau emphasizes this quality in his paintings. This stands in direct contrast not only to other representations of Salome—­most immediately Regnault’s curvy and salacious one—­but also to the general tendencies in French art when representing  Jewish women. In Ingres’s or Delacroix’s or Regnault’s models, or indeed those of  Moreau’s immediate contemporaries, the “womanly” qualities of the Jewish woman are accentuated (see fig. 3.4), as they are draped in clothes that billow or accentuate a large frame (fig. 3.5) and painted with emphasis on the breasts, doubly accentuated in figure 3.6 by lovingly rendered nipples. To make Salome into a slender adolescent is to transform the image of the Jewish woman at large, to shift away from amply womanly in the direction of slender, lean, girlish. Moreau’s Jewess diverges from this model in a way that foregrounds and frames an entirely different model of female beauty than that on offer in Orientalist representations of the Jewish woman. Moreau’s contravention of the archetypal Jewish woman was underscored by the remarkable figure, in all senses of the word, of Sarah Bernhardt, whose rise to prominence paralleled Moreau’s Salome and whose career intersected with it when she accepted the lead role in Wilde’s play in 1894. Bernhardt was persistently linked with a quality not hitherto much on display in writing on women, much less on Jewish women: that of thinness. This quality was persistently foregrounded in the multiple representations of her that proliferated in art, caricature, and photography. “Her thinness is quite phenomenal,” wrote Henry James of Georges Clairin’s 1876 Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt, on display at the same Salon where Moreau’s Salomes made their debut.14 Émile Zola wrote, sardonically, of another Clairin, a portrait of Bernhardt in one of her signature roles, La Dame aux Camélias: “I know that Mlle Sarah Bernhardt

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F i g u r e 3 . 4 . Alfred Dehodencq, Mariée juive au Maroc, 1867. Oil on canvas, 92.4 × 73.5 cm. Courtesy Musée des Beaux-­Arts, Reims. Photo © Christian Devleeschauwer.

passes for the thinnest person in France, but that is no reason to drape her on a settee so that there’s no body under her peignoir.”15 His terms were echoed by Americans who greeted her lavishly during her 1880 tour—­a tour that paved the way for Oscar Wilde’s in 1882—­to the point of obsession. Iconic images in American humor magazines portrayed Bernhardt as a slender reed and then turned her into a sticklike wraith (see figs. 3.7a–­b). And a book emerged

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drawing attention to this quality and this quality alone, Isaac Reed’s Too Thin; or, Skeleton Sara (fig. 3.8). In these American caricatures, and in many French ones as well, Bernhardt’s Jewishness was linked to her thinness. Caricaturist and anti-­Dreyfusard Alfred Le Petit, for example, persistently represented her as a bird, with a tuft of hair,

F i g u r e 3 . 5 . Jean Jules Antoine Lecomte du Noüy, Saturday in the Jewish Quarter, 1883. Oil on canvas, 20.8 × 15.5 cm. Courtesy Musée d’Art d’Histoire du Judaïsme, Paris. Photo: Hervé Lewandowski. © RMN-­Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY.

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F i g u r e 3 . 6 . Charles Landelle,  Jewish Woman from Tangiers, 1874. Oil on canvas, 61.4 × 50.6 cm. Courtesy Musée des Beaux-­Arts de Reims/J. P. Zenobel/Bridgeman Images.

beak, and avian-­thin body (fig. 3.9). And it was not just anti-­Semites who conjoined Bernhardt’s thinness and Jewishness. Wrote Jules Lemaître, critic, playwright (in whose play Les rois Bernhardt appeared), and also, briefly, one of Bernhardt’s lovers: Now heaven has endowed Madame Sarah Bernhardt with exceptional gifts: it has made her strange, surprisingly slender and supple, and it has

F i g u r e 3 . 7 . Caricatures of Bernhardt. “Sara dies all over the place.” Chic, November 17, 1880. Sarah Bernhardt as the Statue of Liberty. Puck, January 12, 1881. Both courtesy Harvard Library.

F i g u r e 3 . 8 . Isaac G. Reed Jr., Too Thin, or Skeleton Sara: A Burlesque Extravaganza in 2 pts (New York: Evans & Kelly, 1880). Courtesy Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

F i g u r e 3 . 9 . “Sarah, like the swallows . . .” Alfred Le Petit, cover, Les Contemporains, no. 28 (1881). Courtesy Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University Libraries.

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covered her thin face with the disturbing grace of a Bohemian, a gypsy, a Tartar  .  .  . something which makes one think of Salome, of Salammbo, of the Queen of Sheba. . . . Even in modern parts she keeps this strange­ ness which is given her by her elegant thinness and her Oriental,  Jew­ish  type.16

These arguments to her thinness, to be sure, fit with a general sense that as a Jew, Bernhardt was sickly, malnourished, diseased—­perhaps syphilitic or tubercular, as Sander Gilman has argued.17 Such claims extended well beyond the anti-­Semitic precincts in which one might expect to find them, rising, in the end, to the level of the commonly accepted, even praise. Here, for example, is Ellen Terry writing about her great French contemporary: How wonderful she looked in those days! She was as transparent as an azalea, only more so; like a cloud, only not so thick. Smoke from a burning paper describes her more nearly! She was hollow-­eyed, thin, almost consumptive-­ looking. Her body was not the prison of her soul, but its shadow. On the stage she has always seemed to me more a symbol, an ideal, an epitome than a woman.18

But, as Carol Ockman has observed, much of Bernhardt’s efforts to present herself as a star of fashion as well as of theater had to do with appropriating this label and resignifying it in her own terms. “To the perception that she was emaciated, sick, skeletal, Bernhardt responded in kind. She modeled sculptures of death’s heads, had herself photographed in a coffin and marketed the pictures. She made her thinness fashionable”—­through her flamboyant persona, in her role in dress reform, and in her writing and other public pronouncements.19 Her autobiography, for example reads as a celebration of slenderness that would do credit to a contemporary model. Denied a role in her first attempt on account of her figure, she persisted and won over the manager by the intensity of her performance: At the end of the act Chilly came to me and said: “You were adorable!” He addressed me familiarly, using the French thou, and this rather annoyed me, but I answered mischievously, using the same form of address: “You think I am not so thin now?”20

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As the autobiography continues, she complains about the focus on her slenderness: And to think that my first claims to celebrity were my extraordinary thinness and delicate health. I had scarcely made my début when epigrams, puns, jokes, and caricatures concerning me were indulged in by every one to their heart’s content. . . . My name became celebrated before I was, myself. At the first night of Louis Bouilhet’s piece “Mlle. Aïssé” at the Odéon, Flaubert, who was an intimate friend of the author, introduced an attaché of the British Embassy to me. “Oh, I have known you for some time, mademoiselle,” he said, “you are the little stick with the sponge on the top!” (Memories, 339)

But Bernhardt relished the attention to her physical attributes as much as she did praise for her gestures or her voice. “Is it my fault if I am thin?” she asks her manager, who is concerned about her well-­being (340). Or, again, in a rainstorm she responds to an offer of an umbrella, in mock chagrin that masks a sort of pride: “Oh, I am so thin I cannot get wet! I pass between the drops!” (299). As with her thinness, so with her Jewishness. Although a convert to Catholicism, Bernhardt affirmed her Jewishness not just by her outspoken advocacy of Dreyfus, but also in her self-­representation and publicity. Take for example a famous poster for Edmond Rostand’s La Samaritaine—­a stirring tale of a Jewish woman, Photina, who leads her community to Christianity—­made by her house-­artist, Alphonse Mucha, and hence doubtless approved by Bernhardt herself (fig. 3.10). Note that the lettering imitates Hebrew letters—­the N turned into a nun, the A an aleph and so on—­an effect most pronounced in the halo containing her name. Note also that behind her head on a mosaic are the Hebrew letters for JHVH, designating Bernhardt herself as a quasi-­deity. And note the long, flowing robes as well as the tendril-­like hair, both of which accentuate her vertical frame and pass directly into the representations of Salome that follow her—­I am thinking here of Aubrey Beardsley’s 1894 illustrations for Wilde’s book, which at several points seem to cite Mucha’s Bernhardt, especially with respect to hair and costume (figs. 3.11a–­c). Throughout, Beardsley represents Salome as a proto-­Bernhardt: note the beaky nose, the crinkled hair, the jewelry, combined with the elongated, if voluptuous, body. No wonder that after the play was banned midrehearsal, Bernhardt passed on chances to play the role: she already had.

F i g u r e 3 . 1 0 . Sarah Bernhardt as Photina. Alphonse Mucha, poster for La Samaritaine, 1897. Color lithograph, 29 × 40 cm. Private collection. Photo © Christie’s Images/Bridgeman Images.

F i g u r e 3 . 1 1 . Aubrey Beardsley, illustrations for a privately printed edition of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, 1907: “The Climax,” “The Dancer’s Reward,” and “The Stomach Dance.” (First and third: Private collection; Look and Learn/Elgar Collection/Bridgeman Images. Second: Universal History Archive/UIG/ Bridgeman Images.)

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Skinny Vamps: Jewish Salomes in the Mass Media If Moreau, Beardsley, and Wilde generated out of a mass of decadent, Pre-­ Raphaelite, Orientalist, and other influences a new model of Jewish female beauty, Sarah Bernhardt herself did much to shape that image, seizing upon the means by which she, like so many Jewish women, was represented and making a new look her own. In doing so, she helped create a new style, a new fashion, that defined the Jewish woman for the next generations—­one that combined clothing, jewelry, and bodily hexis to create a new model of feminine beauty. And no wonder that going forward the image of Bernhardt and Salome intertwined, as more and more Jewish women took up the role and modeled themselves on Wilde’s character, or Beardsley’s reification of Bernhardt, or both. Consider the example of Ida Rubinstein, the now-­obscure but once-­vital figure whom Peter Wollen nominates as the link between modernist culture and that of the fin-­de-­siècle. Like Bernhardt, Rubinstein was a compelling symbol of female beauty for an entire generation—­in her case, the generation of the Parisian modernists of the early twentieth century. As with Bernhardt, the connection was originally made on stage—­in her case, via the Ballets Russes, with whom Rubinstein originally performed when she emigrated to Paris from St. Petersburg in 1911—­but rapidly spread beyond, not only through the effusions of figures like Jean Cocteau, but more powerfully through the paintings of her lover, Romaine Brooks. Like Bernhardt, but even more so, Rubinstein was defined by her combination of  Jewish exoticism and thinness. And finally, like Bernhardt, but again even more so, she was apotheosized through her identification with a single role: that of Salome. Ida Rubinstein was a wealthy Russian-­Jewish heiress who in 1906 more or less became convinced that she was Salome, so much so that after performing in her own version in St. Petersburg (the censors attempted to stop it there too, since she was rumored to end the Dance of the Seven Veils by appearing nude), she set out on a tour of the Mideast to gather data on the original. Escaping institutionalization by her family for what they saw as stage-­struck folly by marrying (platonically) a love-­struck cousin, Rubinstein moved to Paris, where Sergei Diaghilev, who had witnessed the St. Petersburg performance and hired her for the Ballets Russes, used her appearance to his own advantage by casting her in roles that demanded exotic beauty and not too many balletic skills. In Paris, Rubinstein became the lover of Walter Guinness, Lord Moyne, the heir to the beer fortune, who bankrolled her for the rest of her career, allowing

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her to put on lavish productions of ballets starring herself and employing the finest choreographers, set designers, and musicians (Maurice Ravel wrote Boléro and La Valse for her; Arthur Honegger and Igor Stravinsky also contributed music to her ballets). The stunning paintings of her by Brooks helped make her an iconic figure of 1920s Paris. If, as Wollen suggests, the vogue for Rubinstein positioned her as a crucial figure in the construction of the modernist body, linking the androgyny and sexual experimentation of the fin-­de-­siècle via Wilde and Salome, it’s important to add that her Jewishness was very much on the mind of the Parisians who encountered, adored, apotheosized, patronized, and condescended to her. Stravinsky referred to Rubinstein in vulgarly anti-­Semitic terms; Cocteau called her “the great ibex of the Jewish ghetto”—­semitifying her in ways that have nothing to do with her origins, which were about as far removed from the ghetto as possible, while emphasizing the slenderness and angularity of her body.21 Brooks’s paintings out-­Modigliani Modigliani (himself a Jew) in celebrating her lover’s combination of angularity and exoticism (see, for example, fig. 3.12). Note the cheekbones, nose, kerchief, jewelry and tunic, and background, which make Rubinstein look as if she’s come off the Russian steppe rather than from the salons of St. Petersburg in which she was actually raised. And in a gorgeous nude (fig. 3.13), note Rubinstein’s Jewish features placed on her elongated body—­Brooks said that she attempted to put different heads on the body, painted from memory after their breakup, but that Rubinstein’s head kept imposing itself there; the visible markers of her Jewishness, in other words, imposing themselves on Brooks’s dream-­vision of Rubinstein. Bringing her Jewishness to the fore stressed Rubinstein’s continuity not with decadence in some general sense or with Salome as a specific figure of the decadent imaginary, but with Sarah Bernhardt, suggesting that Rubinstein too was a vehicle through which the Jewish celebrity remade the idealized female body in her own image. The comparison is not merely adventitious—­two slim Jewish women with dramatic hair—­but historically grounded. The aging diva and the young balletomane not only moved in the same circles (Comte Robert de Montesquiou, Proust’s friend and the original for his Baron de Charlus, was friends with both; Gabriele D’Annunzio was the lover of  both) but also became rivalrous friends. Bernhardt ran shrieking from Rubinstein’s first solo performance in Paris, but then wrote her a complimentary letter and later took her up, so much so that when Bernhardt died, she passed her trademark diadem on to Rubinstein. Rubinstein, for her part, modeled herself on Bernhardt—­ one of the proudest moments of  her life being when she premiered yet another version of Salomé in the theater Sarah Bernhardt had built and named after

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F i g u r e 3 . 1 2 . Ida Rubinstein on the front in World War I. Romaine Brooks, Ida Rubenstein, 1917. Oil on canvas, 119 × 94 cm. Gift of the artist, Smithsonian American Art Museum. Photo: SAAM/Art Resource, NY.

herself. It was as if the women recognized their essential kinship: both were assimilating Jewesses, from opposite ends of the social spectrum, who transformed anti-­Semitic constructions of Jewishness and their own physique into a new model of beauty for both Jews and gentiles: “bony” (in Camille Paglia’s pungent term), slender, androgynous, exotic—­and definitely Jewish.22

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This model spread throughout the media—­from art to theater to dance and ultimately to film—­and here too the deployment of Salome was crucial. We’ve already seen some of the ways Salomania helped create such enduring figures as Fanny Brice, even after the craze per se had subsided; we might add to the list the contemporary figure of Theda Bara, who anchored a film version of Salomé in 1915. To be sure, Bara’s persona as a “vamp” preceded the film—­she was defined as a carefree destroyer of men from the first movie that brought her fame, A Fool There Was (1914)—­and although the script of Salomé (all that we have of that lost film) was tweaked to give the girl, a virgin in Wilde’s play, more of a backstory as a vamp, it’s clear the role and Bara’s persona both grew out of American Salomania, with its combination of Oriental exoticism and the extreme assertion of feminine agency. From Salomania, too, Bara brought the association of the destructive female with the adolescent girl. It’s this persona she carried with her throughout the rest of her career. And it achieved its fulfillment with Alla Nazimova, who used Salome to bring the fin-­de-­siècle into the moment of modernity. Born Miriam Edez Adelaida Leventon to a middle-­class Jewish family in Yalta, but estranged from her violent father, Nazimova took up the theater at an early age and, indeed, was cast as Salome in one of the many private productions in St. Petersburg in 1908. Realizing, amid the rising tide of anti-­Semitism in the 1910s, that her

F i g u r e 3 . 1 3 . Ida Rubinstein as model. Romaine Brooks, La Venus triste (The Weeping Venus), 1917. 150 × 271 cm. Musées de la Ville de Poitiers et de la Société des Antiquaires de l’Ouest. Photo: © Musées de Poitiers/Christian Vignaud. 

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career possibilities were limited, she and her then-­lover, Pavel Orlenev, took the play The Chosen People first to London and then to New York, where its portrayal of the immiserated conditions of  Jewish life in Russia earned it audiences among Jewish immigrants and sympathetic gentiles alike. After starring on Broadway in highbrow fare like The Cherry Orchard before migrating to Hollywood in the late 1910s, she took on exotic vamp roles like those that had made Theda Bara a star, roles she came to detest. Her goal became to bring high art to the movies, and to that end she produced and directed a version of A Doll’s House before venturing a version of Salomé.  Joining forces in 1922 with the designer/auteur/genius (and wife of Rudolph Valentino) Natacha Rambova (née Winifred Shaughnessy), she set out to make an infamous version of Wilde’s text, one far more faithful to the original unperformed version than any I have adverted to here. With sets and costume designs directly inspired by Beardsley’s drawings and dialogue directly taken from Wilde’s play, the movie is perhaps most noteworthy in our context for the forty-­five-­year-­old Nazimova’s decision to play the princess as a fourteen-­year-­old girl, thereby adding child molestation to the play’s evident fascination with incest, scopophilia, and

F i g u r e 3 . 1 4 . Alla Nazimova: Salome as willful child. Screenshot, Salomé, directed by Charles Bryant, 1923.

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F i g u r e 3 . 1 5 . Nazimova’s slender Salome. Screenshot, Salomé, directed by Charles Bry­ ant, 1923.

necrophilia. Herod’s unsatisfied, libidinous desire for his stepdaughter is accentuated in countless shots of  him leering at her. This decision is undoubtedly a nod to the tradition: she returns to the Moreau inscription of Salome as adolescent. Here, perhaps, Nazimova is less of a trailblazer than a follower: Rambova’s costumes called upon haute couture (they were made of material imported from the hyper-­chic Maison Lewis in Paris) but also alluded to the new 1920s figure of the flapper, the boyish adolescent girl (called la garçonne in France)—­although the headgear is a spectacular device all its own (see fig. 3.14). But Nazimova’s own obsession with thinness also shone through. “Nazimova rejected Rambova’s original design, ‘a white, multilayered, diaphanous gown trimmed with pearls’ . . . in favor of a more flapperlike costume ‘that show[ed] off to greater advantage the trim figure of which she was very proud’ ” (see fig. 3.15).23 Every decision she made, in other words, looked both backward—­to the tradition of the slender Jewish woman playing Salome—­and around her, to the culture that was instantiating that very model of the female frame as the ultimate in chic, modern fashionability; in so doing, despite or perhaps because of the utterly campy form, the slender figure projected itself into the future.

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The Anorectic Afterlife of Salome With Nazimova’s Salomé we pass entirely from the high culture of decadence into that of mass culture, although remembering those five hundred thousand Parisians gawking at Moreau’s Salome or Bernhardt happily performing in music halls reminds us that we may never have been far from mass culture in the first place. It’s time to assess the meaning of the phenomenon that was Salomania in the remaking of Jewish self-­images. The Jewishness of Bernhardt, Rubinstein, and Nazimova, so crucial to the making of Salomé and so intimately engaged in the reinterpretation and dissemination of that text, is a subset of the Orientalism that Peter Wollen and critics following in his footsteps instance as part of the process of the making of the modern female subject. Precisely by virtue of their status as Jewish outsiders to the social order, as Patricia White puts it, they created “a sexualized, crypto-­Semitic, and crypto-­ feminist other. . . . While a range of male authors, painters, and composers each had his Salome in the fin de siècle period, powerful women performers intervened in their construction of a female, Jewish other when embodying the role themselves.”24 True, and I could happily end here. Perhaps one might project into the present, with such figures as Sandra Bernhard (the name hers by birth, but the Jewish divahood performance art looking right back to Sarah) or the foul-­mouthed but adolescent-­looking Sarah Silverman, the Fanny Brice de nos jours. But I want to conclude on a more speculative note, by returning to the new body that these women also exemplified for the history of  Jews, and especially of the Jewish woman’s body. The latter, I might add, is relatively undertheorized in favor of the Jewish man’s body, the center of interpretive work from the fin-­de-­siècle through Sander Gilman and Howard Eilberg-­Schwartz, yet there are a few salient characteristics emerging in women’s and immigrant history that might be relevant here. The first is that a large change seems to be occurring alongside the spectacular self-­defining efforts of these Jewish celebrities. Insofar as traditional Jewish communities are concerned, the female body is yoked to reproduction and food—­the generation of new life, the preparation of foodstuffs in accordance with the laws of kashrut. The late nineteenth century, however, brought changes to women’s roles and hence to conceptions of women’s bodies. As some Jews left the shtetl or the ghetto and joined the mainstream of European middle-­class life, they gave different valences to femininity, ones stressing less utilitarian purposes for the female body. In her history of middle-­class German Jews, Marion Kaplan tells us that Jewish women distinguished themselves from their gentile compatriots via their engagement with fashionable

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dressing. Jenna Weissman Joselit has compiled a set of injunctions against fashionable dress and adornment from late nineteenth-­century London and early twentieth-­century America in journals like the American Jewess and the American Weekly Jewish News—­in the latter of  which, I should mention there’s a forum on adornment, pro and con, in which Alla Nazimova writes in favor of the practices.25 Similar transformations can be seen at the level of body image, or what Pierre Bourdieu calls “bodily hexis”—­the ways one is socially placed by the very shape of one’s body and the cultural ways of conceiving of it. Freed from the specter of starving Eastern European Jewish bodies and not yet assaulted by those of Holocaust survivors, many fashionable Jewish women rejected the cultural ideal of the plump, well-­fed body in favor of that of the slender, androgynous, gentile one—­the body of the flapper, the It Girl, la garçonne, mediated for them by the likes of Rubinstein and Nazimova. Historians have aligned the process of Americanization with the internalization of these new models of bodily being (models newly shaped for American women at large by the fashion industry, by women’s magazines, and by mass culture, especially film): One major difference between [normative] American standards of beauty and those of ethnic cultures involved weight. American women strive to be thin. Other cultures find plump women more attractive. The comment, “What a handsome woman, such a fine double chin!’ was flattering to a woman in late-­nineteenth-­century, early-­twentieth-­century Jewish society. One Jewish woman, Katya Govsky, described her mother as both a “beautiful woman” and “a very heavy fat woman.” The descriptions were not contradictory to her.26

A look at Jewish advice columnists suggested that all was not well on the body-­ image front, for Americanization meant a definition of female beauty antitheti­ cal to that which was putatively standard in the ghetto. Hasia Diner quotes one: “Many Jewish girls are of the oriental type of physique,” wrote a columnist in the Yiddish newspaper Der Tog, significantly in English. “This may be very beautiful in its proper setting, but in an Occidental Gentile country a really graceful curved nose is regarded as a ‘hooked nose,’ the vivid coloring: black eyes, full mouth . . . appear ‘common’ and ‘loud,’ the full well-­developed figure is ‘blowsy’ or ‘fat.’ ”27 Prettiness came to be identified, on this plan, with thinness: in Anzia Yezierska’s The Bread Givers (1925), Mashah, the vain, narcissistic daughter, “beautiful and smiling, like a doll from a show window,” is also the ostentatiously thin member of the family—­a fact emphasized in the tragicomic scene when her elder sister Bessie borrows a dress to meet a suitor, only to find

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that the “dress that slipped on so easy on Mashah’s thin shape stuck on Bessie in the middle.”28 Yezierska’s other great Lower East Side novel, Salome of the Tenements (1923), features Sonya Vrunsky, a protagonist who, like her Wildean original, possesses a radiant beauty that is defined by her girlish, not womanly, figure: when he first encounters Sonya, the enraptured WASP John Manning, who falls in love with her, notes “the sunlight on the black satin of  her hair. The radiant life of young flesh that bloomed through the thin waist.”29 In the 1925 film made of the novel, directed by Sidney Olcott, Sonya was played by Jetta Goudal, a Dutch Jew with a slender figure and high cheekbones. Popular or mass culture, not occasionally but systematically that created by Jews, bombarded the public with images of thin Jewish women who were presented as cynosures of beauty in a gentile-­dominated America that associated slimness with fashionability, success, modernity. The consequences of this transaction are inevitable—­a turn toward distorted body images, toward a need to discipline or reject the putatively fat female body. I’ve found my first references to eating disorders among Jewish women in the late 1920s, in descriptions of Jewish summer camps, and the consequences of this association are with us today. Anorexia and bulimia remain at high levels among young Jewish women—­again an index of an internalized desire, many critics have suggested, to deny the stereotypically rounded Jewish woman’s figure and embrace athletic, slender, WASP ideals. “Results showed participants clearly valued the White Anglo-­Saxon Protestant (WASP) image defined by tallness, athleticism, slenderness, and blue eyes and blonde hair. Jewish women described themselves negatively, while focusing their discontent on their perceived shortcomings: short, zaftig (full-­figured), large breasts, large noses, dark eyes, and dark curly/kinky hair,” writes Stefanie Greenberg, in one of the few academic studies of Jewish women’s body image I have found, and goes on to stress the relation between Jewish self-­hatred, body image, and eating disorders, unwittingly echoing the words of Der Tog more than a half-­century before.30 Food—­central to Jewish secular and sacramental culture alike—­has become the contested ground of  Jewish female identity itself, a place where debates about modernity, assimilation, and Americanization get fought out in the very acts of consumption and nutriment. And—­to conclude on a less pathological note—­it is no coincidence that one of the founders of  Weight Watchers, one of the first and certainly one of the most successful diet programs, was a Jewish woman, Jean Nidetch. I want to conclude with a text that expresses this circular process and comments on it, one that introduces a new figure into the parade spawned by Salomania. That text is Minnie the Moocher (1932), a cartoon created by

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F i g u r e 3 . 1 6 . The Jewish Betty Boop confronts sauerbraten. Screenshot, Minnie the Moocher, directed by Dave Fleischer, 1932.

Max Fleischer, an immigrant who grew up in Brownsville. Having invented a special process for filming cartoons, Fleischer Studios, cofounded by Max and his brother Dave, launched many successful series of them, most notably cartoons devoted to the figure of Betty Boop.31 A flapper in Depression-­era America, Betty Boop is a figure both innocent and corrupt—­a sex-­bomb but a virgin, an adolescent adrift in a corrupt but alluring world of sex, drugs, and depravity frequently figured, in ways revealing of the racial constructions of the moment, in terms of blackness, especially via black jazz musicians like Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong, who make whimsically fearsome appearances in the films. She was modeled explicitly on actress Helen Kane (who sued) and implicitly on Clara Bow, the so-­called It Girl who helped mainstream the flapper; but since she’s clearly marked as a Jewish woman, albeit one seeking to reject her birth-­heritage, it seems to me that she is most productively thought of in the terms we have been thinking of in this chapter, as a descendent of the Jewish performer as slender girl we associate with the actresses and dancers performing as Salome. This association begins early in the cartoon, when Betty Boop is shown at home, with her yarmulke-­wearing father (a long strand of hair incongruously sticking out of his skullcap) and her hefty Jewish mother standing on either side of her, demanding, “Eat your sauerbraten” (fig. 3.16). A sympathetic sunflower—­Oscar Wilde’s favorite flower—­takes a gulp of the food (which looks to me more like goulash than sauerbraten)—­and promptly withers and dies. Betty leaves, but not before her father has turned into a record player and

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is fed a new wax cylinder by his wife. Betty is comforted by a decorative statue of a young nude woman, who turns herself into a Degas dancer and flees in mock modesty. Surrounded by emblems of the fin-­de-­siècle, Betty faces the drama of generational change that defined Jewish experience in the age of modernity, staged as warfare over food and the body. The demands of the younger generation to deny the reproduction-­and-­family orientation of the parents is fully reflected in their bodily hexis (the mother’s heavy arms, compared with Betty’s slender ones, are particularly revealing in this regard). That she is herself something of an anachronism (flappers were more or less passé by 1932, when the film was made) adds to the timeless quality of the drama here, a drama that could have been enacted in the 1890s as much as in the 1930s, or even in the 1950s: the slender, Waspy Jewess Brenda Patimkin in Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus is still playing it out in 1959. But it also points us, along with the sunflower and the coy dancer, to its origins in the fin-­de-­siècle and the heritage of its decadent aesthetics, mediated as they are transformed by the Jewish women who resignified the Jewish female body in their multiple enactments of Salome.

Chapter 4

Coming Out of the Jewish Closet with Marcel Proust

Those readers who have made it to the last pages of Time Regained, the seventh volume of À la recherche du temps perdu—­in some sense Proust himself did not, since he died before he could put the finishing touches on the book—­ will remember the sad final days of the great actress Berma. Based on Sarah Bernhardt, “La Berma” is one of the most crucial of the minor characters whose lives we track through the passage of the novel. More than just a celebrated actress, Berma embodies the mystery of creative genius itself. To be sure, the young Marcel is disappointed when he first encounters her on stage, but he then comes to realize that for all the hype that attends her appearances, Berma is that rare thing—­the artist who has been submerged in but transfigures her medium. In the last pages of Time Regained, we encounter a Berma advanced in age and wracked by pain, still touring because her daughter and son-­in-­law need money (Sarah Bernhardt toured extensively well beyond middle age, but for reasons of ego, not family feeling). She has been succeeded in public esteem by another Jewish actress, Rachel, who has none of the genius of her predecessor—­as Marcel says, “Berma was, as the phrase goes, head and shoulders above Rachel.”1 Rachel may give decent enough performances on stage, but she offers two appalling recitations twenty years apart, both times at the home of the Duchesse de Guermantes. In the first, she intones the avant-­garde poetry of her Left Bank friends and is seen as a shrieking disaster; in the second, the performance is no better, but the duchess and other epigones of society gush over her performance, to the disgust of Marcel and his childhood friend Gilberte Swann, now widow of Robert de Saint-­Loup.

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Gilberte’s and Marcel’s judgments are not disinterested. Saint-­Loup had been not only Gilberte’s husband but also Marcel’s greatest and most admirable friend, upon whom Marcel had a palpable if self-­disguised crush. And Rachel had been the demanding and voracious lover of the youthful Saint-­ Loup. Making matters more complicated, Marcel knows Rachel (whom he nicknamed, after an aria in Fromental Halévy’s La Juive, “Rachel-­when-­from-­ the Lord”) to have been a prostitute—­when they were young, his friend Bloch took him to a brothel where he was invited to have sex with her: as a Jew, it is implied, she knows certain tricks of which her gentile peers are ignorant—­ and he subsequently witnessed her demanding and manipulative behavior while Saint-­Loup’s mistress.2 Indeed, Rachel made so strong an impression on Saint-­Loup that his wife, Gilberte, having found an old photograph of her rival, dressed up as Rachel to keep her husband’s attention (which, it turns out, was wandering in other ways, to men). But none of this, nor the continued vulgarity of her performances, means anything in the aesthetically compromised world of 1920s Paris. Parisian society is not alone in flocking to the talentless Rachel; so too do Berma’s own daughter and son-­in-­law, who sneak out of an ill-­attended tea party Berma is giving in order to witness Rachel’s second reading. Rachel does not hesitate to inform her elderly rival of her daughter’s betrayal, which causes Berma to die of a broken heart. At the end of the novel, we see Rachel cackling over Berma’s death and the fugitive affections of the daughter whom Berma cared for more than life itself. I begin with this episode because it summarizes how fully Proust’s novel is caught up in the culture of decadence and its labile relation to Jews. It’s well known that one of the great subjects of the novel is the entry of  Jews into the salons and cenacles of Paris from the stage or the bordellos or even the stock exchanges—­this has been a theme of  Proust criticism from the time of Hannah Arendt, who climaxes her analysis of the position of Jews in Europe in the late nineteenth century with a reading of  Proust, to that of Julia Kristeva, who arguably builds an entire analysis of identity in postnational Europe out of a reading of Arendt’s reading of Proust.3 It’s been less remarked that a wide range of texts, topoi, and concerns of fin-­de-­siècle decadence enter into the novel in all their ramifying power, so much so that for all its canonization as a central work of “modernism,” it might also properly be read as one of the crowning achievements of the fin-­de-­siècle imagination. The two—­Jewishness and decadence—­go hand in hand, troping, enhancing, qualifying, and reinforcing each other. Let me begin with decadence, a tradition that saturates the entirety of the Recherche and that becomes, in the end, a diagnosis as well as a gloss. This is,

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to begin with, a matter of cultural reference, which is to say, in the Proustian universe, of the texture of reality itself. Aestheticism, decadence, and ancillary imaginative forms and achievements compose a good part of the flow of works in a multiplicity of genres and forms that make up the cultural surround of Marcel’s world, from Wagnermania through Chopinphilia through chinoiseriemania through the vogue for the Ballets Russes through references to James McNeill Whistler (particularly with respect to the Baron de Charlus, who resembles him as well as other famous aesthetes), Gustave Moreau (whose paintings, Saint-­Loup tells Marcel, grace Charlus’s private collection), Odilon Redon, Théophile Gautier, Charles Baudelaire, et al. Indeed, the soi-­disant decadent movement gets thematized, discussed, and dispensed with quite directly over the course of the novel. The Left Bank poets are precisely the ones with whom Rachel is hanging out during her relationship with Saint-­Loup and whose work she brings, so discordantly, into the drawing rooms of the upper crust. And pompous Sorbonne professor turned wartime journalist Brichot delivers a rant against “la décadence” which, like Max Nordau’s effusion Degeneration, includes an encyclopedic account of the imaginative lineaments of the phenomenon he rails against: We’ve seen too many of these intellectuals worshiping Art with a capital “A,” and who, when taking to the bottle with Zola is no longer enough, inject Verlaine into their veins. Having become etheromanes in their devotion to Baudelaire, they’d no longer be capable of the manly effort their homeland may someday demand of them, anesthetized as they are by the great literary neurosis in the hot, enervating atmosphere, heavy with the unwholesome effluvia from an opium-­den symbolism. (4.483)

But decadent texts and topoi don’t just serve as background; the novel wants us to think about them in a critical or complicated way. Thus in the two examples I adduced above, as ever in Proust, one is not allowed to take a simple position. The participants in the Guermantes salon at which Rachel performs are indeed desperately in need of revitalization; inbred, jaded, conservative in taste, clannish in behavior, they, one senses, are the true decadents, not the poets she reads to them. And the novel provides, as if a counterweight to the anti-­decadent Brichot, an aestheticist par excellence in the writer Bergotte. Bergotte, a popular novelist and critic, is the occasion for Marcel’s first aesthetic infatuation as a boy, modeling a distinctly fin-­de-­siècle aestheticism (it is no coincidence that Bloch’s recommendation of Bergotte to the Narrator follows a typically snobbish scoff at his “vile taste for A. de Musset” [1:124], the very

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model of an enfant du siècle). More than echoing Walter Pater’s concept of artistic Anders-­streben (and indeed, Pater has been suggested as a possible clé to Bergotte), Bergotte’s style fascinates for its “hidden stream of harmony” that “express[es] a whole system of philosophy, new to me, by the use of marvelous images that one felt must be the inspiration for the harp-­song” (1:129–­ 30).4 Entirely consumed by formal beauty, his “musical outpouring” (1:130) achieves what Bloch refers to as “the supreme merit of meaning absolutely nothing” (1:124). Even Bergotte’s detractors pick up on this musicality, though unsurprisingly they sing a different tune à la Brichot. “Bergotte is what I call a flute-­player,” says M. de Norpois, an acquaintance of  Marcel’s father, “a clever fellow who lulls us into forgetting, amid otiose and byzantine discussions of the merits of pure form, that we may be overwhelmed at any moment by a double tide of barbarians, those from without and those from within our borders” (2:61). Making the masculinist subtext fully textual, M. de Norpois dismisses Bergotte’s “Chinese puzzles of form” as “altogether lacking in virility” (2:61–­ 62). The juxtaposition of this aesthetic diagnosis with a scandalized anecdote about the “ignominy” of Bergotte’s (apparently heterosexual) private life is hardly a coincidence, and indeed, by the end of his life, Bergotte has taken to spending all of his money on prostitutes to whom he is unable to give anything else (2:64). As author and person Bergotte is, in short, decadent, his decadence only compounded by the narrative of his death. That death is highly aesthetic in nature (as well as, noteworthy given the narcotic rhetoric of Brichot’s rant, fueled by too strong a dose of drugs). Even though he is feeling poorly, Bergotte goes to see Vermeer’s View of Delft (fig. 4.1), not only Bergotte’s but also Marcel Proust’s favorite painting—­indeed, uncannily, it was the last painting Proust saw, venturing out of his famous cork-­lined room to view it a week before his death. Bergotte goes out in order to ascertain whether there was, as a critic had informed him, a little patch of yellow wall (which he could not remember) [that] was so well painted that it was, if one looked at it by itself, like some priceless specimen of Chinese art, of a beauty that was sufficient in itself, Bergotte ate a few potatoes, left the house, and went to the exhibition. At the first few steps he had to climb, he was overcome by an attack of dizziness. He walked past several pictures and was struck by the aridity and pointlessness of such an artificial kind of art, which was greatly inferior to the sunshine of a windswept Venetian palazzo, or of an ordinary house by the sea. At last he came to the Vermeer which he remembered as more striking, more different from anything else he knew, but

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F i g u r e 4 . 1 . Johannes Vermeer, View of  Delft, ca. 1660–­1661. Oil on canvas, 96.5 × 115.7 cm. Courtesy Mauritshuis, The Hague/Bridgeman Images.

in which, thanks to the critic’s article, he noticed for the first time some small figures in blue, that the sand was pink, and, finally, the precious substance of the tiny patch of yellow wall. His dizziness increased; he fixed his gaze, like a child upon a yellow butterfly that it wants to catch, on the precious patch of wall. “That’s how I ought to have written,” he said. “My last books are too dry, I ought to have gone over them with a few layers of color, made my language precious in itself, like this little patch of yellow wall.” Meanwhile he was not unconscious of the gravity of his condition. In a celestial pair of scales there appeared to him, weighing down one of the pans, his own life, while the other contained the little patch of wall so beautifully painted in yellow. He felt that he had rashly sacrificed the former for the latter. (5:244–­45)

This is one of the most heartbreaking passages in a book full of them; its importance in our context lies in the ways it continues and complicates Proust’s engagement with fin-­de-­siècle decadence. Proust’s choice of the color yellow for the “little patch of wall so beautifully painted” was pointed. Yellow was the

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color of the fin-­de-­siècle. In England, the entire decade often went under the heading “the Yellow Nineties,” owing to the color’s prominence in the paintings of William Morris and Whistler, to the frequent references to yellow in Wilde’s poetry, to his trademark floral accouterment, the sunflower, and to the bible of English decadence, The Yellow Book. Yellow signified similarly in France: the Yellow Book’s color is itself a conscious allusion to the yellow covers of so-­called decadent French fiction (Henry James conspicuously avoids the term when in The Ambassadors he refers to French fiction as “lemon-­coloured volumes”).5 What Proust is signaling via the citation of the color (and its coupling with the cult of chinoiserie, which was so much a part of High Nineties aesthetic culture) is that, M. de Norpois’s outburst to the contrary, Bergotte believes that the art-­for-­art’s-­sake sensibility, the injunction to make his language “precious in itself,” was ultimately lacking in his work.6 If Bergotte dies under the impression that he has been an artistic failure, Proust is suggesting that failure was caused by a moral recoil against aestheticism informed by a knee-­jerk masculinist jingoism, the trumpeting of the “effort viril que la patrie peut un jour ou l’autre leur demander”—­the “virile effort which his country could [and would—­JF] one day demand”—­that motivates Bergotte’s critics. But nothing is simple in Proust; even the complications and qualifications ramify as they are unfolded, chewed over, processed, reprocessed, and looked at differently as they appear, disappear, and reappear in the unfolding of time. Is Bergotte really a failure? In the end, he thinks not—­a redemptive thought passes his mind until the stroke redoubles and kills him—­and neither perhaps does Proust. Indeed, in the very next paragraph, the very discourse of art for art’s sake emerges to redeem Bergotte. Marcel starts speculating about life after death à la spiritualism, but then turns to a more profound kind of immortality, in which even a mediocre artist is granted the Bermaesque power to be subsumed into his accomplishments: “They buried him, but all through that night of mourning, in the lighted shop-­windows, his books, arranged three by three, kept vigil like angels with outspread wings and seemed, for him who was no more, the symbol of his resurrection” (5:246). This conclusion might seem pat—­ars longa, vita brevis and all that, even when the ars is that of the popular novelist. But Proust’s running dialogue with aestheticism and decadence grounds this moment in a specific milieu and a specific problematic. The questions posed here ramify throughout the rest of the book. What is the legacy of the fin-­de-­siècle culture in which Marcel comes of age in the unfolding world of modernity? What becomes of its privileging of art, cultivation, and culture itself in the face of the forces Brichot invoked: those of francité, nationalism, ideology, hard-­edged masculinity, war? What,

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more generally, is the relation between art and culture and the social flux in which they are embedded? Can judgments of taste and hence (for Proust at least) value ever be separated from their social and psychological contexts? Is culture the index or redemption of social corruption? Proust’s novel, like the culture it reflects, is deeply shaped by the topoi, texts, and guiding assumptions of aestheticism and decadence, not only those current in the Paris he is portraying but also and more particularly those articulated in England (a nation whose literature fascinated Proust as much as did that of his own country).7 The novel, like Proust’s work at large, is deeply indebted to the works of the great if somewhat inadvertent founder of the aesthetic movement and its greatest prose stylist, John Ruskin—­Proust was a Ruskin enthusiast and translated both his effusion on gender, Sesame and Lilies, and, perhaps more saliently, his book on church architecture, The Bible of Amiens; individual passages in the Recherche (the description of the church in Combray and cathedral in Venice) not only echo but are haunted by Ruskin. The novel chimes too with echoes of or allusions to another key text of the British aesthetic tradition, Walter Pater’s Studies in the History of the Renaissance. The effusions on the Vinteuil Sonata and the septet in Swann in Love could have come out of Pater’s essay on Giorgione, with its recognition that all art aspires to the condition of music (Proust virtually quotes Pater at certain points). Some descriptions of the Duchesse de Guermantes or even Odette echo the famous Mona Lisa passage from Pater’s essay on Leonardo. More generally, Pater’s as well as Ruskin’s creation of a prose that is wrought as fully and developed as richly as poetry serves as a powerful model for Proust. None have put it better or placed it in the context of the fin-­de-­siècle moment more thoroughly than the critic Ramon Fernandez—­the same “pale Ramon” Wallace Stevens apotheosizes in “The Idea of Order at Key West” (and later in life, an out-­and-­out fascist collaborator): These pages from Time Regained [celebrating art] are essentially an essay on style, and another famous essay on style, published in 1888 by Walter Pater, allows us to date it. Both essays, despite the two score years that separate them, belong to the same spiritual era, I mean to say that they mark the same stage in what could be called the conquering of the rights of art. Their difference . . . comes from the fact that Proust’s work is based on personal experience, whereas Pater stayed in the sublimated realms of culture and ideology.8

Most notoriously, perhaps, the ghost of Oscar Wilde hovers over the Recherche. Wilde is invoked but never named by Proust’s most outrageous homosexual

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character, the Baron de Charlus, who quotes one of  Wilde’s most famous mots but can’t remember the source.9 So too Wilde haunts the text’s representation of male-­male desire. The Narrator’s rant on homosexuality in Sodom and Gomorrah, “la race maudite,” gestures toward the notoriety of  Wilde and mimics the culture’s shunning of him: the Narrator says of homosexual men, “Their honor [is] precarious, their liberty provisional, lasting only until the discovery of their crime; their position unstable, like that of the poet who one day was feasted at every table, applauded in every theater in London, and on the next was driven from every lodging, unable to find a pillow on which to lay his head, turning the mill like Samson and saying like him: ‘The two sexes shall die, each in a place apart!’ ” (4:21). Wilde here serves as the unspoken signifier for the unspeakability of his culture’s (and Marcel’s and Proust’s) desires, and his punishment a metonym (he was forced literally to walk on a treadmill) for the repressive mechanisms by which heterosexuality is made compulsory and the body disciplined of its unruly desires. But decadence betokens more than just literary reference, however overdetermined. Proust’s world is decadent in the most general sense of the word as well—­the one which is never far away from the literary and artistic movement given that name. Topoi of cultural and social decline are central to the text: Proust uses cultural indicators like Rachel’s triumph over Berma along with a host of other data (sexual liaisons, dinner-­party seating arrangements, records of who talks to whom, how, why, and at which salon) to give us a minute, detailed ethnographic account of the changing of the guard of Parisian society, the replacement of an attenuated, sometimes corrupt, sometimes magnificent older order with a vulgar and unappetizing new one. The supersession of Oriane de Guermantes by the hideous Madame Verdurin—­the bourgeoise with pretentions at running a bohemian salon who ultimately ascends to the position of Princesse de Guermantes and hence becomes Oriane’s cousin by marriage—­is just one of the major signs of the decline and fall of practically everything, for this supersession takes place on the field of taste, a field (to invoke the terminology of Pierre Bourdieu) understood very much as a social battleground.10 And here, the forces of the new order are winning a decisive victory over the ancien régime, although the latter holds onto its status by any means necessary. Thus, for example, Oriane must host Rachel a second time and pretend that Rachel’s performance at the first event, intended as a favor to Robert, her nephew, was a triumph and her hosting it actually a sign of her discernment. Only in this way can she validate her continuing relevance in a bourgeoisifying Paris, in which the standards and aesthetic values of the ancien régime have been relegated to the status of antiques, a

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fate that awaits Oriane too unless she adjusts to the new order. It is her masterstroke, and evidence of her subtlety as a social player, that she generates this adjustment by restaging the performance that previously had offended her fine aristocratic sensibilities; it is a sign of her capacity for self-­delusion that she convinces herself retrospectively that she was an admirer, rather than a loather, of Rachel in the first instance. And it is a sign of the true decadence of this Paris that in addition to idolizing the mediocre Rachel, Oriane is held in some contempt even by those who crowd into her salon to hear her guest perform. There’s one more connection between the novel and the discourse of decadence: Proust’s treatment of sexual object-­choice.11 The novel daringly offered one of the first explicit literary depictions of male homosexuality and lesbianism, the life-­and love-­styles that are culturally affiliated with the discourse of degeneration, deliquescence, or decline. Proust even offers a neo-­ degenerationist pseudo-­explanation for their prevalence, suggesting, for example à la Zola (or Jean-­Martin Charcot) that there is a strain of perversity, the expression of a recessive gene, in the Guermantes clan that impels its two leading male representatives, Charlus and Saint-­Loup, to manifest a bizarre conflation of hypertrophied masculinity (they are both, at various points, not to put too fine a point on it, gay-­bashers) and queer sexuality. Indeed, Saint-­ Loup’s desire for men is read by the Narrator explicitly this way, and given a further racializing twist—­“Can one not imagine some golden-­haired aristocrat sprung from an ancient family such as his, intelligent and endowed with every kind of prestige, concealing within him, unbeknown to all his friends, a secret taste for negroes?”—­making Saint-­Loup’s taste work out in racial terms the same slumming habits as his cousin Charlus, who harbors a secret (well, not so-­secret) taste for lower-­class men (6:21). (Perhaps the same taste, mutatis mutandis, is evident in Robert’s desire for Jewish women.) Indeed, to drive home the point that this is a family trait, no fewer than three Guermantes men—­Charlus, Saint-­Loup, and their cousin the Prince de Guermantes—­all lust after the same man, the bisexual rogue and brilliant violinist Charlie Morel. And just to complete the circle, Saint-­Loup’s interest in Charlie is explained by Marcel as grounded in Saint-­Loup’s perception that Morel resembles his Jewish girlfriend, Rachel.12 Proust’s—­or rather the Narrator’s—­analysis of homosexuality therefore very much falls into the contemporary idiom of genetic inheritance, sickness, and decline and its master narrative of loss. At the end of the novel, virtually nothing is left of the inbred line of the Guermantes—­even the heterosexual Oriane and her horny husband have failed to reproduce. (It is Robert’s taste

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for Jewish women that saves the line: Saint-­Loup and Gilberte have a child, a sign of the fecundity of Jews evident elsewhere in the text.) Applying the failure of the Guermantes-­line discourse of degeneracy and decadence to the understanding of queer desire becomes somewhat problematic—­here again, Proust makes nothing simple—­since there really isn’t much of a difference, pace the shocked Narrator’s ingenuous response, in the basic patterns of need, desire, and self-­deceit between queer and straight relationships. The novel understands the basic pulsions of human interaction in terms of sadism and masochism, the cruelty (and occasionally kindness) inherent in ordinary social interactions, which the theater of sexual desire dramatizes and enhances. Rachel’s laughter at the death of Berma, the humiliation of Charlus by Madame Verdurin in exchange for his many slights; Mlle Vinteuil’s spitting on the portrait of her father—­all these and more are far more hideous than, even as they are emblematized by, Charlus’s sadomasochistic beatings at the brothel, the discovery of which is one climax of Time Regained.13 The point of enumerating all these episodes is that Jews are implicated in each and every one of them. At times old money and new money, supremely tasteful and vulgarly tasteless, insiders and outsiders, Jews measure the decadence of traditional culture and signify the hollowness of that which is to follow. They are social climbers and cynosures of taste; they are queer and they are heteronormativity incarnate; they are masochistic and sadistic; they are victimizers and victims. The only thing they are not is inert. Jews, far more than any other set of figures in the book (aristocrats, Sodomites, Gomorrahites, the military, and so on), register the whiplash effects of a rapidly transforming French society on the edge of—­and, with the advent of World War I and its aftermath, passing over into—­modernity itself. And as they do so, they come into contact with the lineaments of decadence both as a social fact and as a set of cultural productions, associations, and aspirations. This issue is deeply fraught for Proust himself because—­like his character Charles Swann—­he was partly Jewish. His adored mother was a Jew married to a gentile, just as Swann’s Jewish stockbroker father was married to a Catholic, and Proust was constantly being identified as a Jew. He was also “decadent” to the core—­what is Proust’s withdrawal to a cork-­lined room but a mirror image of Des Esseintes’s withdrawal into a jewel-­and-­art-­encrusted room in Joris-­K arl Huysmans’s À rebours, a book justly described as “the breviary of the decadence”?14 And Proust’s sexuality was profoundly counter-­ or non-­normative, engaged and energetic, and “queer” in the deepest sense of the term.

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Indeed, it is sexuality that I think provides the Venn diagram–­like overlap of the conceptual entities—­decadence and Jewishness—­with which we are occupied here. To the shocked and willfully naïve Narrator, queer sexuality seems not only to function as an index of the first but also to be especially associated with the second, in ways that had particular cultural power at the moment Proust was writing. The conflation of Jews and perverse sexuality was rampant in European culture, with respect to homosexuals and lesbians as well as straight sexuality, in which Jewish men were viewed as hyperphallic, out of control, and lusty when it came to sex with gentile women, while Jewish women were understood to be libidinous and often to be found, as was Rachel, in the orders of prostitution. As a Jew, as a queer man, Proust turns naturally to the Jewish/queer equation in the course of his attempt to write into being the existence of the entirely new figure of “the homosexual,” and he habitually seems to use the notion of the Jew to gloss, explicate, explore, and understand that new being. But being Proust, he problematizes the latter as much as he clarifies the former. “Truth,” Proust wrote, “can be attained by us only when, by comparing a quality common to two sensations, we succeed in extracting their common essence in reuniting them to each other, liberated from the contingencies of time, within a metaphor” (6:289–­90). That said, it is the property of the Proustian metaphor to complicate the tenor as well as the vehicle, the signified as well as the signifier: the term that is being glossed itself glosses the term that is being used to explore and explain it, so that each side of the metaphor is both illuminated and destabilized by the other. This is the case in excelsis in Proust’s use of the Jew-­queer metaphor, in which Jewishness seems to gloss queer sexuality in clarifying ways, but turns out to be just as complex, just as mysterious, and just as profound as the sexualities it is invoked to explicate. (Metaphor, in other words, rapidly turns into metonymy in which both terms of the comparison ramify).15 The uses of this expedient for a queer Jew fitting himself into French society are obvious. It allows him to affirm not one but two identities, whose nature is profoundly labile, mysterious, out of the social norm. But Proust also uses the comparison to strike at the heart of identity itself, a powerful move at a social moment when national and racial as well as sexual identities are being massively reshaped and consolidated. In addition to the novel’s hyperaesthetic idealization of the material world, its exploration of memory and desire, its anatomization in gory detail of the most perverse and profoundly problematic aspects of the human character, this is the real work of the Recherche, and it is work to which the notion of Jewishness, and the actual behavior of the novel’s Jews, is indispensable. And, as we shall see, decadence

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as a style, a discourse, and an imaginative precedent emerges at the end of the book to ratify these discordant perceptions and turn them into the massively self-­valorizing achievement that is the novel itself.

Jews as Sodomites, Sodomites as Jews: Adventures of a Metonymy The obvious place to start is the famous set piece on the “accursed race” early in Sodom and Gomorrah. This memorable blast of rhetoric, written separately from the narrative of the novel, then incorporated into it, represents the narrator Marcel’s attempt to come to terms with having overheard a scene of homosexual encounter between the Baron de Charlus and the tailor Jupien, one of several such acts of witnessing that define him over the course of the novel.16 As Marcel dilates, in wonder and shock, at the fact of homosexuality, his fervent attempts to classify the “race” of Sodomites are wrought in the form of an extended metaphor in which the Baron’s sexuality is limned with persistent references to the “race” of Jews: I now understood . . . why, earlier, when I had seen him coming away from Mme de Villeparisis’s, I had managed to arrive at the conclusion that M. de Charlus looked like a woman: he was one! He belonged to that race of beings, less paradoxical than they appear, whose ideal is manly precisely because their temperament is feminine, and who in ordinary life resemble other men in appearance only. A race upon whom a curse is laid and which must live in falsehood and perjury because it knows that its desire, which constitutes life’s dearest pleasure, is held to be punishable, shameful, an inadmissible thing; which must deny its God, since its members, even when Christians, when at the bar of justice they appear and are arraigned, must before Christ and in his name refute as a calumny what is their very life; sons without a mother, to whom they are obliged to lie even in the hour when they close her eye, friends without friendships, despite all those which their frequently acknowledged charm inspires and their often generous hearts would gladly feel—­but how can we describe as friendships those relationships which flourish only by virtue of a lie . . . unless they are dealing with an impartial or perhaps even sympathetic spirit, who however in that case, misled with regard to them by conventional psychology, will attribute to the vice confessed the very affection that is most alien to it, just as certain judges assume and are more inclined to pardon murder in inverts and treason in Jews for reasons derived from original sin and racial predestination? (4:19–­20)

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And on and on and on for seven or eight more pages, in which the homosexual or Sodomite (and the lesbian or Gomorrahite) and the Jew are persistently cross-­referenced, with the mystery of same-­sex desire explicated, glossed, or understood through analogies with Jewish identities, institutions, and histories. This cross-­referencing might seem an odd one, since the biblical Sodom­ ites and Gomorrahites were a distinctly separate people from the Hebrews, who then consisted only of Abraham, Sarah, and Jacob—­a separation that prophetic diatribes and Talmudic commentary both emphasize. (Tellingly, many critics who treat the passage extend Proust by conflating the two peoples: Julia Kristeva, for example, refers to the “Hebraic cities of Sodom and Gomorrah,” which is sort of like referring to the French cities of Munich and Berlin).17 What is most striking about this passage, however, is not its oddness but its inevitability. The “race maudite” contains references to a broad range of assimilated, upper-­middle-­class configurations of Jewishness—­Zionist groups, Mendelssohn musical societies, and, most powerfully, Dreyfusards—­and in so doing, it plays off the time-­honored conflation of the Jew and the sexually unnatural in ways that stress their co-­implication. Thus, for example, the first lines of the text invoke the culturally entrenched belief in the sexual doubleness of the Jewish man. Marcel goes one step further, echoing not only the pseudoscientific codifications of medieval prejudices but also anti-­Semitic discourses swirling in the wake of the Dreyfus affair—­the language of Édouard Drumont as well as of Charcot. Thus we learn that this “race” must lie in court and deceive its friends, as the anti-­Semites alleged that Dreyfus in particular, and the Jew in general, could and must do. So one branch of the Sodomite “race,” “the solitaries,” escape entirely into a Sodom-­hood explicitly glossed by the common trope of the Jew as member of a self-­enclosed “colony”—­a reference that insinuates as well the common anti-­Semitic slur that Jews composed a nation within a nation, a state within a state, and hence were, as the earlier passage suggests, implicitly treasonous. Indeed, so fully is this transfer wrought that when the explicit link returns at the end of the passage—­with the comparison of judges who excuse murder in homosexuals and treason in Jews because of original sin and racial predestination—­it is impossible to distinguish between the “invert” and the Jew, to each of whom the language of “original sin” and “racial predestination” would seem equally well to apply. This passage thus seems to describe a classic—­if doubled—­form of self-­ hatred, shuttling the taint of degeneracy between two out-­groups as a way of distancing an author who might fear to be contained by both. But the passage performs yet more complicated work. In the final sentence, in which the

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juridical conflation of both deviancies is most fully on display, only certain judges “excuse” punishment based on a reading of inversion and Jewishness, and their warrant to do so seems whimsical at best. Matters become still more complicated when we recognize the incommensurability of these vices with the acts they gloss. The doctrine of original sin, after all, is governed by the dynamics of heterosexual fallenness—­as homophobes remind us, Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, were housed in the Garden of Eden—­and it is subtended throughout its long history in Christian theology by the question of concupiscence in marriage. The applicability of the doctrine of original sin to questions of inversion thus would seem, at the very least, fraught. Do the same ambiguities apply, by a Proustian version of the commutative property, to “certain judges’ ” judgments of the Jew on grounds of “racial predestination”? If not, how can one distinguish between the “race” of Sodomites and that of the Jews? If so, are the judgments made on both shown by Proust to be equally arbitrary, rendered in utter disjunction from, if not in ignorance of, the thing  judged? The passage raises these questions but leaves them hanging, free to resonate throughout the rest of the text. Throughout the Recherche both Jewishness and perversion return over and over as topics of mystery and interrogation.18 Frequently, the comparison between the two seems, as it does in this passage, to establish the Jew as the “out” other, the one whose closetedness has, at least, a local habitation and a name; indeed, since the name Jew has been sounded as a synonym for other throughout the long history of Christian Europe, sodomy appears yet more secret, yet more epistemologically unstable when brought into contact with it—­it is knowable through, or is best defined by, the image of the Jew.19 But the instant the figure of the Jew is so established, the relation between the two switches. The more it is compared and contrasted to the ways of Sodom, the more Jewishness emerges as more complicated and perhaps more ultimately unknowable than its Sodomitical twin. What does Jewishness mean, exactly, when both Swann and Bloch, genteel passer in aristocratic circles and vulgar arriviste who has invaded them, can be classified as “Jewish”—­especially when the former “outs” himself as a Jew even though he thinks he can pass as a gentile, and when the latter transforms himself into a gentile, although he looks ostentatiously like a Jew? What does the association between Jewishness and alienness mean when Jews, reviled as German-­loving traitors during the Dreyfus affair, can march off to World War I as fully credentialed Frenchmen, while that prime representative of the anti-­Dreyfusard aristocracy, Charlus, makes visibly anti-­French proclamations on the streets of Paris at the same time? What does a coherent racialized Jewish identity mean

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when Jews move from being stigmatized outsiders—­actresses, prostitutes, or lovers of gentiles—­to fully assimilated members of aristocratic gentile families, as does Gilberte Swann de Saint-­Loup? As the Recherche continues, Sodom­ ite and Gomorrahite tendencies become, by contrast, more and more clear, ubiquitous, indeed identified as the very ground of human desire itself. Gilles Deleuze has famously argued that in the Recherche we learn increasingly the lesson that “homosexuality is the truth of love”—­that same-­sex coupling is the ineluctable telos of desire itself. We might add that the more “homosexuality” reveals itself as this mysterious “truth,” the more Jewishness becomes the mystery that homosexuality originally appeared, through its comparison to Jewishness, to be.20 As such—­in its relative and ramifying ambiguity, in its ultimate but productive undecidability—­this representation of Jewishness mirrors Proust’s response to his origins. Before passing on to the reading I am sketching for the Recherche, I need briefly to explore the intricacies of Proust’s descent and of his dealings with that complex fate.21 For here, as in the Recherche, the facts are clear, but their meaning is undecidable, and that undecidability raises the most profound questions about the nature and meaning of both Jewishness and identity tout court. Proust’s beloved mother was the daughter of a hyperassimilated but Jewish-­identified family; although she married a Catholic, she never converted and continued, quietly, to observe Jewish holidays. Proust himself was raised a Catholic and identified himself as such, but he was increasingly drawn to sympathies with Jews and Jewish causes, particularly during the Dreyfus affair.22 To deepen the ambiguity, his appearance was ostentatiously Jewish, at least as that appearance was construed in the racializing climate of fin-­de-­siècle France, and this fact did not go unnoticed among his friends. In his Profils juifs de Marcel Proust, Jean Recanati amusingly catalogs the cascade of periphrases that Proust’s friends used to describe his visage, each and every one a significant synonym for the tabooed term Jew: “assyrien,” “prince persan,” “ce beau visage oriental,” “sa face exsangue et sa barbe noire de Christ arménien.”23 What is striking in this parade of evasion is the necessity of evasiveness at all, a necessity nicely captured in Recanati’s final quotation, from Proust’s friend Fernand Gregh—­the model, many think, for the egregious Bloch: “One night, having let his beard grow, it seemed all of a sudden as if an ancestral rabbi reappeared from behind the charming Marcel we once knew.”24 Hidden but visible, euphemized but clearly referenced by those very euphemisms, Proust’s own Jewish appearance proclaimed an identity that he could neither confirm nor deny—­and that seemed in his circle to be exterior or even antithetical to the “Marcel charmant que nous connaissions.”

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F i g u r e 4 . 2 . Man Ray, Marcel Proust on His Deathbed, November 20, 1922. Gelatin sliver print, 15.1 × 19.8 cm. Photo courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Art © Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris.

Indeed, to look at Man Ray’s famous photograph of Proust’s corpse (fig. 4.2) is to witness this unmistakably Jewish visage etched into the face of the foppish dandy familiar from earlier portraits: the small, neatly trimmed mustache and the carefully parted hair giving way to a full beard and long locks; the nose, prominent but not overpowering in earlier pictures, giving way to one identifiably, indeed powerfully Jewish.25 Proust’s identity as a Jew is undecidable in the technical sense, because it is bound up in the question of what it is to be a Jew in an increasingly anti-­ Semitic Europe. Despite his own efforts to foreground his Catholic upbringing, both in terms of Halacha, or Jewish law, and in terms of his culture’s racializing logic, Proust was defined as Jewish—­in the first case, by maternal descent (according to rabbinic Judaism), in the second, by “blood” (according to the logic of anti-­Semitism). To be sure, he spent most of  his life identifying himself as a non-­Jew, in ways at once sincere and obsequious, but he also affiliated himself with the cause of Dreyfus at a moment of resurgent anti-­Semitism and in the very midst of circles in which, as his biographer Jean-­Yves Tadié delicately

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puts it, he would “have much to lose.”26 For Proust, in other words,  Jewishness was a problem that cut to the core not just of his own identity but also of the questions of where identity comes from and how it might be interwoven with race, nation, and subjectivity. To be a Jew meant, for Proust, to ask questions like these: Where does a sense of one’s being come from? From one’s mother? One’s father? One’s culture? One’s self (whatever that is)? To what extent can it be willed, performed, or signified, avoided, evaded, or embraced? To what extent is it written into one’s appearance, one’s genes, one’s very essence? To what extent is it the product of cultural ascriptions beyond one’s control or even one’s knowledge? How does one reckon with that identity in the midst of new configurations of race and nation?27 Consider the following famous episode. The day after enduring an anti-­ Semitic tirade from his friend the Comte Robert de Montesquiou, Proust responded with this letter: Yesterday I did not answer the question you put to me about the Jews. For this very simple reason: though I am a Catholic like my father and brother, my mother is Jewish. I am sure you understand that this is reason enough for me to refrain from such discussions. I thought it more respectful to write this to you than to answer you in the presence of a third person. But I very much welcome this occasion to say something to you that I might never have thought of saying. For since our ideas differ, or rather, since I am not free to have the ideas I might otherwise have on the subject, you might, without meaning to, have wounded me in a discussion. I am not, it goes without saying, referring to any discussion that might take place between the two of us, for then I shall always take an interest in any ideas on social policy which you may choose to expound, even if I have a most fitting reason for not sharing them.28

The diplomacy of this performance is impressive, particularly if the tirades of Montesquiou bore any relation to the anti-­Semitic ravings of Charlus. But what is more impressive is the way the text articulates the terms of its author’s identity, revealing and concealing him simultaneously. The syntax of the first clause—­“si je suis catholique comme mon père et mon frère,” which might be better translated as “while I am Catholic like my father and brother”—­ resonates with identification with a gentile masculine identity. The bluntness of the second clause—­“ma mère est juive” (my mother is Jewish)—­reminds the reader (and the author himself ?) that he is by the fact of his birth directly implicated in the very Jewishness that the rest of the letter would disavow. Significantly, these effects—­of affirmed distanciation, of claiming and disavowing

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an identity at one and the same time—­can be obtained only in the form that Proust writes about choosing to employ, namely, in writing. By invoking the formal properties of writing (both the mediated impersonality of écriture and the conventions of self-­expression allowed by the French epistolary tradition), Proust can negotiate the delicate task of confronting his friend without losing his friendship, of affirming his own Jewishness without connecting it to the strikingly visible signs of his “race.” By putting his identity into writing, Proust can out himself as a Jew while (quite literally) saving face.29 This moment not only provides a model for thinking about the ways Proust rewrites his own identity in the Recherche but also indexes his use of the Jew-­ queer equation in that text. Biographically, Proust seems to have been far more out—­far more open in his dealings—­with his sexuality than with his Jewishness. To be sure, Proust’s sexuality was not a matter that he could openly declare in all contexts. French society was hardly free of homophobia, and a number of press-­hyped homosexual scandals in England and Germany could only have reinforced for Proust the powers of social repression in a world governed by a scandal-­obsessed media. However, if Proust could be safe as a lover of men anywhere in France, it would have been in the Faubourg Saint-­Germain. As Eugen Weber reminds us, the model of dandyism that formed one powerful model for aristocratic male identity in belle époque France meant that traditionalist attitudes toward la patrie and its institutions could coexist with non-­ normative sexualities of all sorts.30 Thus the diatribes of Drumont conspicuously did not linger over the charge (common elsewhere in Europe and later in France) that homosexuality and Jewishness were virtual synonyms. To cite a more relevant example for Proust, the arch-­reactionary Montesquiou was so open about his sexuality that he is buried next to his lover. This is not to imply that Proust was open about his homosexual inclinations and affairs outside the circle of his friends. He frequently claimed to have crushes on or even relations with women, and indeed, he fought several duels over imputations of  his making homosexual passes, particularly at youths (this, as Graham Robb observes, being the one arena in which gay men were most frequently persecuted).31 It is to imply that the reasons for this caution were just one of the fronts on which Proust felt he had to fight, and not necessarily the most important one.32 In belle époque France, and especially in the circles in which Montesquiou and Proust, Charlus, and Swann moved, however, Jewishness was an entirely different matter. The Dreyfus affair marked a new style of anti-­ Semitism that identified Jews—­legitimated by the universalist rhetoric of the Revolution and granted full citizenship by Napoleon—­not as full citizens but as an alien excrescence on the national body. (As Charlus responds

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when Marcel tells him that Bloch is a Frenchman: “Indeed! I took him to be a Jew” [3:390].) This new style of anti-­Semitism was motivated, historians tell us, by such factors as a burst of immigration from the decaying Russian Empire, capitalist debacles at home, and the search for a scapegoat following the national humiliation inflicted by the newly unified German nation-­state in 1870. Whatever its causes, the new form of anti-­Semitism was firmly conjoined with two principles on the Right: an almost hystericized nationalism, with particular animus directed at Germany, and a powerful identification of la France with the aristocracy, the Catholic Church, and the army.33 During and after the Dreyfus affair, both anti-­Semitic attitudes and the collage of attributes that the Right called francité—­the undefinable yet irrefutable sense of Frenchness—­found a home not only in the backwaters but also in the fashionable, aristocratic circles in which Proust moved. As Swann wryly puts it while discussing the anti-­ Dreyfusard opinions of  his friend the Duc de Guermantes, “After all, young or old, men or women, when all’s said and done these people belong to a different race, one can’t have a thousand years of feudalism in one’s blood with impunity” (3:797–­98). Despite his pronounced Dreyfusism, Proust seems to have spent much of his time in the Faubourg Saint-­Germain minimizing his own Jewish origins, responding to the anti-­Semitism of a Montesquiou or a Maurice Barrès with the kinds of half measures we have seen, and even dedicating The Guermantes Way to one of the most notorious anti-­Semites of his literary world, Léon Daudet.34 In such a setting, the Sodomite-­Jew conjunction allows Proust, under the cover of investigating the first of these phenomena, the room to anatomize the second: to reckon with an increasingly heterogeneous social sphere where Jews and racially mixed characters like himself were entering into, mixing with, and becoming the socially powerful and prominent, and to reckon as well with the changes that this loaded process might make in the reconstruction of national and racial categories at a moment when they were being transformed. This multiple process is clearest, perhaps, in the relation between Bloch and the text’s prime example of sexual perversity, the Baron de Charlus. Charlus’s comically failing concealment of his sexual proclivities is mirrored by Bloch’s attempts to “pass” as an anti-­Semite. Indeed, the network of allusions that knits the two together is tightly bound from the first, since Charlus’s attempts to pass as a straight man are compared by the Narrator to the most aggressively self-­hating tactics of assimilated Jews. Thus Charlus’s frequent denunciations of  homosexuals are compared to those of  “a Jewish journalist [who] will come

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forward day after day as the champion of Catholicism” (5:275). So too the attempts of Bloch, the second-­generation son of Ashkenazic immigrants who retain traces of Yiddish in their speech, to pass as a gentile are wrought by denouncing his own people: One day, when we were sitting on the sands, Saint-­Loup and I, we heard issuing from a canvas tent against which we were leaning a torrent of imprecation against the swarm of Jews that infested Balbec. “You can’t go a yard without meeting them,” said the voice. “I am not in principle irremediably hostile to the Jewish race, but here there is a plethora of them. You hear nothing but ‘I thay, Apraham, I’ve chust theen Chacop.’ You would think you were in the rue d’Aboukir.” The man who thus inveighed against Israel emerged at last from the tent, and we raised our eyes to behold this anti-­Semite. It was my old friend Bloch. (2:433–­34)

What is most striking about these attempts, however, is their failure or, more precisely, the Charlusian form that this failure takes. Just as Charlus is known to all for what he truly is, so too Bloch is forced to reveal himself, because his face as well as his name bears the visible signs of Jewishness.35 His “thundering” voice does not give him away: even though Saint-­Loup and Marcel can clearly hear Marcel’s “school chum” through the tent in which he is hiding, they can identify him only as “la voix,” a voice that, tellingly, seeks to pass as a non-­Jew by mimicking the Jew’s mimicry of French. When his unmistakably Semitic features appear, all mimicry is forgotten; these features define him as the quintessential Jew, whose attempts to pass as a Frenchman Bloch has mocked in order to position himself as a gentile. By implication, both the closeting Jew and the closeted homosexual must constantly be on guard against having their identities named in public; they must constantly adjust their personae to deny that they are what everyone knows them to be. But—­to give this conjunction one last spin—­it is the Jew and not the Sodomite whose wish to closet himself is achieved, and precisely through the ability to play with surfaces. From this moment on, the paths of Charlus and Bloch diverge: the former declines as he is unveiled as the “pervert” he is already known to be, but the latter flourishes as a fully assimilated gentile rather than the Jew everyone also knows him to be. When Marcel meets Bloch at the home of the new Princesse de Guermantes, his old classmate is a successful novelist who has married one of his daughters to an aristocrat and has renamed himself  Jacques du Rozier. As Seth Wolitz has observed, the name ironically (and deflatingly) chimes with that of the rue des Rosiers,

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the central street of the Parisian ghetto,36 but just as that street is concealed by Rozier, in a phonetic play (S/Z avant la Barthesian lettre), so too is his appearance: I had difficulty in recognizing my friend Bloch, who was now in fact no longer Bloch since he had adopted, not merely as a pseudonym but as a name, the style of Jacques du Rozier, beneath whom it would have needed my grandfather’s flair to detect the “sweet vale of Hebron” and those “chains of Israel” which my old schoolmate seemed definitively to have broken. Indeed, an English chic had completely transformed his appearance and smoothed away, as with a plane, everything in it that was susceptible to such treatment. The once curly hair, now brushed flat, with a parting in the middle, glistened with brilliantine. His nose remained large and red, but seemed now to owe its tumescence to a sort of permanent cold which served also to explain the nasal intonation with which he languidly delivered his studied sentences, for just as he had found a way of doing his hair which suited his complexion, so he had found a voice which suited his pronunciation. . . . And thanks to the way in which he brushed his hair, to the suppression of his moustache, to the elegance of the whole figure—­thanks, that is to say, to his determination—­his Jewish nose was now scarcely more visible than is the deformity of a hunchbacked woman who skillfully arranges her appearance. But above all—­and one saw this the moment one set eyes upon him—­the significance of his physiognomy had been altered by a formidable monocle. By introducing an element of machinery into Bloch’s face this monocle absolved it of all those difficult duties which a human face is normally called upon to discharge, such as being beautiful or expressing intelligence or kindliness or effort . . . behind the lens of this monocle Bloch was now installed in a position as lofty, as remote and as comfortable as if it had been the glass partition of a limousine and, so that his face should match the smooth hair and the monocle, his features never now expressed anything at all. (6:384–­85)

This passage is one of the most savagely satirical in a novel filled with this particular species of wit, but like the rest of Proust, it does not resonate in its full irony unless one takes it at (as it were) face value. For the value of a face as a true marker of racial identity is precisely what is at stake here.37 Through his determination, his will, to pass as a gentile, Bloch has determined—­ recast—­his very appearance and hence, according to Marcel, his very self. But it is the very spectacularization of the Jew’s appearance that Bloch continually exemplifies—­not only in his first appearance at the tent in Balbec but also in his appearances in Mme de Villeparisis’s salon (3:253), where he is

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compared to figures in Oriental (and Orientalist) tapestries—­which makes his passing possible. Indeed, like Berma or Rachel, Bloch responds to a culture that responds to him as a visual spectacle by becoming a kind of performer. Bloch changes his costume, straightening his hair, placing a monocle on his prominent Hebraic proboscis, and pronouncing his words with a faux English drawl. As such, the apotheosis of Bloch is one of the novel’s indices of cultural decline effected through Jewishness, one uncomfortably similar to the rise of that other vulgarian, Rachel. But unlike Rachel’s, Bloch’s success shadows Marcel’s ambitions. In a work that intensely ties questions of value to the matter of writing—­and where Marcel constantly worries about his fitness to write the text that we are reading—­Bloch’s writerly perversion of stable criteria of cultural value achieves a special kind of perniciousness. Moreover, Bloch as a sign of the degradation of culture is explicitly posed as a comic threat to—­or potential within—­Marcel himself, with whom he is frequently (and comically) confused. On the one hand, his Combray neighbor Mme Sazerat “was firmly persuaded that it was I who was the author of a certain historical study of Philip II which was in fact by Bloch” (6:419); on the other, Bloch shamelessly plagiarizes from Marcel’s journalistic contributions to Figaro. Bloch is a kind of perverse double of Marcel himself, a representative of Marcel’s emergence into the world and work of writing who shadows writing itself with the aura of the fraudulent that was so frequently associated with the figure of the assimilating  Jew.38 As it moves from a stable figure for perversion to a proliferating instance of perversion itself, then, Jewishness comes closer and closer to Proust himself, shadowing first literary production and then narrator with suggestions of inauthenticity, fraudulence. One might be tempted to stop here again and diagnose the portrayal of Bloch as a clear case of the peculiarly modern malady of self-­hatred, but for one thing: Bloch (and hence Marcel, and hence Proust) possesses another, far less equivocal double in the text: Charles Swann. Even more than Bloch, Swann comes to terms with his Jewishness in such a way as to redefine the potentialities of Jewish character and identity alike. If Bloch learns that he can transcend his innate Jewishness by redefining, Swann follows the opposite trajectory. This Jew who can pass in the highest circles of the aristocracy, who is admitted to the Jockey Club, nevertheless comes to reject the anti-­Semitism of that world and reaffirm his identity as a Jew on a strictly voluntary basis. As a result of this choice, he grows physiologically into a racial identity he had previously disavowed.

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While Swann’s father is descended from Jews, and performs the archetypal Jewish role of stockbroker, his mother is not; moreover, Swann is perceived in confused terms in the Combray narrative.39 He is, Marcel’s anti-­Semitic grandfather makes clear, “of Jewish extraction” (d’origine juive), as opposed to Bloch, who is unmistakably “a Jew” (un Juif ) (1:125); he is called a Jew outright by Mme de Gallardon (behind his back), and his Jewishness is clearly the subtext of many conversations about him. Even the narrative goes to great lengths to characterize Swann in this subtextual way. Thus, in the opening pages of Swann in Love, the Narrator uses tropes drawn from finance and those referring to alienness to describe Swann’s place in Parisian high society—­and his almost careless jeopardizing of the same by means of his penchant for women of a less than fully respectable mien: Of course, the “little clan” [of Mme de Verdurin] has no connection to the society in which Swann moved, and true men of fashion would have felt there was little point in enjoying, as he did, an exceptional position only to end up with an introduction to the Verdurins. But Swann was so fond of women that once he had come to know more or less all the women in aristocratic circles and they had nothing more to teach him, he had ceased to regard these naturalization papers, almost a patent of nobility, which the Faubourg Saint-­Germain had bestowed upon him, except as a sort of negotiable bond, a letter of credit with no value in itself but which allowed him to improvise a status for himself in some provincial hole or obscure circle of Paris where the daughter of a squire or clerk had struck him as pretty. . . . How often had his credit with a duchess, built up from the desire she had been accumulating over the years to do something kind for him without having found the occasion, been spent all at once by his sending her an indiscreet message asking for a recommendation by telegraph that would put him in touch, immediately, with one of her stewards whose daughter he had noticed in the country, just as a starving woman would barter a diamond for a piece of bread! (1:269)

There’s a mini-­allegory of  Jewishness built into these words, of which the Narrator, Marcel, is not fully aware—­but then, he is as clueless about Jewishness as he is about the sexual inclinations of those around him, which is to say very clueless indeed. The road from alien to insider is paved by—­or transformed into—­a commercial transaction, one in which the Jewish outsider-­turned-­ insider makes himself into an outsider again by means of his lusty desire for gentile women: this is the scenario that the Narrator evokes, a scenario right

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out of the anti-­Semitic pages of La libre parole or the writings of Proust’s friend Daudet. And indeed, as Edward Hughes has reminded us, this aspersion was even more explicit in a passage Proust did not include in the final version of the manuscript: Perhaps his Jewish origins explain in part why (just as some Romans experienced a greater charm in penetrating certain Oriental women-­captives) he experienced a particularly strong attraction for pious young Christian women in whose presence his infidel’s soul drank in with delight the taste of holy water and French soil—­just as the Lombard style merged with the Byzantine.40

Note the parade of anti-­Semitic calumnies here, expressed with Proust’s characteristic mixture of extravagance and economy. Not only is the common fantasy of the Jew’s desire for Christian virgins conflated with the anti-­Semitic critique of the Jew as alien to French soil, but in addition there is a vague allusion to the fin-­de-­siècle trope of the Jew as vampire, via the thirsty gulping of French liquids by Swann’s “infidel’s soul.” But we must also note the further twists and turns by which the passage torques Jewishness. The alien vampirism of the Jew is weirdly compared to the absorption of the so-­called “Byzantine” style of architecture by that of the Lombard, which is (as Proust’s mentor in matters architectural, John Ruskin, taught him) the basis of the Romanesque, which becomes the norm as a model for churches in Normandy, only to be succeeded by the Gothic—­thus the church at Combray is built on a Romanesque plan with Gothic additions, as if to enact the supersession of architectural styles that took place in the Middle Ages. Both the Romans and the Romanesque, in other words, penetrated and were penetrated by otherness; the classical tradition and the church’s physical manifestations are both hybrid, obsessed with otherness or capable of  incorporating it. So, too, it might be added, are the other characters of the novel, who share Swann’s penchants in, as it were, reverse. To be sure, the Jewish Bloch is even more sexually forward than Swann and claims to Marcel to have had sex with Odette herself on a train three times during one journey. But gentiles delight in penetrating, or imagining that they penetrate, Jews. Marcel almost loses his virginity, at Bloch’s insistence, to Rachel; he thinks of her in terms of a tune from Fromental Halévy’s La Juive (itself an opera of cross-­racial desire composed by a Jew; Halévy was the great-­uncle of Proust’s close friend Daniel Halévy); hyper-­aristocrat Robert de Saint-­Loup becomes Rachel’s devoted lover, to the consternation of her family and friends; and he ultimately marries the daughter of a Jew, Gilberte Swann. On the queer side of the ledger

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that desire is evident in Charlus’s truly bizarre crush on Bloch—­bizarre not because of its same-­sex nature but because it involves a weird sadomasochistic fantasy that he might witness Bloch in gladiatorial contest with his own father, “in which he would smite him as David smote Goliath in the Temple,” then beating his mother (3:391). Again, this fantasy radiates out in a number of directions—­to Charlus’s own beating, to the vicious treatment of Berma by her own daughter, to name two. But it speaks more broadly to the imaginative place of Jews in the gentile imaginary, as objects of desire upon whom are projected the lineaments of gentile rage and gentile desire. Swann serves as this kind of figure more broadly in the fascination, which he shares with virtually everyone, with the sexual roundelay that is the Faubourg Saint-­Germain. But more winsomely, Swann exemplifies the nature of desire in its full range of sadness and need: the central paradox of Swann in Love, that he can lavish his attention on and, indeed, give up his social place for the sake of a woman who is not intellectually or morally worthy of  him and who is not even his type, as he says at the devastating end of this mini-­novel-­ within-­the-­novel, structures love affairs throughout the book. Charlus’s love for Morel has exactly the same structure as Swann’s for Odette; so too does Saint-­Loup’s for Rachel and, indeed, Marcel’s for the lower-­class Albertine. In his masochistic tendencies, his insider-­outsider qualities, his willed, self-­ abnegating indulgence in the “Jewish” traits that his family status does not otherwise endow him with, Swann, far more than Bloch, not only represents the status of assimilating Jews in late nineteenth-­century France but becomes central to the patterns of desire that govern the aristocrats who reject him.41 But Swann is finally forced to choose an affiliation for himself out of the welter of possibilities he might affirm. Ill with cancer, sick at heart over the Dreyfus affair, Swann affirms his Jewishness—­a fact that appears to Marcel as a species of absolute physical metamorphosis. Although he thinks that Swann is much “changed” owing to his illness (an illness explicitly linked to Swann’s gentile mother), this change is clearly the result not only of the lower status he has in the world as a result of  his marriage to Odette but also of his newfound sense of himself as a Dreyfusard and a Jew. Swann, for example, ascribes the Guermantes’ anti-­Dreyfusism to anti-­Semitism, a charge Marcel refutes (they are, at various times, both right); the Narrator then adds, “Besides, having come to the premature term of his life, like a weary animal that is being tormented, he cried out against these persecutions and was returning to the spiritual fold of his fathers” (3:796). It is as if Swann has decided to become a Jew to register his solidarity with his own people at a moment of their persecution, and his body follows suit.

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Two things need to be noted about this metamorphosis. Since it’s his father, not his mother, who is Jewish, there is no reason for Swann to declare himself a Jew other than that he wants to do so. From this chosen, this willed, this affirmed Jewishness, a physiological Jewishness flows. Having proclaimed himself a Jew, Swann witnesses his very visage remolding itself into the guise of his newly affirmed identity: Whether because of the absence of those cheeks, no longer there to modify it, or because arteriosclerosis, which is also a form of intoxication, had reddened it as would drunkenness, or deformed it as would morphine, Swann’s punchinello nose, absorbed for long years into an agreeable face, seemed now enormous, tumid, crimson, the nose of an old Hebrew rather than a dilettante Valois . . . in these last days, the physical type that characterizes his race was becoming more pronounced in him, at the same time as a sense of moral solidarity with the rest of the Jews, a solidarity which Swann seemed to have forgotten throughout his life and which, one after another, his mortal illness, the Dreyfus case and anti-­semitic propaganda had reawakened. There are certain Jews, men of great refinement and social delicacy, in whom nevertheless there remains in reserve and in the wings, ready to enter their lives at a given moment, as in a play, a cad and a prophet. Swann had arrived at the age of a prophet. (3:796)

It is in part, but only in part, Marcel’s vision that defines Swann as a stereotypical Jew at the moment when Swann chooses to affirm his Jewishness, for Swann’s place in the gallery of stereotypes is quite exact. His cancer remakes him in the image of the diseased Jew, of the Jew as bearer of a physical rot that reflects his moral condition. The description of his nose here could come out of any nineteenth-­century screed and in its egregious phallicism (“enormous, tumid, crimson”) brings together all the associations typically ascribed to the Jew’s possession of that organ. Not that Swann is hyperphallic here. On the contrary, he is exhausted, enervated, barely able to make it through the evening. But it is as if having willed himself into Jewishness, Swann becomes subject to a physiognomy with a robust life of its own. So, in affirming these stereotypes, Swann complicates them: his engorging nose proclaims his new life as a Jew even as his physical life comes to an end. One cannot help but think of Gregh’s description of Proust’s own appearance, with, as we heard, the visage of the ancestral rabbi asserting itself as Proust’s face was transformed by time. And we cannot help but remember the fin-­de-­siècle association between Jewishness and disease—­the two linked in Swann’s very body—­and their extension into a critique of a degenerating social body that fueled the discourse of cultural

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decline.42 The Duc and Duchesse de Guermantes’s lack of interest in Swann’s condition reflects their egotism, to be sure (this is the standard reading of the passage), but it also indicates their desire, and that of their class, to draw an attitudinal cordon sanitaire between themselves and the diseased Jews (and reminds us along the way that Proust’s gentile doctor father was the creator of the concept of the cordon sanitaire itself). But while we seem to have traveled far from the other type of fin-­de-­siècle degeneration, the Sodomite, the text in fact traces a line directly back to that other token of social degradation one last, powerful time. Swann’s wasted appearance anticipates the final transformations of Charlus. In a passage near the end of the book, Marcel sees Charlus from afar. Not recognizing him at first, Marcel confuses his “purplish face” with that of “an actor or a painter, both equally notorious for innumerable sodomist scandals”; when Charlus greets him, Marcel does recognize him and comments: “One may say that for him the evolution of his malady or the revolution of his vice had reached the extreme point at which the tiny original personality of the individual, the specific qualities he has inherited from his ancestors, are entirely eclipsed by the transit across them of some genetic defect or malady which is their satellite” (6:106–­7). Just as Swann at the moment of his mortal illness has become the very type of the diseased Jew, so Charlus at the moment of his degradation is distilled into the quintessence of the invert. “He was himself,” Marcel continues, “but so perfectly masked by . . . what belonged not to him alone but to many other inverts” (6:107). While Charlus becomes as stamped with a racialized sexuality as was Swann with his (newly affirmed) Jewishness, a series of metaphors links Charlus to the same tragic theatrical grandeur with which Swann is invested. Charlus appears at the Guermantes’ utterly transformed: his apoplexy and his having ceased to dye his hair “had the effect, as in a sort of chemical precipitation, of rendering visible and brilliant all that saturation of metal which the locks of his hair and beard, pure silver now, shot forth like so many geysers, so that upon the old fallen prince this latest illness had conferred the Shakespearian majesty of a King Lear” (6:245). The language of prophetic greatness, ascribed earlier to Swann, is used here for the Sodomite, and it is entirely appropriate that it should fall to Charlus, rather than to any of the rather unsympathetic social kin, to pronounce a final benediction on Swann: “Hannibal de Bréauté, dead! Antoine de Mouchy, dead! Charles Swann, dead! Adalbert de Montmorency, dead! Boson de Talleyrand, dead! Sosthène de Doudeauville, dead!” (6:249). This roll call of dead aristocrats includes only one commoner: the fully self-­ identified Jew Charles Swann. In invoking Swann’s name, Charlus ironically

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reverses the pattern he has established not only in his anti-­Semitic responses to Bloch but also in his opposition of francité and Jewishness. He acknowledges not only his own mortality but also that of his class through the very figure he has defined as its antithesis: the Jew.

Decadence, Jewishness, and Proustian Reproduction Jewishness and sexual otherness thus mirror, figure, and gloss each other, raising questions in our minds about the relation between race and desire, fixed notions of identity and their metamorphoses over time, the determination of a stable subject and the changing ascriptions of a society. And, most powerfully for our concerns here, these two terms, linked to the culture of decadence itself as symptoms or signifiers, point to the novel’s final engagements with decadent and aesthetic culture tout court. Indeed, Jewishness, homosexuality and decadence merge into a structure in which all of these concerns might be enfolded, that of the novel itself, which, in the self-­conscious move that high aestheticist art and early modernism share, wheels into our own readerly existence even as it closes itself off. Decadent culture, sexuality, and Jewishness were conflated in Proust’s own life as well as in the public sphere of  his moment. In 1888, a seventeen-­year-­old Marcel Proust wrote a letter to his friend and crush-­object Daniel Halévy: I am not a decadent. In this [the nineteenth] century I adore above all Musset, our Father Hugo, Michelet, Renan, Sully Prudhomme, Leconte de Lisle, Halévy, Taine, Becque, France. I take pleasure in Banville, Heredia, and in an ideal anthology composed of exquisite selections from poets whom I don’t adopt in their entirety: “La Creation des Fleurs” by Mallarmé, Songs of Paul Verlaine, etc. etc. But I am horrified by critics who have an ironic attitude toward the decadents. I believe there may be among them a good deal of insincerity, but unconscious or at least without clairvoyance. The causes of this insincerity are, if you will, the religious belief in beautiful forms of  language, a perversion of the senses, a sickly sensibility that finds rare pleasures in exotic occurrences, in musics more suggestive than real. . . . If this doesn’t seem clear, I’ll explain it in person.43

There’s much to be said about this letter from Proust to Halévy (to whom he also sent a mash note at roughly the same time)—­note the obsequious but

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nevertheless charming mention of Halévy père, placed between Parnassian poet Leconte de Lisle and massively important historian Hippolyte Taine, adumbrating without knowing it the younger Halévy’s own life-­journey from aesthete to somewhat stuffy (and right-­wing) historian. Most important from our point of view is the coalescence of his denial with a qualification thereof offering a dazzling display of erudition. Like his character Brichot, Proust gives a consummate account of the main outlines of the imaginative structure he is distancing himself from. The significance of this double maneuver takes on even greater salience in view of Proust’s own response to Jews and gay men: here too, as in those cases, he claims distance from a category, yet also opens the door through a series of elaborations, qualifications, and exemplifications to a use of the category that ramifies well beyond the identifications. I suggested at the beginning of this chapter some of the many affinities between Proust and decadence as a literary and cultural movement, and in a Proustian way I recall them now in preparation for returning to their larger significance. Such is formally exactly what happens in the latter pages of the novel, which, although set in the 1920s, brings to the fore the decadent imaginary Proust has been engaging with throughout the text. This engagement occurs in the last pages, at yet another party that Marcel attends, after many years in a sanitarium for his consumption. Everyone is older, different from their youthful selves in ways Marcel finds alternatively weird, alienating, off-­putting, moving, and estranging: in one unforgettable if (or because) comic trope, he imagines that his friends have donned white wigs and are appearing in some strange costume drama. This, then, is one powerful locus of decadence in the descriptive sense I have been alluding to throughout: it is here Rachel is encountered in her full awfulness—­she is described as a “hideous old woman” (6:444); it is here that we meet Mme Verdurin in her new guise as the Princesse de Guermantes; it is here that we encounter the successful but snooty Bloch transformed into Rozier. The best index of the decadence of this milieu is the senile Odette, still attractive to some—­namely, the endlessly horny Duc de Guermantes, who is sleeping with her. Her mental decline seems to have spread to the entire milieu: “the Faubourg Saint-­Germain,” Marcel observes, “was like some senile dowager now, who replies only with timid smiles to insolent servants who invade her drawing rooms, drink her orangeade, present their mistresses to her” (6:390). At the climax of the party, Marcel meets the now-­fat Gilberte, who introduces him to her daughter by Saint-­Loup, and his description of Mlle de Saint-­Loup offers a climax to his wrestlings throughout the novel with time, circumstance, mutability, and loss.

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I was astonished to see at [Gilberte’s] side a girl of about sixteen, whose tall figure was a measure of that distance which I had been reluctant to see. Time, colourless and inapprehensible Time, so that I was almost able to see it and touch it, had materialized itself in this girl, moulding her into a masterpiece. . . . Mlle de Saint-­Loup was standing in front of me. She had deep-­set piercing eyes, and a charming nose thrust forward in the form of a beak and curved, perhaps not in the least like that of Swann but like Saint-­Loup’s. The soul of that particular Guermantes had fluttered away but his charming head, as of a bird in flight, with its piercing eyes, had settled momentarily upon the shoulders of Mlle de Saint-­Loup and the sight of it there aroused a train of memories and dreams in those who had known her father. I was struck too by the way in which her nose, imitating in this the model of her mother’s nose and her grandmother’s, was cut off by just that absolutely horizontal line at its base, that same brilliant if slightly tardy stroke of design—­a feature so individual that with its help, even without seeing anything else of a head, one could have recognized it out of thousands—­and it seemed to me wonderful that at the critical moment nature should have returned, like a great and original sculptor, to give to the granddaughter, as she had given to her mother and her grandmother, that significant and decisive touch of the chisel. I thought her very beautiful: still rich in hopes, full of laughter, formed from the very years which I myself had lost, she was like my own youth. (6:506–­7)

This moment is usually treated as one of the great climaxes of the novel, Mlle de Saint-­Loup’s beautiful visage offering the grand organizing synthesis that brings together all the antitheses of the novel into one radiant, if symbolic, being. Julia Kristeva summarizes the consensus: a . . . juxtaposition of “opposite sides”—­like the face of Mlle de Saint-­Loup, that “masterpiece” that blends the features of a Swann with those of a Guermantes, an Odette, and a Gilberte—­would be (and [given the recursive nature of the narrative] has already been) the “stimulus” for the book. It will lead the narrator (it has already led him) to create a world as grand as a cathedral or quite simply to rearrange its parts as if to create a gown.44

And given our concerns here, the concordia discors that she represents links Proust’s imagination to some of the high points of aestheticist and decadent art, in which female beauty and the work of art that it incarnates merge into and gloss each other—­I am thinking here of some perfervid passages of John Ruskin’s and of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poem The Portrait and his poem/

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paintings like The Blessed Damozel, as well as Walter Pater’s prose effusion on Mona Lisa. Perhaps, but the passage reads as more qualified when placed in the text’s dramas of racialization and queerness, both of which are gestured toward here in ways that seem, at least initially, to move in a different direction from the ones I’ve been tracing. The language of racial determinism that arises via Mlle de Saint-­Loup’s pert proboscis enacts the conclusion of the process of assimilation that has begun with Odette’s bearing of Gilberte—­the two women genetically overwhelming and extinguishing the last remnants of Swann. More problematic still, the power of nature is invoked to consecrate this process, chiseling off the Jewish in her nose as it did not only for her gentile grandmother but also for her (half-­) Jewish mother. If the flowering youth that is Mlle de Saint-­Loup (never given a first name) becomes the resolution to all the novel’s manifold dichotomies, she is also inscribed as the living being in whom Robert de Saint-­Loup lives on, presumably by the same logic by which Swann does not. Her unifying presence ends the book on a triumphant note at once profoundly heterosexual and profoundly gentile. Or does it? It’s here that the discourse of decadence and its rejection of the act of sexual reproduction enter to complicate the issue. That Marcel should see Mlle de Saint-­Loup as “formed from the very years which I myself had lost, like my own youth” begins the process of complication, since he is quite transparent in asserting that he is making her in an act of cross-­gender identification that passes over into parthenogenesis or even (the metaphor is available to us, as it was not to Proust) a species of cloning. Moreover, slim, androgynous, and hovering on the edge of the fully sexual, the figure that Mlle de Saint-­Loup assumes, or is shaped by Marcel’s imagination to assume, is a status familiar to us from decadent imaginary—­as we saw in the previous chapter, the idealized slender, androgynous girl is a staple of the persona of Bernhardt and the art of Aubrey Beardsley and Gustave Moreau, as well as their contemporaries, and passes from it into Jugendstil, Art Nouveau, and thence modernity itself: she is, one might say, Proust’s Tadzio. Last but not least in the parade of fin-­de-­siècle associations is the way that the conjunction of nature and art, the sense of the body as being sculpted rather than growing organically, enacts the profound aestheticization that is for Proust the ground of desire. We’ve seen this multiply before in the text, most notably when Mlle de Saint-­Loup’s now-­unmentioned grandfather, Swann, falls in love with Odette by envisioning her as a version of Botticelli’s Zipporah—­a Jewish woman. Indeed Zipporah was Moses’s wife who, in one of the truly bizarre moments in an Old Testament full of them, saves her husband

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from God’s wrath by circumcising their son with a rock and then applying the child’s blood to her husband’s foot.45 What’s odd and moving here is that Swann’s identification of  Zipporah with Odette prepares for his exercise in exogamy and ultimately the extinction of the Jewish part of his identity. But perhaps equally saliently, there’s a connection to high aestheticism here as well: the Botticelli Zipporah was identified, idealized, and consecrated by none other than John Ruskin, who late in his life isolated the figure from a larger composition and hymned her, as part of his complicated admiring of another young woman, Rose La Touche (see fig. 4.3; La Touche was then roughly sixteen years old, like Mlle de Saint-­Loup). The comparison to Ruskin’s rhapsodies works to establish, however, Marcel’s powers of aestheticization vis-­à-­vis Mlle de Saint-­Loup as greater than those of Swann vis-­à-­vis Odette. Here the appearance of the young woman is associated with nature itself—­the most aestheticizing move of all, since in it aestheticizing is inflated (by Marcel) into a universal principle rather than seen as a piece of amatory oddness, whether of a masochistic self-­negating (half-­) Jew or of the half-­mad English pedophile who inspires him. To say that it is nature that sculpts Mlle de Saint-­Loup is to say that she is its finest work of art. So too, it might be added, with the gentilification of  Mlle de Saint-­Loup, the extraction of the Jewishness from the family line that her radiant perfection is taken to embody and perform. The passage begins, after all, with not one but two clear anti-­Semitic topoi; the “deep-­set piercing eyes” of Mlle de Saint-­ Loup are as much an endowment of the classic Jew of nineteenth-­century anti-­Semitism as is the hooked nose. Drumont speaks of the Jew’s “hook nose [and] deep-­set eyes”; Svengali’s hypnotic eyes are described by George Du Maurier in these terms; ethnologists and anthropologists did not hesitate to identify “deep-­set” eyes as a sign of Jewish racial identity.46 As the case of Du Maurier’s figure suggests, the topos has something to do with the belief in the Jew’s possession of the Evil Eye, a medieval commonplace. Now, to be clear, the genetic endowment here is mixed: the Guermantes line, like stereotypical Jews, is distinguished by its “piercing eyes,” as in the description of the Duchesse de Guermantes all the way back in Marcel’s first encounter with her. As for “deep-­set eyes,” they are associated elsewhere in the text with a statue of a saint “with full breasts” that Marcel sees in the church in Combray, a figure that possesses the “short and stubborn nose, deep-­set eyes, and strong, thick-­skinned, courageous expression of the country-­women of those parts” (1:213). So too with the nose: the hook nose is as much a Guermantes as a Jewish phenomenon. But this is precisely Proust’s reason for using such ethnoracially overdetermined terms to describe aristocrats, gentiles, and saints: Jew and non-­Jew,

F i g u r e 4 . 3 . Aestheticizing to the second power: Ruskin’s—­and Swann’s—­Zipporah. John Ruskin, Zipporah, 1874. Pencil, watercolor, and bodycolor, 143 × 54 cm. © The Ruskin Library, Museum and Research Centre, Lancaster University.

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aristocrat and commoner, all possess versions of the same characteristics, distinguishable from each other only by virtue of the qualities one ascribes to the ambiguous, or perhaps plurally signified, feature in question. Swann’s way and the Guermantes way are one and the same in this respect too. Knowing which is which is a question only of where one thinks one is. But such multiple associations and possibilities are extinguished by Marcel’s elaboration of his description. He disconnects Mlle de Saint-­Loup from Jewish identification, chiseling the nose down to gentile-­size and forgetting the eyes entirely. His process here is the reverse of Swann’s, who has to imagine his beloved as a (castrating) Jew in order to adore her; but the result (mutatis mutandis) is the same: the transformation of a figure by means of an aestheticizing perceptual apparatus into a figure who meets, excites, and transfixes the gazing observer with an image of his own desirous making. That such desires are not individual, that they occur in a charged field where racial categorizations are being affirmed and enforced, is a not-­always-­understood part of Proust’s point. The process of biological reproduction and the extinction of Jewishness that is its work, I am suggesting, are thus staged by Proust to be as much a warning against as celebration of the triumph of the imagination in the service of the artful remaking of reality. But this is all in preparation for the final coup of the text, one that provides the most important contact of all with the decadent imaginary. The act of biological reproduction that has produced Mlle de Saint-­Loup, with its various vicissitudes of race and desire, is superseded by an even greater act of thoroughly unnatural reproduction, that of the creation of text itself. In an artful but nevertheless completely unmotivated transition, the idea of Time that the youthful Mlle de Saint-­Loup, synthesis of his first female and first male crushes, incarnates becomes a spur for Marcel’s decision to attain to what I had sometimes perceived in the course of my life, in brief lightning-­flashes, on the Guermantes way and in my drives in the carriage of Mme de Villeparisis, at those moments of perception which had made me think that life was worth living. How much more worth living did it appear to me now, now that I seemed to see that this life we live in half-­darkness can be . . . realised within the confines of a book! How happy would he be, I thought, the man who had the power to write such a book! (6:507)

and on to some of the most famous passages in the entire seven volumes, as Marcel describes the book he is going to write, the book we have just laboriously read.

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The conclusion has been justly taken as the expression of a modernist ideal of the perfectly self-­sustaining work of art in a world of fluid motion, in which Proust (through Marcel) opens up his work to the world of flux, change, and time and at the same time closes it off by making its end sweep around to its beginning, like the proverbial worm swallowing its tail.47 As such, as Leo Bersani suggested years ago, Marcel can be said to give birth to the book—­to bring it as a self-­sustained entity into the world of reading in which it asks to be read.48 But if this is the case, the birth-­act is one that follows a profoundly unnatural and even asexual congress with the sixteen-­year-­old Mlle de Saint-­Loup, who has not only been generated parthenogenetically out of the lost years of Marcel himself but also then asexually impregnates him, Marcel, with the seed that germinates into the novel we have just read. The asexual but procreative connection between Mlle de Saint-­Loup (the product of the union of the first woman who flirted with Marcel and the man he most loved) and Marcel includes all of the categories I have been wrestling with and gestures toward, but does not resolve, their amalgamation: she is Jewish and then she is not; she is a girl and hence a heterosexual love-­object, but she is slender and androgynous and Marcel finds in her a renewed vision of his love of another man, Saint-­ Loup; she seems pre-­or nonsexual, but out of his encounter with her, she produces the “strange second flowering,” to recur to Walter Pater’s trope, that is this book. In the end, she poses to us the enigmas of race and sexuality as just that, rather than offering a solution to them in her seeming union of discordant oppositions: if she is Swann and Saint-­Loup,  Jew and gentile, male and female, queer and straight, she appears not both but sometimes one, sometimes the other. And in posing these dichotomies as an unfolding series of enigmas to the observing consciousness of Marcel, she sweeps them into our own experience as readers as well, since as Marcel goes on brilliantly to argue, his book is going to read us as much as we are going to read (and reread) it. The process of aestheticizing, gentilifying, and heterosexualizing the part-­Jewish, androgynous image of Mlle de Saint Loup is offered to us as one interpretive option—­look how even a canny and suspicious reader like Kristeva falls into the trap Proust has set—­but so is the questioning of that option. It is up to us to decide which interpretive path we are to follow: the one that validates Marcel’s own form of aestheticizing or the one that critiques it. Despite Marcel’s idealizing rhetoric (and Kristeva’s), these are not unified in Mlle de Saint-­Loup’s beautiful being; rather, like Pater’s Mona Lisa, her very face expresses and encapsulates its manifold contradictions. At the end of the novel, then, Jewishness, sexuality, and decadence are all swept into relation with each other, indeed metonymically linked and braided.

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But the last of these—­the decadent—­encompasses the other two and becomes the platform for Proust to create the substance of  his art of all of them. By ending with a vision of Mlle de Saint-­Loup that seems hypernormative but turns out to be the very opposite, an image that seems to spell the end of the drama of race and desire but merely serves to project it outward to Marcel the writer and hence to us his readers, an image moreover that seems to endorse heterosexual reproduction but replaces it with a queerer sort that ultimately gives birth to the book itself, Proust enacts the deeply contradictory vision at the center of the decadent imaginary and brings it forward into the era that follows. And in so doing, Proust, far more than any figure I am writing about in this book, both earns the title of the Jewish decadent and pushes the imaginative visions of both “Jewish” and “decadent” into the creation of stunningly great art that transvalues as it transcends the very categories that call it into being.

Chapter 5

Pessimism,  Jewish Style:  Jews Reading Schopenhauer from Freud to Bellow Imagine all the lonely years I’ve wasted Fishing for salmon, Playing backgammon. What joys untasted, My nights were sour, Spent with Schopenhauer. —­I r a G e r s h w i n , “Isn’t It a Pity?” (1933)

In previous chapters, I’ve had occasion to mention Murray Marks, importer of blue-­and-­white china, business partner of the Pre-­Raphaelites, art advisor to the queen and the Victoria and Albert Museum, scoundrel. He was also a great admirer of Arthur Schopenhauer, whom he met on one of his business tours of Germany and with whom he maintained a voluminous correspon­ dence and spirited friendship. Indeed, his biographer tells us, Marks was “one of the very few persons whom ‘the prophet of pessimism’ would receive in what was called his hermitage.”1 He admired Schopenhauer’s pessimism, love of animals, and philosophic temper, the last of which combined with that of another of Marks’s idols, Spinoza, to shape Marks’s own. Accordingly, when Marks dropped Judaism, he replaced it not with Christianity but with an atheism he ascribed to Schopenhauer, since Schopenhauer alone of all the great nineteenth-­century philosophers was strong-­willed enough to assert an active nonbelief in a deity. According to G. C. Williamson, He left his old childhood’s faith far behind him, relinquishing all belief in its doctrines or its ritual, and viewed life with a strong, calm philosophy which lasted to the end, so that his final wishes . . . were that no religious ceremony was to be carried out at his decease, and his ashes were simply to be placed in the urn which he had himself prepared.2

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Marks was not alone. Schopenhauer was massively influential throughout the nineteenth century among intellectuals as well as cultivated amateurs like Marks; indeed, he was perhaps most influential as a proto-­middlebrow thinker via essays on the meaning or meaninglessness of life, ethics, suicide, and “the wisdom of life.”3 The period of “highest estimation and influence,” writes Bryan Magee, “ran from somewhere around 1880 to about the First World War”—­precisely the period I am focusing on in this book.4 Tolstoy pinned a picture of Schopenhauer on the wall of his study. Thomas Hardy studied him intently while writing some of his best—­and gloomiest—­novels. Richard Wagner wrote that upon reading The World as Will and Representation, “I looked at my Nibelung poems and recognized to my amazement that the very things I now found so unpalatable in the theory were already long familiar to me in my own poetic conception. Only now did I understand my own Wotan myself.”5 Nietzsche, who discovered a copy of The World as Will and Representation in a bookstore when he was aged twenty-­three, claimed that Schopenhauer revolutionized his thinking; he returned to Schopenhauer as a lynchpin of his philosophical project for the rest of his career. In Proust’s The Guermantes Way, Marcel thinks the Marquise de Cambremer is a woman of remarkable intelligence because she knows her Schopenhauer, telling her dinner partner, Gilberte Swann, “You must re-­read what Schopenhauer says about music.” (Gilberte responds, “Re-­read is pretty rich, I must say.”)6 Indeed, as critics have noted (one of them was Samuel Beckett), many of Proust’s reflections on music in the later volumes of À la recherche du temps perdu echo, and in fact are all but plagiarized from, Schopenhauer.7 The beat goes on. In 1907 Georg Simmel wrote a fine book analyzing Schopenhauer as a symptom of the times (like many of  his contemporaries, he much preferred Nietzsche).8 The young Ludwig Wittgenstein devoured Schopenhauer, and, Magee argues, elements of Schopenhauer endure through subsequent twists and turns of  Wittgenstein’s thought. Sigmund Freud was an avid reader too; much of the doctrine of the most controversial metapsychological works like Beyond the Pleasure Principle—­the Freud of the drive theory, of the death-­drive, and of the “nirvana principle”—­is traceable to Schopenhauer, as Freud himself acknowledges with characteristic irony when he begins some of his most audacious speculations by asserting, “And we cannot disguise another fact from ourselves, that we have steered unawares into the haven of Schopenhauer’s philosophy.”9 I could continue, but the point is clear: although Nietzsche emerged in the twentieth century as the philosopher par excellence in France, Germany,

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and America, for the fin-­de-­siècle, Schopenhauer was a massive presence. As Hayden White wrote, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, Schopenhau­ er’s philosophy “moved to the very center of European intellectual life, not so much among professional philosophers as among writers, historians, and publicists: among intellectuals whose interests verged on the philosophical or who felt that what they were doing required some kind of grounding in a formal philosophical system.”10 Paul Mendes-­Flohr agrees: While not necessarily accepting Schopenhauer’s recommendation to mystical quietism, his critique of the regnant epistemological assumptions of bourgeois civilization—­and his dramatic appeal to an Oriental tradition—­captured the imagination of the fin de siècle intellectual. Indeed, along with Nietzsches’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation became de rigueur for the generations between 1890 and World War I.11

More importantly for our purposes, his work brought intellectual ballast for the turn from aestheticism to decadence, enhancing and giving language to the latter’s cultivation of a sense of pessimism, metaphysical as well as individual despair, and a compensatory turn toward mystical detachment and artistic contemplation. Jews played a remarkable role in this privileging of Schopenhauer. To the list I have offered of glittering high-­culture figures—­Simmel, Freud, Wittgenstein, Proust—­and their critics, like Max Nordau and Cesare Lombroso—­ one could add a wide range of Jewish figures with whom we’ve also been dealing, like Gustave Kahn, and also Félix Fénéon, who cited Schopenhauer in their various Symbolist manifestos in the 1880s. Schopenhauer’s influence extended out more generally to other culture-­hungry Jews of the era. The young Leo Strauss read Schopenhauer as well as Nietzsche in secret, hiding his book from religious parents. Isaac Bashevis Singer devoured Schopenhauer in his twenties in secular Warsaw, and later translated him. When Abraham Cahan narrates his protagonist’s loss of faith in The Rise of David Levinsky (1917), he shows his eponymous figure replacing his reading in the Talmud first with novels, then with Schopenhauer. When the British essayist Amy Levy wanted to find a philosophic correlative of her own pessimism, she gestured toward the philosopher as a way of situating her despair: Our Poet brought us books and flowers, He read us “Faust;” he talked for hours

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Philosophy (sad Schopenhauer’s), Beneath the trees: . . . Our Poet sleeps in Italy, Beneath the alien sod; on me The cloud descends.12

The influence continues in Jewish middlebrow culture, particularly in the emerging epicenter, America, where a Yiddish edition of Schopenhauer’s works was published in New York in the 1910s under the title Di hokhme fun lebn: un andere eseyen (The Woes of Life and Other Essays). A thousand miles away, in 1930s Chicago, the young Isaac Rosenfeld, Saul Bellow, and Sid­ ney J. Harris (later to become a popular columnist) devoured Schopenhauer, the latter two from a copy Bellow “bought for 19 cents from a barrel outside Walgreen’s”—­shades of Nietzsche’s discovery of The World as Will and Representation in a bookstore.13 The oddity here is that among his other qualities Schopenhauer was quite the anti-­Semite—­not more so than any other German philosopher of his moment perhaps, but the one who was most systematically engaged in a denunciation of the Jews. Throughout the tradition of German philosophy, individual expressions of anti-­Jewish sentiments proliferated, ranging from the relatively benign (Immanuel Kant’s association of  Jews with the spirit of commerce) to the utterly malign (Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s comment that the only defense against the Jewish tendency to dominate and plunder was “some night cutting off their heads and attaching in their place others in which there is not a single Jewish idea”).14 And whatever their own attitudes, it was a common understanding among these philosophers, as it was for the culture for which they spoke and which they shaped, that  Jews were a primitive people and/ or embodied a set of beliefs and customs that were to be superseded by the Christian revelation, the new German state, or both. Schopenhauer had no interest in these arguments—­indeed many of his most contemptuous comments on Hegel have to do with the latter’s promulgation of the ideal State. But he goes substantially beyond his contemporaries by marrying anti-­Semitism to his theoretical system. He does this by seeing—­or more precisely smelling—­the Jewish influence on the philosophical systems of the West. What he persistently calls the foetor judaicus, the smell of the Jew, is for Schopenhauer the stench of the realist position at large—­the idea that the world has a meaning and a validity on its own terms—­as opposed to the idealist position, which sees the world as a representation or an idea, a belief-­system

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he ascribes to Plato, George Berkeley, and Kant but is best realized for him in the Vedic attitude of detachment: “In India idealism is—­in Brahmanism as well as in Buddhism—­part of the teaching of popular religion; idealism is merely paradoxical in Europe, due to the essentially and inevitably realist  Jewish position.”15 Those Jews who invoked Schopenhauer had a double act to perform. They wanted to engage this figure of enormous cultural vitality who seemed to speak so directly to their experience as modern subjects and whose combination of fortitude and pessimism helped guide them in the fin-­de-­siècle moment—­ and his lack of Christian sentiment would have been an added bonus in the encounter. But they obviously had to do so in a re-­creative or transformative manner, since they were such objects of  Schopenhauerian obloquy (and smelly to boot!). As I shall try to show in what follows, that is precisely what they did. Ignoring or even stripping Schopenhauer of his explicitly anti-­Semitic dimensions, they remade him as a figure fit to serve as a guide to the times, not just amid the war and persecution that punctuated the fin-­de-­siècle but in the blood-­drenched century that followed.

Freud and Schopenhauer: The Influence of Anxiety That there exist numerous and powerful points of contact between Freud and Schopenhauer is beyond dispute; the links have been the subject of criticism from the time of Thomas Mann through the more recent excellent work of Joshua Foa Dienstag.16 One can see why: Schopenhauer and Freud can sound amazingly like each other. Dienstag offers a partial catalog; I have added some entries and turned it into a quiz. Who said: “There is only one inborn error, and that is the notion that we exist in order to be happy. . . . Everything in life is certainly calculated to bring us back from that original error”? The grim wit as well as the sentiment is Freud’s, but this is Schopenhauer. Or, again Schopenhauer channeling Freud avant la lettre: “For years we can have a desire without admitting it to ourselves or even letting it come to clear consciousness, because the intellect is not to know anything about it. . . . But if the wish is fulfilled, we get to know from our joy, not without a feeling of shame, that this is what we desired.” What about: “One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be ‘happy’ is not included in the plan of  ‘Creation’ ”? The sentiment here is Schopenhauer’s, so too the ironic reference to a divinely ordered creation, but this is Freud, through and through. At times they seem to speak as one: “dying is certainly to be regarded as the real aim of life,” writes

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one; “the aim of all life is death,” writes the other; does it matter who said which?17 It certainly mattered to Freud. As late as 1914 he writes as if he had never heard of the philosopher: Concerning the theory of repression, I was certain that I worked independently. I knew of no influence that directed me in any way to it, and I long considered this idea to be original, till O. Rank showed us the place in Schopenhauer’s “The World as Will and Idea,” where the philosopher is struggling for an explanation for insanity. What is said there concerning the striving against the acceptance of a painful piece of reality agrees so completely with the content of my theory of repression that, once again, I must be indebted to my not being well-­read for the possibility of making a discovery.18

(He goes on to tell us that he made a point of not reading Nietzsche to avoid repeating such discomfiture.) But the very next year, Freud is dropping Schopenhauer’s name freely: Probably very few people can have realized the momentous significance for science and life of the recognition of unconscious mental processes. It was not psycho-­analysis, however, let us hasten to add, which took this first step. There are famous philosophers who may be cited as forerunners—­above all the great thinker Schopenhauer, whose unconscious ‘Will’ is equivalent to the mental instincts of psycho-­analysis. It was this same thinker, moreover, who in words of unforgettable impressiveness admonished mankind of the importance, still so greatly under-­estimated by it, of its sexual craving.19

And four years later, he is writing to Lou Andreas-­Salomé, “For my old age I have chosen the theme of death; I have stumbled upon a remarkable notion based on my theory of the instincts, and now I must read all kinds of things relevant to it, e.g., Schopenhauer, for the first time. But I am not fond of reading.”20 By 1920, he is referring confidently again to Schopenhauer in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, with the famous line that I have partially quoted above: “And we cannot disguise another fact from ourselves, that we have steered un­ awares into the haven of Schopenhauer’s philosophy for whom death is the ‘real result’ of life” (63). But in 1925, Freud returns to the language of disavowal: The large extent to which psycho-­analysis coincides with the philosophy of Schopenhauer—­not only did he assert the dominance of the emotions and the

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supreme importance of sexuality but he was even aware of the mechanism of repression—­is not to be traced to my acquaintance with his teaching. I read Schopenhauer very late in my life.21

—­which is manifestly untrue. What is one to make of this intellectual stutter? Clearly it has to do with multiple interlocking agendas in Freud’s construction of psychoanalysis. On the one hand, Freud wants to assert that psychoanalysis is scientific in nature, founded through observation, elaborated through hypothesis, ratified by experiment, untouched by metaphysical or philosophical pretension. Hence he claims that, evidence to the contrary, he has “avoided any contact with philosophy proper” (Autobiographical Study, 109). On the other hand, if in a somewhat contradictory fashion, Freud also tried to ground his speculations in a larger cultural surround, beyond even the scientific knowledge that he is continually evoking as a mode for psychoanalysis; hence he cites philosophy as well as poetry and drama here as his predecessor and warrant, as he does throughout his work. But at this juncture another set of impulses present themselves. At the same time as he invokes various thinkers and poets as predecessors and precursors, he wants to assert his imaginative priority. Freud’s double, self-­consuming psychic logic is this: the poets may have gotten there before him, but he got there first! All of these complex agendas converge on the figure of Schopenhauer and seem to motivate the on-­again, off-­again relation to that figure, philosopher and sage, prophet of metaphysical pessimism (in Dienstag’s categorization), and keen, dispassionate observer of human frailty and limitation. But whatever his confusion of motive and affects when he deals with Schopenhauer, Freud acts with characteristic assertiveness once he decides to engage with him, not merely by adopting a Schopenhauerian stance or by exploring the affinities between himself and the philosopher, but by outdoing him in gloominess, audacity, and scope. The subject matter through which he proposes to accomplish this task is the one he announced to Lou Andreas-­Salomé—­death. For although the two thinkers sound alike when they say things like “death is the goal of  life,” there’s a deep difference between Schopenhauer and Freud when it comes to thinking about death. For Freud, famously, there exists a force he calls the death-­drive, the terms of which seem to bring him close to Schopenhauer but in doing so actually trace the differences between them. While Schopenhauer’s invocation of death and will seems analogous to Freud’s collocation of  “death” with “drive,” in the philosopher they have a separate identity and hence a complex

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relation. “Will” in Schopenhauer is, despite its connotation of having to do with human volition and desire, a strong super-­natural power, something like what the poet Dylan Thomas meant when he wrote of the “force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” Schopenhauer writes, “That which appears in cognitionless nature as natural force, and on a higher level as life force, receives in animal and man the name will.”22 Death for Schopenhauer is the inevitable end of human and animal existence, a welcome surcease from the woes and afflictions to which human flesh is prey; but since will transcends individuality, it transcends death too. “There is something in us,” he writes, “which tells us that [death] is not the end of things, that death is not an absolute annihilation” (World as Will and Representation 1:324). Scant consolation perhaps—­that the universe pulses with energy and that the will that infuses it won’t even notice our loss. But it yields to Schopenhauer’s mystical sense of the irresolution of death and life themselves: “Life may certainly be regarded as a dream and death as an awakening. But then the personality, the individual, belongs to the dreaming and not to the waking consciousness; and so death presents itself to the former as annihilation.”23 To be sure, there’s a lot in Schopenhauer that exults in death as a rebuke to the naïve pretensions of the individual ego, what he calls in the above quotation “personality”: “Death is the great reprimand to the will-­to-­live, and more particularly the egoism essential thereto, received through the course of nature; and it can be conceived as a punishment for our existence. Death says: You are the product of an act that ought not to have taken place, therefore, to wipe it out, you must die” (World as Will and Representation 2:507). But powerful as death may be, the will is stronger. For even if death is the purpose of life as it’s understood and experienced by the individual ego, will as force, will as thing-­in-­itself, continues on in sublime indifference to us and to our appropriations of its meaning or, more properly, meaninglessness. Indeed, with our deaths, we rejoin that pool of will that pulses through all things: Death announces itself frankly as the end of the individual, but in this individual there lies the germ of a new being . . . which then enters into existence without knowing whence it has come nor why it is as it is . . . all those beings living at the present moment contain within them the actual germ of all which will live in the future, and . . . these therefore in a certain sense exist already.24

The best example of the perdurability of will in the face of death is shown in Schopenhauer’s attitudes toward suicide:

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It will generally be found that, as soon as the terrors of life reach the point at which they outweigh the terrors of death, a man will put an end to his life. But the terrors of death offer considerable resistance; they stand like a sentinel at the gate leading out of this world. Perhaps there is no man alive who would not have already put an end to his life, if this end had been of a purely negative character, a sudden stoppage of existence. There is something positive about it; it is the destruction of the body; and a man shrinks from that, because his body is the manifestation of the will to live.25

For Freud, to the contrary, the power of the death-­drive is so great as to make suicide a basic principle of nature. To be sure, like Schopenhauer, Freud understands suicide to be profoundly alien to the individual qua individual. But on the most basic level of life it is inevitable. In one of the most outrageous moments in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud suggests that death is not a product of biology alone, but something that’s willed, created by the organism—­indeed by the individual cell—­as a way of maintaining homeostasis in a world that is profoundly, structurally irritating. At every level, that which Freud calls the nirvana principle—­the desire to rest in a state of comfortable quietude—­remains in powerful play; organisms hence choose death in order to return to this blissful state. Freud, who was never entirely modest, goes whole-­hog in the direction of myth-­making here, positing a kind of universal life cycle in which death is not only the inevitable outcome but the goal all along. Life itself seems an accident that is corrected by its undoing: At one time or another, by some operation of force which still completely baffles conjecture, the properties of life were awakened in lifeless matter. Perhaps the process was a prototype resembling that other one which later in a certain stratum of living matter gave rise to consciousness. The tension then aroused in the previously inanimate matter strove to attain an equilibrium; the first instinct was present, that to return to lifelessness. . . . These circuitous ways to death, faithfully retained by the conservative instincts, would be neither more nor less than the phenomena of life as we now know it. (Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 47–­48)

To clinch this Schopenhauer-­sounding argument, Freud quotes the philosopher directly: “If we may assume as an experience admitting of no exception that everything living dies from causes within itself, and returns to the inorganic, we can only say ‘The goal of all life is death’, and, casting back, ‘The inanimate was there before the animate.’ ” (47)

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But Freud is being sneaky here. In invoking but also extending Schopenhauer’s words, Freud appropriates Schopenhauer’s insights, tone, and authority in order to make a point that goes well beyond the intentions of his predecessor. Indeed, Freud ups the ante by shifting his ground, from dealing with the progression from life to death, which is a natural phenomenon, to positing an inevitable regression from animate to inanimate, which ventures a claim about the nature of being itself. In so doing, he alters his predecessor’s meaning. The inanimate for Schopenhauer is unknowable except as a representation, that is, as that which is knowable through the various organs of the human subject—­the senses or, beyond them, cognition. Both, Schopenhauer argues, understand the world of things through time, which those things transcend, however, since they are governed by changeless will. Freud, by contrast, shifts from this essentially static model to one that takes place in time, even if it’s a time that flows forward and backward. His, indeed, is a creation narrative or, to be more precise, a creation narrative that operates in reverse. For if, as Freud would have it, the so-­called “inanimate” exists before the “animate” from which the latter flows and to which it returns, then it’s like the “formless and void”—­the tohu va’vohu—­of Genesis before God breathes life into the universe. In Freud, regression represents an undoing of the (mysteriously) created creation itself, rather than being, as Schopenhauer would have it, irrelevant to it.26 Considered ethnoracially, this is a brilliant dialectical move. Freud Jewifies Schopenhauer, who doubtless would have been horrified, by forcing his meditations into the lineaments of the Old Testament while gentilifying himself, posing as the Schopenhauerian reverser of the Jewish creation myth and the advocate of the triumph of entropy, decline, and death. No wonder Freud wrote in 1933, in the course of one last complex and ultimately incoherent attempt at denying the relation between himself and the philosopher: You may perhaps shrug your shoulders and say: “That isn’t natural science, it’s Schopenhauer’s philosophy!” But, Ladies and Gentlemen, why should not a bold thinker have guessed something that is afterwards confirmed by sober and painstaking detailed research? Moreover, there is nothing that has not been said already, and similar things had been said by many people before Schopenhauer. Furthermore, what we are saying is not even genuine Schopenhauer.27

He goes on to affirm the Schopenhauerian point I’ve been making above, now recast as his own: “we are not asserting that death is the only aim of life; we are not overlooking the fact that there is life as well as death.”28 This, it would

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seem, is what he was after all along: he gets to distance himself from his predecessor but also sweep into his ken all the power of the force Schopenhauer calls will. With this recognition of the ingeniousness of Freud’s dialectical maneuvering, we’re in a better position to understand the motives for and implications of his career-­long stuttering on the subject of Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer’s thought doesn’t match Freud’s use of that thought, or put differently, Freud invokes Schopenhauer along the way to formulating his own distinctive arguments in forms that conceal even as they reveal his motives. Freud’s relation to his precursor (to cite Harold Bloom’s language) remains enormously contested, and hence fraught on multiple scores. What else can it mean for this enormously literate man to tell Otto Rank that he’s poorly read? Or to tell Lou Andreas-­Salomé that he is not interested in reading Schopenhauer at all? What else can it mean that he claims to have read Schopenhauer when he well might not have, that he claims not to have read Schopenhauer when it’s clear that he has? How can he claim to confirm Schopenhauer’s wilder speculations while at the same time asserting that his work is not even “genuine Schopenhauer”? Something about Schopenhauer makes Freud act like a guilty teenager faced with a test on a book that he knows he should have read, that at one point he very well may have read but can’t remember reading, that he can’t quite bring himself to study yet again. Until he does, and then gets the argument wrong—­ but so brilliantly so that one doesn’t notice or remember the original.

S c h o p e n h a u e r a s s c h l e m i e l : I ta l o S v e v o ’ s C o m i c C a ta s t r o p h i s m Freud not only sails his intellectual ship into the harbor of Schopenhauer’s thought but sets up camp and builds his own little fortress there. And that fortress then is turned into a little town all its own, filled with Freudian figures, with comic as well as tragic examples of self-­baulking, self-­defeating, and ultimately triumphantly absurd human beings acting at their self-­destructive, repetition-­compulsion-­driven best. The town to which I refer might also be called Trieste or, more specifically, the Trieste of Italian-­Jewish novelist Ettore Schmitz, who published under the pen name Italo Svevo, a name which means “the Italian-­Swabian,” indexing his mixed descent from a German Jewish and Italian Catholic background. James Joyce’s friend and local informant—­much of Leopold Bloom’s own non-­Jewish Jewishness seems to have been modeled on him—­Svevo/Schmitz was profoundly shaped by his reading of Schopenhauer, whom he first

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encountered in his twenties. A secondary but not inconsiderable interest was Freud, whom he read in his thirties. These influences are conjoined in his novel La cosieza de Zeno (1923), famously translated into English as The Confessions of Zeno, recently retranslated with the better title Zeno’s Conscience (even better, given the resonances of the Italian word, might be Zeno’s Consciousness). Building on Svevo’s previous novels, in which he invented his distinctive narrative method and found his voice, Zeno’s Conscience offers a seriocomic take on the Schopenhauerian worldview, emphasizing the absurdity and self-­ defeating quality of the psychology of what one might call (after Roland Barthes’s l’homme racinien) “l’uomo svevoien,” that characteristic self-­defeating, self-­baulking, self-­destructive yet triumphantly persevering male of Svevo’s novels. As we shall see, the figure is made up of Schopenhauerian elements and, secondarily but importantly, Freudian ones, but he also resembles a figure out of Jewish comic narratives—­that of the schlemiel. Putting this comic staple of the Jewish imagination together with the deep structural pessimism he imbibed from Schopenhauer is Svevo’s great contribution to the traditions of  Jewish humor and Schopenhauerianism alike. Svevo seems to have first encountered Schopenhauer in the late 1870s and early 1880s. Although he was also steeping himself in Émile Zola and other naturalist writers, Schopenhauer appears to have stood out as first among equals. Indeed, Svevo’s wife tells us that he chose the name Svevo because of the “memory of the cultural influences he had received in adolescence in Germany, where the influence of Schopenhauer had been the strongest.” She adds, “Throughout his life Schopenhauer was and remained his favorite philosopher: he owned his complete works and often quoted whole passages from memory.”29 Schopenhauerian themes pervade Svevo’s early novels Una vita (A Life, 1892) and Senilità (Senility or Old Age; translated as As a Man Grows Older, 1898), which narrate various forms of erotic frustration, dead-­end jobs, failed lives—­all rendered, by our stereoscopic view of the systematic misapprehensions of their narrators and the conditions they describe, ludicrous, to invoke a category Schopenhauer saw as close to the essence of comedy itself, that is “the sudden apprehension of an incongruity between such a concept and the real object” (World as Will and Representation 2:91). To be sure, the conflict between desire and the real, those perennial antagonists, has been the essence of European fiction from the time of Cervantes forward. What Svevo adds to this tradition is the embedding of this collision, and of sudden moments of its apprehension, in narrative form itself. It is as if Don Quixote were writing his own narrative, and we were enabled to see the world from his point of view yet

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able to grasp its self-­deluded essence. And that essence bears out the essential lineaments not only of Schopenhauer on comedy, but also of his philosophy tout court. Zeno’s Conscience is the apotheosis of this technique. A sustained if episodic epistle ostensibly written by one Zeno Corsini to his psychiatrist Dr. S., who tells us that Zeno has abandoned his analysis and that he, Dr. S., is therefore publishing this work as an act of revenge—­and as a call for Zeno to return to the analyst’s couch. Zeno would disagree. He claims that he has been cured, or rather, with a characteristically self-­indicting, indictment-­deflecting wit, that the fact that he is only just now symptomatic indicates that he was never really ill in the first place. Whatever is the case, he details in a series of episodes his serial engagements with sickness, desire, death, and addiction (to cigarettes) with a whimsical perversity that veers between honesty and self-­delusion, suggesting, in fact, that in the end they’re versions of the same thing. Zeno is thus a thoroughly fin-­de-­siècle type; and so it’s no coincidence that he also experiences the world as a Schopenhauerian bed of pain and deceit on the way to a certain death.30 As he puts it on his honeymoon, which he spends in Venice with an adoring wife who caters to his every whim and fulfills his every need, “But then I was stricken by a minor ailment from which I was never to recover. A trifle, really: the fear of aging and, above all, the fear of dying.”31 When he tells his wife this, even sketching out one potential avenue to mortality (“my legs, in which the circulation was surely already defective, would become gangrenous, and the gangrene, spreading rapidly, would arrive at some organ indispensable to my keeping my eyes open”; Zeno’s Conscience, 162–­63), she cries, and he speculates that her tears were “perhaps provoked by her despair at my precise view of that ghastly health of hers. Later, I learned that, on the contrary, she hadn’t the slightest idea of what health was. Health doesn’t analyze itself, nor does it look at itself in the mirror. Only we sick people know something about ourselves.” (163) This is all pure Schopenhauer, who praised physical health but saw it as fleeting and as irrelevant to the human subject: “We do not become conscious of the three greatest blessings of life as such, namely health, youth, and freedom, as long as we possess them, but only after we have lost them, for they too are negations” (World as Will and Representation 2:575). But Zeno’s use of Schopenhauer’s voice is accomplished with a difference or, rather, with two differences. First off, and quite relevant to the question of Ettore Schmitz’s Jewishness, is his deviation from the high-­toned register of Schopenhauerian rhetoric. At once Olympian and caustic when he addresses matters of morality, the vanity of human aspirations, the vicissitudes of desire,

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and the illusoriness of health, Schopenhauer is distinctive, winning, and occasionally sublime—­no wonder Schmitz/Svevo could quote long passages from his writings; no wonder middlebrow readers across Europe and America prized his essays and reflections on the nature, possibilities, and problems of existence. But Svevo also swerves from his high metaphysical cogitation by employing the methodology of the Jewish joke. For of all the many things that Zeno is or shows himself to be over the course of the book, he resembles most clearly the figure of the Yiddish schlemiel—­the foolish, clumsy, naïve butt of tale and apothegm alike—­who joins companions like the macher (the operator) and the mensch (the all-­around successful and generous figure of moral and social amplitude) in the pantheon of  Jewish character-­types. Zeno has been placed by Brian Moloney in the tradition of the schlemiel, defined so memorably by Ruth Wisse and, more recently, limned by Menachem Feuer.32 One can see why, for much of the humor of the book, which can be riotously funny, inheres in the schlemiel-­esque missteps that govern his life, on the macro and the micro levels alike. So, for example, he falls madly in love with a beautiful woman named Ada, who has no interest in him; neither does Ada’s sister Alberta, who is not quite so beautiful but astonishingly accomplished; so he settles, as we like to say, for a third daughter, Augusta (the fourth is too young), who genuinely loves him and makes him happy—­even though, or perhaps because, she decided even before she met him, when she first heard his name, “Zeno,” that she would love him. This makes sense anagramatically: he is the Omega to her Alpha, the completion of her potentiality for love, care, and warmth (especially because, unlike her sister Ada in particular, she is strikingly ugly); it also makes sense in a fin-­de-­siècle context, because in this she echoes Oscar Wilde’s Gwendolen Fairfax in The Importance of Being Earnest (who can only fall in love with a man named Ernest) as well as Cecily Cardew (who writes lovingly of Earnest in her diary well before encountering someone who goes by that name). Schlemiel-­like, Zeno stumbles into happy love through the expedient of proposing to all the daughters in the family until one will have him. Surprisingly, the marriage is a supremely happy one, sexually, emotionally, and in material comfort. Unable to believe his luck, Zeno luxuriates in this newfound sense of security—­and promptly launches an affair with a feckless opera singer, Carla, who is the protégée of an acquaintance—­an affair that continues to parallel his happy marital life and only threatens to disrupt it when Carla demands to view his wife. Continuing the game of substitution that is his marriage, he brings her to see, from a distance, Ada, pretending that she is his wife—­and Ada’s beauty and sadness (about which we are soon to learn much; it springs from

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a marriage to an irresponsible scoundrel) so impresses Carla that she breaks things off with Zeno. He is relieved that the affair is over so, of course, he makes one last attempt to sleep with Carla. When she refuses (she is already, it is clear to the reader although not perhaps to Zeno, sleeping with the music teacher Zeno hires to help her), he reflects that he never really found her attractive anyway—­in this, echoing another fin-­de-­siècle schlemiel, Proust’s Swann, who concludes the same about the Odette he has chased, wooed, won, married, and been cuckolded by. That tendency toward schlemiel-­hood, toward tripping over his own feet and undoing his own best efforts through his limited perspective and a surprising naïveté, obtains throughout the book. In the first chapter, we witness Zeno’s comic attempts to give up smoking. The comedy here inheres in the sincerity with which he makes his pledges to quit, pledges we soon come to know are destined to fail owing to his amazing powers of evasion, denial, and rationalization. We witness it as well in episodes that are small but telling—­like the moment when, required to attend the funeral of his despised rival Guido, who has married Ada and who has killed himself by taking too large a dose of prussic acid in an attempt to gain her attention, he mistakes the time and place and finds himself marching in the wrong funeral procession. Or the time when, convinced that a newspaper vendor has suspected him of theft because he is carrying a copy of a newspaper with him while he passes his kiosk, he makes a point of avoiding the newsstand forever, lest he be accused, while recurring obsessively to the imagined transgression. And on and on and on in a cascade of comic contrivances that define Zeno, true schlemiel, as a clumsy but surprisingly universal figure. (Who has not suspected themselves of being suspected at a store or a newsstand under just such circumstances?) But in two significant ways the representation of  Zeno does not comport to the schlemiel tradition, ways in which in fact Svevo challenges the work that tradition does. The ideal of the schlemiel is at odds with the normative construct of the virile male European; indeed, as Feuer argues, there’s a direct line of descent from that figure to Eastern European Jewry’s alternative models of masculinity (the Yeshiva-­Bokhur, the feminized male upon whom Daniel Boyarin has focused our attention).33 Wisse argues that the foolishness of the schlemiel effects this transvaluation in a modern guise; he ultimately becomes a kind of holy fool of modernity, challenging and replacing aggressive, masculinist models of heroic conduct in a world shadowed by persecution and death by means of his graceless, bumbling sublimity. However schlemiel-­y he may seem, Zeno is not fully constructed in the ways Feuer and Wisse outline. Although he represents himself as a schlemiel,

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his life is governed by a logic of self-­assertion in the face of male rivalry, mingling cooperation, imitation, and competition. His marriage is made almost offhandedly, out of a certain degree of desperation because Ada has been wooed and won by his hated rival Guido: Zeno must act in order not to seem completely defeated by Guido and so does the same thing as he with a different sister. Similarly, the two men become business partners in a disastrous series of transactions in which Zeno is forced to save Guido. He is forced as well to conceal Guido’s affair with another woman, their office assistant, Carmen. He keeps Guido ignorant of the fact that he, too, has made a pass at Carmen. Although he describes it as a de rigueur or desultory operation, which he forgets as soon as it happens, she does not treat it that way: I remembered then [when she holds out her hand in friendship], and I blushed. Perhaps if I had remembered earlier, I would never have gone back to that of­ fice again. It had been such a brief thing, crammed in among so many other ac­ tions of the same import, that if I had not now been reminded of it, I could have believed it had never happened. A few days after Carla’s abandonment, I had set myself to examine the books, enlisting Carmen’s help and, little by little, the better to see the same page, I had put my arm around her waist, which I then continued to squeeze harder and harder. With a leap, Carmen had escaped me and I had then left the office. I could have defended myself with a smile. . . . Or I could have replied as a serious person, apologizing to her and also to Guido. . . . Instead, words failed me . . . perhaps speech failed me also because of the pain at seeming firmly denied a hope I still cherished. I can’t help confessing it: for me, no one better than Carmen could have replaced the mistress I had lost. . . . A mistress shared is the least compromising mistress. To be sure, I hadn’t yet entirely clarified my ideas, but I sensed them, and now I know them. Becoming Carmen’s lover, I would have contributed to Ada’s well-­being, and I wouldn’t have harmed Augusta too much. Both would have been betrayed far less than if Guido and I had had a whole woman each. (Zeno’s Conscience, 294–­95)

Note the logic here—­in its twists, bends, and contortions, it represents a series of rationalizations that while transparently absurd (and not a little bit comic) are characteristic of Zeno’s cast of mind. For what lies underneath his logic is that despite his professed concern for Ada and Augusta, as interchangeable in his mind as the letters that begin their names, it’s his rivalrous yet desirous

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relationship with Guido that impels him. Although he is a better businessman than Guido (and who, it turns out, is not?), Zeno also imitates his careless, virile, hunting-­and-­fishing brother-­in-­law in the worst way. Guido routinely abuses a dog he keeps in the office; appalled by his example, Zeno neverthe­ less kicks the canine too. His behavior here, and indeed throughout the novel, is impelled by what René Girard famously refers to as “mimetic desire”: his desire for women is guided by his rivalry with other men, and his identity at large is shaped by that rivalry, which takes as much the form of imitation as it does that of competition. Indeed, in Zeno it takes on aspects of both at the same time. This complex admixture of rivalry and imitation is evident in his relations not only with Guido but also with a host of other men. So when he takes up with Carla, it is out of his friendship with his school friend Copler, a genuine sufferer from a health complaint—­sister-­in-­law Augusta refers to Zeno in comparison with Copler as, not incorrectly, “an imaginary sick man” (171)—­who is supporting Carla and her mother and may be sleeping with Carla before Zeno and she became intimate. Or to cite another significant relationship in the book, that with the psychoanalyst Dr. S., the rivalry between men is particularly vicious. After six months Zeno abandons psychoanalysis, claiming that its familiar diagnosis (he wanted to sleep with his mother and kill his father) isn’t true to the texture of his experiences (he’s absolutely right about this); he also irritates the doctor by reading up on psychoanalysis, essentially setting himself up as his analyst’s equal, if not his superior, and certainly his competitor. Dr. S. retaliates by confiscating Zeno’s writings, which he had requested in the first place, recording, “I am publishing them in revenge, and I hope he is displeased” rather than requiting “the patient’s obvious hostility toward me.”(3) It’s hard to tell who is being the more aggressive here; it’s as if Dr. S. and Zeno are kicking the same dog, like Zeno and Guido, except the dog in question is Zeno’s unconscious. Male/male rivalry and aggression provide the basic structure for all of Zeno’s relations in the world. The excruciatingly detailed description of the death of his father, for example, ends with the otherwise quite calm and peaceable father just before he expires delivering a slap to Zeno’s face for the crime of following the aggressive and insistent doctor’s orders and moving his bed. In this instance Zeno, fully ensconced in the schlemiel role, can’t win: one male authority or another will direct his efforts to a kind of violence, whether that of the egotistical doctor’s lack of sensitivity to a dying man’s wishes or the dying man’s response of  justified aggression. Freud writes in the passage I have quoted above on how he isn’t really Schopenhauerian, “how the two (life-­and death instincts) mingle in the vital

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process, how the death instinct is pressed into the service of Eros, especially when it is turned outwards in the form of aggressiveness—­these are problems which remain for future investigation.”34 Svevo might be said to investigate precisely that phenomenon by turning to the role of aggressivity in human life as worked out in and defined through a masculinity that radiates out from the schlemiel persona. And like Freud, whose meditations on human aggression extend outward to encompass war, the ultimate expression of aggressivity, Svevo turns from deconstructing masculinity to tracing its consequences. Here is how he ends the book: Perhaps, through an unheard-­of catastrophe produced by devices, we will return to health. When poison gases no longer suffice, an ordinary man, in the secrecy of a room in this world, will invent an incomparable explosive, compared to which the explosives currently in existence will be considered harmless toys. And another man, also ordinary, but a bit sicker than others, will steal this explosive and will climb up at the center of the earth, to set it on the spot where it can have the maximum effect. There will be an enormous explosion that no one will hear, and the earth, once again a nebula, will wander through the heavens, freed of parasites and sickness. (436–­37)

It’s hard quite to know how to take this blast of rhetoric. The few times I’ve taught it, my students find it as comic in tone as other moments in the rest of the novel, perhaps even more so: when I read it aloud, as I invariably do, they always laugh. Yet at the same time, as I remind them, it’s consonant with the undertones of the book—­its insistence on the destructive nature of human aggressive force; the understanding of the world as a veil of violence and illusion founded in male rivalry. Just as Zeno steals his own life-­narrative back from Dr. S., who in turn lifts it and makes it his own, so one ordinary man makes a world-­ending bomb that another ordinary man “a bit sicker than others” will steal and thence outdo him, ending life on this planet and freeing it from “parasites and sickness”—­competitive human beings and their ills. Schopenhauer’s vision of human life as an endless parade of futility, of human existence as illness, of human life and human existence as eventuating only in death—­Zeno and his maker both affirm these in terms that are comic, yet terms we can only call deadly. They would heartily endorse Schopenhauer’s ringing words: “The truth is that we ought to be wretched, and are so. The chief source of the most serious evils affecting man is man himself ” (World as Will and Representation 2:577). Luckily, Zeno concludes the novel by suggesting man’s aggressive, imitative, competitive ways will cure us of those pesky evils.

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S c h o p e n h a u e r a n d S i n g e r : M o d e r n i t y, the Holocaust, and the Doctrine of W o r l d -­H i s t o r i c a l P e s s i m i s m The horrors of the middle of the twentieth century extended well beyond even the most horrifying imagining of its early years. It’s no wonder that Jews born and raised in the former dispensation in which Schopenhauer played such a crucial role continued to turn to the prophet of pessimism. There’s no better example than Isaac Bashevis Singer, whose career as a writer spanned the period of Schopenhauer’s greatest fame to that of his cultural supersession. Singer first read Schopenhauer in his late teens and twenties, much like Svevo, and he repeatedly cites him as key to his oddly optimistic pessimism. “I am pessimistic but I am also full of  joy,” he states. “I was told that Schopenhauer was streaming with the joy of life. A pessimist is a pessimist because he would have liked life to be better than it is.”35 Schopenhauer for Singer means a wide variety of things beyond pessimism and what Schopenhauer’s successor Nietz­ sche was to call tragic joy. Singer, like Freud, also sees Schopenhauer as a source for his understanding of the inadequacy of reason in the human psyche. “I believe like Schopenhauer that the emotions are the very essence of a human being and the intellect is nothing but a servant of the emotions,” he says to another interviewer.36 To be sure, Schopenhauer’s misogyny also gives language to Singer’s not unproblematic attitudes toward women. “[Otto] Weininger, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and my own experiences had transformed me into an antifeminist. I lusted after women yet at the same time I saw their faults, chief of which was that they (the modern, not the old-­fashioned kind) were amazingly like me—­just as lecherous, deceitful, egotistical and eager for adventures.”37 This is an accurate account of Singer’s own female characters, who do take on a re­ markable number of casts in his work, ranging from the childlike Shosha in the novel bearing her name to the magnificent, suffering survivors Masha and Tamara in Enemies: A Love Story. But it isn’t necessarily accurate in relation to Schopenhauer, whose blistering comments on women are frequently echoed by Singer’s male characters. Dr. Yaretzky, the protagonist of the story “The Shadow of a Crib” could not forget, the narrator tells us, “Schopenhauer’s description of woman: that narrow-­waisted, high-­breasted, wide-­hipped vessel of sex, which blind will has formed for its own purposes—­to perpetuate the eternal suffering and tedium.”38 (The quote is more or less accurate.) But even when the antifeminist side of Schopenhauer comes to the fore, it’s often treated complexly: first interrogated and then blended with Singer’s

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metaphysical concerns to yield Singer’s own wry sense of human limitations and a bleak encounter with the void. There’s no better illustration of this theme than “The Shadow of a Crib.” Yaretzky is a gentile doctor who chooses to live, more or less randomly—­he pulls a name out of a hat—­in a small, Jewish-­dominated town in the 1910s: yet another example, he thinks, of Schopenhauer’s doctrine of blind will. An advanced thinker with an acerbic and powerful persona, he soon comes to be woven into the life of the Jews of the community, largely but not exclusively because he does good work for cut prices with the poorer inhabitants and is willing to write medical exemptions from the draft. He enters into the life of the community in different ways as well: in addition to the deaf-­and-­dumb maid he impregnates and upon whom (it is hinted) he performs an abortion, he makes his comelier female patients undress with gusto and probably sleeps with them too. Nevertheless, or perhaps therefore, he becomes a local dignitary, a person of prestige as well as power. Needless to say, a man of parts in possession of a profession must be in want of a wife, and the local matchmaker arrives to propose a union with Helena, the daughter of a mysteriously disgraced landowner (he hung himself on one of his apple trees), who is pale, beautiful, and accomplished. At a ball, Yaretzky hangs back and Helena scandalizes the community by kissing his hand. Shocked, her mother tells her she might as well kill herself, which she tries to do. The doctor saves her life, and decides to marry her—­but the night before the wedding, he concludes that marriage and children are not for him and so absconds. Brokenhearted, Helena goes to a convent and dies there; Yaretzky disappears and presumably passes away too. The tale does not have a happy ending. Yaretzky’s modernity and his resistance to a life of reproduction are both signaled by Singer through an account of the doctor’s yen for Schopenhauer: The Doctor considered himself a follower of Schopenhauer. No one understood the truth as well as that pessimistic philosopher. His collected works, bound in leather, tooled in gold, stood in Dr. Yaretzky’s bookcase. Yes, it was only the blind will to propagate, to perpetuate suffering, the eternal human tragedy. But for what purpose? Why give in to the will if one were aware of its blindness? Man was given his drop of intellect so that he might expose the instincts and their devices. (“Shadow of a Crib,” 75)

Yaretzky’s decision to marry—­or, more properly, his resistance to doing so—­is similarly telling. As he hesitates, he conceives of his dilemma in Schopenhauer’s terms:

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How can I guarantee that the world is blind will? Let us say, for the sake of argument that “The thing in itself ” is not blind will, but a seeing will. Then the whole concept of the cosmos changes. Because, if the universal powers are capable of seeing, then they see all—­every person, every worm, every atom, every thought. Then the slip of paper that I ostensibly chose by pure chance was not chosen by chance at all but was simply part of a plan, a decree that I experience everything that I’ve experienced here. If this is so, everything has a purpose: every insect, every blade of grass, every embryo in every mother’s womb. . . . Was I destined to become a father? (78–­79)

Singer is being manifestly satirical here: he’s imputing to Yaretzky a species of male hysteria, a complex overreaction to the commonplace limitations of freedom and anxieties about the future generated by any child, which are inflated into questions of metaphysical import via Schopenhauer. In this he’s very much like Fischelson, the protagonist of a better-­known story, “The Spinoza of Market Street,” whose retreat from the world into starry philosophy leads him to reject one marriage after another. But while Fischelson is drawn back into human intimacy by unlikely means, an ugly but passionate woman, Yaretzky overdramatically resists this fate with disastrous results for all concerned. Opposed to Yaretzky stand the town’s rebbe and his wife, whom Yaretzky voyeuristically gazes at through their window late at night. In seeing the rabbi’s devotion to his studying, his wife’s devotion to him, and his “silent gratitude” to her, Yaretzky perceives an image of the intimacy that he is running away from (78). And where does he run but to Schopenhauer? He starts musing again on the relation between chance and will, reason and the blind force of the thing-­ in-­itself that brought him to this town and gave him the chance to marry Hel­ ena. “I’ll have to consult ‘The World as Will and Idea,’ ” Dr. Yaretzky declares. “There’s bound to be some of an answer in there” (76). The end of the story complicates this simple opposition between Schopenhauer-­inflected intellectualism and small-­town virtues, between a reason turned unreasonable and a faith that conduces to connection. After Yaretzky and Helena each pass out of the town and then out of life, a spirit reported back in the village is alleged to be that of  Yaretzky himself—­or at least this is what some of the townspeople believe. Soon another spirit is descried in Helena’s old mansion, now a ruin. It croons to a child and is accompanied by the shadow of a crib that gives the story its ironical title. Rationalists scoff; the superstitious seem to be confirmed in their belief system, the belief system of the rabbi, not that of  Yaretzky. Superstition and Schopenhauer, belief in the next world and a militant refusal to contemplate such a possibility, stand as

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antagonists, offering irreconcilable readings of the world and its phenomena, even onto the afterlife. Or do they? This is how the story ends: After a while the ruin was demolished and a granary erected on the site. The rabbi’s house was rebuilt. The [new] doctor added a wing to his house and ordered the apple trees chopped down. Heaven and earth conspire that everything which has been, be rooted out and reduced to dust. Only the dreamers, who dream while awake, call back the shadows of the past and braid from unspun threads—­unwoven nets. (88)

A mystical vision and a Schopenhauerian vision prove to be identical, or at least compatible, meeting on the ground of decline and fall, the passage of time into nothingness. The vanity of human lives, the ephemerality of everything that seems solid and grounded, is undone in the Triumph of Time, as Schopenhauer insisted it must and will be. But this is also the vision of a religious understanding of ephemerality—­it is “heaven” as well as “earth” that brings about this undoing. The story seems to end with the primacy of vision, art, even mysticism in the face of dust. But here too everything falls into the void: if what the dreamers, the mystics, the ones who see the vision of Yaretzky and hear the ghost of Helena do is to braid “unwoven nets,” then their visions are as ephemeral as the phenomenal reality that is subject to the inexorable effects of time. All else, all that is human, and even all that transcends the human, as Schopenhauer might say, citing Hindu mysticism, is maya, illusion. Schopenhauer holds such sway in Singer’s imagination that even when Singer rejects or satirizes Schopenhauer’s work, he remains in dialogue with it, seeking (as Freud did) common ground and even (as Freud did, unconsciously) reclothing it as Jewish-­friendly. This tendency of thought finds its best expression through the role of a certain type of character that populates Singer’s work. The character-­type Yaretzky incarnates—­secular, cynical, tormented, in short, modern—­takes on different guises in Singer’s novels: I am thinking of protagonists like Asa Heshel in The Family Moskat; Herman Broder in Enemies: A Love Story; Hertz Grein in Shadows on the Hudson.39 All are brilliant intellectuals, mostly with traditional educations and backgrounds—­ Heshel begins as a brilliant yeshiva student, Grein as an impoverished teacher in a Talmud Torah school—­before accommodating themselves to lives or careers in a secular world—­Heshel as a teacher, Broder as a ghostwriter for a rabbi. Grein alone becomes a brilliant success, as a stock-­market genius. As they face or deal with the aftermath of European anti-­Semitism and the

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Holocaust, they bring to bear on their experiences a broad reading in Western and especially German philosophy. And in so doing, they often refer to, and in some deep ways wrestle with the ghost of, Schopenhauer. True, Schopenhauer’s predecessor Immanuel Kant—­the philosopher he did much to revive in the midst of his Hegel-­mad era—­figures prominently as well. “If time is an illusion, as Kant believed,” Heshel considers, then he can simultaneously live with every woman he has loved (Family Moskat, 520). The narrator of the great story “The Cafeteria” agrees: “I thought about what Esther had told me of seeing Hitler in the cafeteria. . . . If time and space are nothing more than forms of perception, as Kant argues,” he begins quite reason­ ably, then continues to the fantastical conclusion, “why shouldn’t Hitler confer with his Nazis in a cafeteria on Broadway?”40 And so on. This is an ironic extension of Kant, who would have thought no such thing. But it suggests a possible ground for reconciliation, however ironic, of the Western philosophical tradition he incarnates and the world of ghosts, portents, and memories made flesh of Jewish folk-­practice, in which the two are made to be (on the one hand) equally fantastical and (on the other) equally veridical, a move analogous to that at the end of  “The Shadow of a Crib.” But what halts this possible reconciliation of Jewish mysticism and Western philosophy is the Holocaust, or more specifically, the intimate relation between Western, especially German, philosophy and the Holocaust. Here, for example, is Broder meditating on being Jewish in the postwar world: He had once again arrived at the same conclusion: if a Jew departed in so much as one step from the Shulcan Aruch [i.e., codified Jewish law], he found himself spiritually in the sphere of everything base—­Fascism, Bolshevism, murder, adultery, drunkenness. . . . What could save him, Herman, from sinking even deeper into the mire in which he was caught? Not philosophy, not Berkeley, Hume, Spinoza, not Leibnitz, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, or Husserl. They all preached some sort of morality but it did not have the power to help withstand temptation. One could be a Spinozaist and a Nazi; one could be versed in Hegel’s phenomenology and be a Stalinist; one could believe in mo­ nads, in the Zeitgeist, in blind will, in European culture, and still commit atrocities. (Enemies: A Love Story, 170)

As with Theodor Adorno musing on the possibilities of poetry after the Holocaust, or as with the all-­too-­familiar stories of officers staging classical concerts in the camps, the worry here is the failure of Western culture, including that promulgated by assimilated Jews like Edmund Husserl and apostate Jews like

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Spinoza, to withstand what Singer calls “temptation.” By temptation I take it he means personal complicity in the power doctrines of Western societies, to which these societies’ secularism made them vulnerable. The capstone of this engagement is Schopenhauer’s doctrine of “blind will,” and with good reason, since far more than any of the other thinkers Singer mentions (with the possible exception of Nietzsche), Schopenhauer not only rejects the idea of a transcendent deity but comes up with a totalizing alternative to the theological thinking all of these figures are incapable of breaking away from. Schopenhauer is given pride of place because he stands in not only for pessimism, but also for secularism, unbelief, at large. Only “will” is a notion powerful enough to counter “God.” But ironically, if Singer’s argument seems to be against Schopenhauer in particular and philosophy in general, the point he is making is profoundly in line with Schopenhauer’s thinking. Schopenhauer’s comments on Christianity, for example, leave no doubt that he is on the same page as Broder: Indeed, the long list of inhuman cruelties that have been the concomitants of Christianity would rather cause the scale to turn against this religion. Such a list includes the numerous religious wars, the inexcusable Crusades, the extermination of a large part of the aborigines of America, the peopling of that continent with black slaves, dragged from Africa illegally and without a shadow of right, torn from their families, their native land, their quarter of the globe, and condemned to penal servitude for life; the indefatigable persecution of heretics, the outrageous courts of the Inquisition, the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, the execution by the Duke of Alba of eighteen-­thousand in the Netherlands, and so on and so on.41

True, from a Jewish point of view, Schopenhauer doesn’t add massacres and pogroms, forced conversions and ghettoization to the list of cruelties, although he alludes to them elsewhere. And it’s perhaps even more problematic that he claims that Christianity’s (and Islam’s) horrific record is rooted in the monotheism that Judaism brought into the world. That being said, far more than any philosopher of his time, Schopenhauer identified not only the slave trade but also religious persecutions as essential elements of Christian, which is to say Western, power. Schopenhauer’s solution to a world that tolerates such aberrations in the name of faith is a bit hazy. Part of it involves a thoroughgoing atheism. Part involves his consistent attempt to build a post-­Christian moral system or, if not a system, at least a set of ethical injunctions. Part lies in his affirmation of mystical

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vision, of maya, and mutatis mutandis; many of Singer’s Jews are willing to pursue that vision too. What stands between the mystical and the rational for these Jews is the law as promulgated by rabbis in the Mishnah and the Talmud and codified in the Shulcan Aruch—­and more generally in the customs and history, the elaborate set of behaviors, practices, and beliefs, that made Jews Jews. Hence the emphasis on law for these Jews, and for others like them clinging to some kind of Jewish identity, such as the pious builder Boris Makaver in Shadows on the Hudson, who retreats to a closet in order to bind himself with phylacteries. And hence the power of Singer’s deliberate, almost scandalous dwelling on the breaking of communal norms and customs: acts of double adultery on the night of Kol Nidrei, the beginning of the holiest of days for Jews, Yom Kippur, in The Family Moskat, or (as Lilian Furst has observed) the deliberate structuring of Shadows on the Hudson with recurring Passover meals, with the decline in family attendance measuring out the progressive fall of the House of Makaver.42 Rather than affirming the continuity of family or community, Singer dwells on their destruction from within even as they face—­perhaps because they face—­threats from without. This is decadence with a vengeance. No wonder that in perhaps the work’s most nihilistic moment—­and its most Schopenhauerian—­Heshel, facing the impending Nazi attack on Warsaw, meets another intellectual, Hertz Yanovar: He stood before them confused, ashamed. “I’ve got no more strength,” he said apologetically. He hesitated for a moment and then said, in Polish: “The messiah will come soon.” Asa Heshel looked at him in astonishment. “What do you mean?” “Death is the Messiah. That’s the real truth.” (611)

Judaism qua religious faith ends at this moment, at the moment of the Holocaust. What replaces it resembles nothing so much as the “real truth” enunciated by the Schopenhauer who proclaimed “the meaning of life is death.” So many Jews had to experience the true meaning of his words that Singer is reduced, however temporarily, to silence.43

Schopenhauer on the Hudson: Saul Bellow’s S a m m l e r a n d t h e A rt o f A f f i r m at i v e N e gat i o n A crucial memory for Saul Bellow was his first encounter with Isaac Rosenfeld: “He is very serious. He has read Schopenhauer.” There’s a Bellowian irony to those last words but also, underneath it, the deep connection of high

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seriousness among secularizing Jewish intellectuals to Schopenhauer. “He is very serious. He has read Schopenhauer” reminds us, if we needed by this point a reminder, that knowledge of Schopenhauer was a sign of intellectual sophistication and merit for an entire generation of acculturating Jews from at least 1870 until arguably the next century. To be sure, this formation no longer seems much in evidence. Even among  Jews Nietzsche has supplanted his predecessor for most philosophers and theologians. Simmel wrote a book to enact this turn; Martin Buber attended a year-­long seminar on Schopenhauer while a graduate student, but seems to have been more influenced by Nietzsche.44 In more recent work, Emmanuel Levinas, to the best of my knowledge, never mentions him and Jacques Derrida does so only in passing. But more generally, the entire cultural formation that underlies the privileging of Schopenhauer, not to mention Nietzsche, is in a state of decline, undone by a modernity that helped engender and roared beyond the former, and may well do so with the latter as well. This sense of Schopenhauer as anachronism is captured and in many ways becomes crucial in a moment in Bellow’s most explicit evocation of Schopenhauer, Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1969). Sammler is named after the philosopher by his mother, as he tells Indian scientist Dr. Govinda Lal: “You are Polish? . . . Artur?” “Yes. Like Schopenhauer, whom my mother read. Arthur, at that period, not very Jewish, was the most international, enlightened name you could give a boy. The same in all languages. . . . On my sixteenth birthday, my mother gave me The World as Will and Idea. Naturally it was an agreeable compliment that I could be so serious and deep. Like the great Arthur.45

“I studied the system, and I still remember it,” Sammler continues. And indeed he does: Schopenhauerian precepts and understandings suffuse Sammler’s understanding in the novel. To Sammler, the world is a faulty representation in the classic Schopenhauerian sense: But sometimes Mr. Sammler felt that the way he saw things could not be right. His experiences had been too peculiar, and he feared that he projected pecu­ liarities onto life. Life was probably not blameless, but he often thought that life was not and could not be what he was seeing. (Mr. Sammler’s Planet, 90)

But in addition, he understands life as will. Here’s a pretty typical example. Sammler is musing on the decline and fall of  Western civilization at the hands of the libidinal radicals of the 1960s:

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The labor of Puritanism now was ending. The dark satanic mills changing into light satanic mills. . . . Old Sammler with his screwy visions! He saw the increasing triumph of Enlightenment . . . the struggles of three revolutionary centuries being won while the feudal bonds of Church and Family weakened and the privileges of aristocracy . . . spread wide, democratized, especially the libidinous privileges, the right to be uninhibited, spontaneous, urinating, defecating, belching, coupling in all positions, tripling, quadrupling, polymorphous, novel in being natural, primitive. (25–­26)

And so on for another page, until the argument modulates away from a neoconservativism avant la lettre into a different key: For what it amounted to was limitless demand—­insatiability, refusal of the doomed creature (death being sure and final) to go away from this earth unsatisfied. A full bill of demand and complaint was therefore presented by each individual. Nonnegotiable. Recognizing no scarcity of supply in any human department. Enlightenment? Marvelous! But out of hand, wasn’t it? (26–­27)

Buried in this Spenglerian morass is the essence of the Schopenhauerian vision: will manifesting itself in the individual as the will to live, the subject driven by his or her own vital energies unknowing of his or her own participation in that chord of existence, the Will as such. It’s no surprise, given this conjunction of will, sexuality, and something we might think of as the life-­force, that the novel should be built around a Schopenhauerian allusion that turns on precisely this conjunction. Early on, Sammler leaves a Columbia lecture where he is reviled as a washed-­up old man and sees a black pickpocket working his regular bus up Riverside Drive; the pickpocket sees him observing his activity and later in the novel encounters Sammler on Upper Broadway. The pickpocket recognizes him and forces him into an apartment-­building vestibule, but rather than mug him, he unzips his pants and shows Sammler his penis, which is described by Bellow (and Sammler) in terms of aesthetic awe: The black man had opened his fly and taken out his penis. It was displayed to Sammler with great oval testicles, a large tan-­and-­purple uncircumcised thing—­a tube, a snake; metallic hairs bristled at the thick base and the tip curled beyond the supporting, demonstrating hand, suggesting the fleshly mobility of an elephant’s trunk, though the skin was somewhat iridescent rather than thick or rough. Over the forearm and fist that held him Sammler was required to gaze

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at this organ. No compulsion would have been necessary. He would in any case have looked. (39–­40)

Adam Kirsch is right to remind us just how problematic this moment is. Speaking for generations of critics, he writes, Bellow’s language insists on the animalization of the man, which of course means his dehumanization. It is especially disastrous that this should take place in a novel that is partly about the Holocaust, because something like this technique was used by anti-­Semites to demonize Jews . . . instead of drawing the conclusion that this sort of racism is inherently false and cruel, Bellow simply reverses the polarities: the pickpocket’s bestiality is meant to stand in obvious contrast with Sammler’s Jewish and civilized impotence.46

This is quite true, unexceptionable really, but misses, I think, the full extent of Bellow’s ambitions, for when Sammler comes later to think of that penis, in the midst of a conversation with Dr. Lal about his Schopenhauerian past, he mentally responds with what can only be described as a Schopenhauerian pun: “I learned that only Ideas are not overpowered by the Will—­the cosmic force, the Will, which drives all things. A blinding power. The inner creative fury of the world. What we see are only its manifestations. Like Hindu philosophy—­ Maya, the veil of appearances that hangs over all human experience. Yes, and come to think of it, according to Schopenhauer, the seat of the Will in human beings is . . .” “Where is it?” “The organs of sex are the seat of the Will.” The thief in the lobby agreed. He took out the instrument of the Will. He drew aside not the veil of Maya itself but one of its forehangings and showed Sammler his metaphysical warrant. (172–­73)

To be sure, Sammler’s wry invocation of Schopenhauer here corroborates a suspicion about the traditions he speaks for: they seem as weak as the pickpocket makes Sammler feel. But that allusion does other work as well, undercutting this seeming opposition by making us consider Sammler’s own actions under the sign of will. After all, this is a character who found himself thrust into a heap of corpses in a Nazi massacre and managed to dig himself out, showing tenacity and life-­force aplenty. So does the experience a little later when, armed, he encounters a Nazi soldier who begs for his life: Sammler shoots

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him and experiences an ecstasy of empowerment. The route of phallic masculinity that leads the pickpocket toward crime, intimidation, and ultimately violence—­he is winning a fight with Sammler’s Columbia host Feffer at the end of the novel until Sammler’s brother-­in-­law, Eisen, intervenes—­is one that Sammler himself had to take simply to survive. It would be wrong to associate Schopenhauerian will with violence. Violence for Schopenhauer is an exercise out of the incompleteness of will, its severing into individual, individuated desiring fragments that create linkages between victimizers and victim, violator and violated, inextricably bound to one another in a dyad. His hope is for the abnegation of will that comes with a recognition of the common fragmentation that is the fate of all subjects in a Hobbesian world marked by violence, power plays, massacres. And it is precisely this compassionate vision that Sammler affirms when he intervenes to save the pickpocket’s life after Eisen beats him with a bag containing the Dead Sea Scrolls (we are getting intensely allegorical here). But if we see the pickpocket as the ultimate extension of will and Sammler’s compassion as recompense, then how are we to read Sammler’s own survival-­by-­violence, with its affirmation of a violence that is equally gratuitous? He may save the pickpocket, and it’s a good thing he does, but that poor innocent German soldier who pleaded for his life lies a-­mouldering in his grave. There would seem to be an impasse at the center of the novel, in which power, will, sexuality, and violence are all associated with each other in a problematic whole that one might simply label “the Sixties,” but where the opposition—­let’s call it philosophy, aesthetics, or the discourses of the Western tradition—­is problematic too. Purposive purposelessness has collapsed as well, undone by a shared, primal violence as old as the Dead Sea Scrolls, as new as the Holocaust. The novel seems to suggest one way out of this impasse, which is also quite compatible with Schopenhauer: the abnegation of the will itself via mysticism, an acceptance of the illusory and transitory nature of all things. For Schopenhauer, to transcend what we see, feel, experience, and even think, and to see it all as an earthly veil of appearances is the goal of all philosophy, theology, poetry, and mysticism. This is why for Schopenhauer the only valorizable stance is that of contemplation, the stance of the work of art toward the nature of the real itself; our job is not to seek to change the real, but rather to observe its unfolding with detached amusement and irony. And it is this principle that Sammler articulates at crucial points in the novel. “One could not be the thing itself—­Reality,” he muses, as he contemplates the motley crowd around him. “One must be satisfied with the symbols. . . . Make peace therefore with

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intermediacy and representation. But choose higher representations. Otherwise the individual must be the failure he now sees and knows himself to be” (122). The echoes of Schopenhauer here are obvious, although elsewhere in the novel this transcendence of sublunary concerns is literalized by Dr. Govinda Lal’s project of colonizing the moon, of redeeming the Earth by removing us completely from it (shades of Zeno!): “How long,” went the first sentence [of his manuscript], “will this earth remain the only home of Man?” How long? [thinks Sammler]  .  .  . Wasn’t it the time—­the very hour to go? . . . Considering the earth itself not as a stone cast but as something to cast oneself from—­to be divested of. To blow this great blue, white, green planet, or be blown from it. (41)

The contemplative attitude is more directly represented by Christian mystic Meister Eckhart, whom Sammler is reading in the library and meditating on as he struggles to negotiate the world of turbulent sexuality, desire, and violence. But here too there is a connection to Schopenhauer, since the philosopher says of Eckhart, “the precepts and doctrines given in it are the most perfect explanation, springing from deep inward conviction, of what I have described as the denial of the will-­to-­live. One has therefore to make a closer study of it,” he adds in a fairly typical conflation, “before dogmatizing about it with Jewish-­ Protestant assurance” (World as Will and Representation 1:387). Or as he puts it more pithily, “Buddha, Eckhart and I teach essentially the same thing.”47 It is this state of acceptance, this peace of mind, this sense of distance for which Sammler searches. Contemplative distance turns out to be no more viable than striving. Sammler is forced to break it when he witnesses the beating of the pickpocket. And at the end of the novel, he affirms a deep moral engagement as he speaks in a “mental whisper” a eulogy (a secular kaddish, if you will) for his friend Elya Gruner: Well, Elya, Well, well, Elya. . . . Remember, God, the soul of Elya Gruner, who, as willingly as possible and as well as he was able, and even to an intolerable point, and even in suffocation and even as death was coming was eager . . . to do what was required of him. . . . He was aware that he must meet, and he did meet—­through all the confusion and degraded clowning of this life through which we are speeding—­he did meet the terms of his contract. The terms which, in his inmost heart, each man knows. As I know mine. As all know. For

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that is the truth of it—­that we all know, God, that we know, that we know, we know. (Mr. Sammler’s Planet, 260)

To be sure, the last lines of the book radiate with a kind of moral confidence lacking elsewhere the novel. The moral authority of these lines is deeply satisfying, and particularly satisfying as a resolution of the dilemma that has been facing Sammler, caught between will and its negation. But am I the only reader who hears even in this moment of affirmation the not-­so-­faint echo of the negative?—­“know, know, know,” after all, is a homonym for “no, no, no.” Given the rest of the book, we need, I think, to hear them both—­to hear the great affirmation and the great negation alike in Sammler’s concluding words; they are as one. There’s finally, in other words, no complete resolution of this dilemma, no synthesis to the dialectic, no full answer for the questions this most philosophically ambitious of novels poses itself and us through Sammler. There’s only the fuller articulation of those questions, whose terms become clear at this moment in the novel even as they have been implicit throughout. In the end Sammler finds these questions limned but not clarified, spoken but not solved, articulated but not ameliorated. But to understand them, he only had to look at his own first name.

Chapter 6

Walter Benjamin’s Paris, Capital of  Jewish Aesthetic Modernity

In the later years of the nineteenth century, aesthetes of various degrees of commitment and outrageousness could be found throughout Europe—­in Scandinavia, Poland, and Italy as well as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—­and even in the United States.1 But the chief instantiation of aestheticism could be found in one key locus: Paris. The slogan “art for art’s sake” was first articulated there by critic Victor Cousin, and then by aesthete Théophile Gautier. Art for art was lived as well as preached by generations of bohemian poets and artists on the Left Bank from that moment forward. As the ground shifted from idealizing art to celebrating its—­and everything else’s—­decadence, Paris remained the epicenter, from Charles Baudelaire through Joris-­Karl Huysmans, from Gustave Moreau through Odilon Redon, and well beyond into a host of minor figures like Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-­ Adam, Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly, the cross-­dressing novelist Rachilde, and Catulle Mendès—­all of whom offered hair-­raisingly explicit work, some of whom pursued a purified poetic form that grew into Parnassian perfection. Their Paris also had a considerable Jewish population. Esther Benbassa tells us that by the end of the nineteenth century Paris contained the majority of  Jews in France, representing about 2 percent of the city’s population as a whole. More to the point, as Benbassa puts it, “Paris—­city of myth, city of hope—­did not attract only those who wished to improve their economic situation, but also political refugees, intellectuals, young people, and business elites from the rest of Europe.”2 It proved alluring to Jewish writers, poets, artists, and culture-­makers driven there by economic stringency or political circumstance or drawn there by the superabundance of artists, poets, and writers already in place. Pascale

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Casanova puts matters hyperbolically (and Gallicly) in The World Republic of Letters, which installs Paris as the be-­all and end-­all of that mythical nation, but it really is true that for the nineteenth century, Paris was the capital not only of the Republic of Letters but of art, culture, and lives devoted to the same.3 Paris thus becomes the perfect laboratory for testing the thesis of this book—­a place where assimilating Jewish culture-­makers came into contact with the works and doctrines of aestheticism and decadence and repurposed them to make something crucial and new. Many of the figures we’ve been looking at here either emigrated to Paris or were born there (Marcel Proust and Sarah Bernhardt come to mind in the latter category). But the Jews who populated Paris’s cultural precincts were not just French. Hungarian-­born Max Nordau, decrier of decadence and degeneration, spent most his adult life in Paris, capital of both. Also in Paris, in the later years of  his life, was Walter Benjamin, who, as we shall see, synthesized the aesthetic/decadent heritage with both messianic Jewishness and Marxism. So too were Amedeo Modigiani, Tristan Tzara, Léon Bakst and many of the dancers in the Ballets Russes, and of course Ida Rubinstein. Many who did not live there for long passed through at particularly important times in their development. Theodor Herzl lived in Paris from 1891 to 1895, attending the Dreyfus trial in 1894. Sigmund Freud studied under Jean-­Martin Charcot at the Salpêtrière Hospital and formulated many of his important notions while there. S. An-­Sky, the Russian author and activist who wrote the famous play The Dybbuk (which I discuss in the next chapter), was exiled from St. Petersburg in 1892 and spent the next decade in Paris before returning home to a life of Jewish activism and cultural recovery. Paris was not just a way station but provided a vital spark for many of these writers: what would Benjamin be without Baudelaire or the Arcades, Freud without Charcot, or Herzl without the Paris Opera, where he witnessed Richard Wagner’s arch-­decadent Tannhäuser and first formulated the doctrines of Zionism? But there’s another argument that this book has been making: that out of this encounter between Jews and the culture of aestheticism and decadence, something like modernity emerged. I say “something like” because modernity is a vague term, ranging widely in time and place. If modernity is to be understood as a radical break with a transcendentally guaranteed world order, then modernity may be said to have been initiated with Spinoza. If it is to be associated with massive immigration into engorging cities and with the generation of entirely new perceptual apparatuses, then it is as much on display in London or New York as in Paris. And if we are considering modernism qua modernism as the inevitable by-­product of modernity, it is perhaps to Vienna rather than

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Paris that we need to look; Vienna in this period, after all, gave us psychoanalysis, twelve-­tone music, Secessionist art, and Wittgenstein’s philosophy. Belle époque Paris was in many ways lesser than Vienna in achievement—­ Charcot and Henri Bergson provide no match for Freud and Wittgenstein—­ though it did give us Proust, Art Nouveau, Impressionism and Postimpressionism, and the Eiffel Tower. But what Paris may have lacked—­and I am hesitant here (is Gustav Klimt greater than his contemporary Paul Cézanne? Arthur Schnitz­ ler than Proust?)—­it more than made up for in theorization, largely thanks to the once-­neglected, now-­canonical work of  Walter Benjamin, who takes aspects of Paris as the basis for some of the most influential writing about modernity across the board. In his famous essays on Proust and Baudelaire (the latter of which touches on such crucial concepts as shock, the crowd, the flâneur) and in the unpublished Arcades Project, in which Paris’s glass-­enclosed shopping passageways become emblematic of the dreamlike spell cast by an advanced consumer culture, Benjamin returned over and over again to this locus. Benjamin takes Paris’s most renowned poet, perhaps its greatest novelist, and its celebrated shops as the means to explore the pulses and rhythms, the psychic and behavioral dimensions of an advanced capitalist society. And more: not just Paris but the entirety of French culture becomes for Benjamin the lens through which he views the century that preceded him. “Just as the baroque book [The Origins of German Tragic Drama] dealt with the seventeenth century from the perspective of Germany,” he writes to his friend Gershom Scholem, “this book [the Arcades book] will unravel the nineteenth century from France’s perspective.”4 Perforce France, rather than Germany, becomes for Benjamin the home not only of  high capitalism but of modernity itself. What is it like to consider Benjamin, the Benjamin we remember, the Benjamin we canonize, from this point of view? And how does this engagement fit into the narrative I’m telling here, that of Jews encountering aestheticism and transforming it into something else, something that looks very much like modernity? Considering Benjamin under the sign of France, as both resident of and alien in Paris, doesn’t vitiate his achievement—­to the contrary—­but it complicates our understanding of its dynamics. It helps explain, too, how the writers and artists I mention in this book and many more besides fused their Jewishness with the ambient modalities of aestheticism and decadence to create something genuinely new and transformative.

W a lt e r B e n j a m i n , F r e n c h m a n In her groundbreaking book The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project, Susan Buck-­Morss outlines the concerns that define

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Benjamin’s career.5 They form a triangle. One point is made by the engagement with German literature and philosophy evident in his thesis on German baroque drama; another focuses on the engagement with messianic or mystical Jewish thought worked out in his lifelong friendship with Scholem; the third is an increasing engagement with Marxism, born in large measure of his romantic relationship with Asja Lācis but advancing far beyond that, particularly as he entered into dialogue with Theodor Adorno and Ernst Bloch. Here is the description of this constellation—­to use a Benjaminian trope—­offered by bi­ ographers Howard Eiland and Michael Jennings: his work is an “admixture of a radical leftist politics, a syncretistic theological concern that drew freely upon theologoumena from Judaism and Christianity, a deep knowledge of the German philosophical tradition, and a cultural theory adequate to the diversity of its objects under the fast-­changing conditions of modernity.”6 Buck-­Morss suggests that we need to add another point to the configuration, in fact to make it as multi-­pointed as the Pleiades: Paris, but also by extension France, French culture, and all things associated with it. To that end, here are a few data points to consider. Benjamin’s father, Emil, was born in Cologne and moved to Berlin, but in between lived for several years in Paris; Benjamin’s governess was French. Benjamin was a fluent French speaker and often wrote in the language, even to German-­speaking correspondents like Scholem. Benjamin spent much of his life in France—­as early as 1913, he told a friend that he had become “almost more at home in the Louvre and on the Grand Boulevard than I am in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum or on the streets of Berlin” (Correspondence, 27). He spent protracted periods of time in Paris beginning in 1925, when he lived there with his friend Franz Hessel; Hessel, who wrote about flânerie before Benjamin did, led his friend on not entirely undebauched wanderings through the streets and fleshpots of Paris and helped Benjamin maneuver his way into high literary circles. (Benjamin met with a man he called M. Howard, whom he took to be the original of Proust’s Albertine and who seems to have shown him Paris’s homosexual underworld [361–­62].) Later Benjamin was joined by his German friends Siegfried Kracauer and Ernst Bloch, who participated in his crawlings in the Parisian night-­town while discussing the finer points of revisionist Marxism. Benjamin told Scholem that he seriously thought about moving to Paris, only to be put off by the difficulty of making friends (301–­2). Having shuttled back and forth in the intervening years between Paris, Ibiza, Hamburg, and Berlin, in 1933 he finally made Paris his home, although he had to leave in 1939. He made his way to the south of France and thence across the border to Portbou, Spain, where he killed himself in the mistaken belief that his egress from Europe had been blocked.

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For all his wanderings, Berlin and Paris remained the two poles between which Benjamin moved, intellectually if not always physically. But it’s important to stress that Benjamin, an eternal wanderer, touristed his way through much of France with both his wife, Dora, and his lover, Lācis (separately), and by himself—­he took hashish with friends in Marseilles, a city he also wrote about wonderfully, in an essay of 1929, for example. The same is true of his work. Benjamin’s interest in the literature and culture of France was extensive and career-­long. Reading through his letters, I was impressed by the systematic attempt he made, starting early in his career, to learn the ins and outs of French literary and cultural expression. Here’s a fairly typical example of this effort, from 1919 (Benjamin was twenty-­six at the time): Since I have been here [on vacation, in Iseltwald], I have read only French books. I was seized by a great desire to immerse myself in the contemporary French movement, but without ever losing the awareness of being an outside observer. I am reading indiscriminately,  just to get a feel for things; thus I would be all the more grateful to you for some pointers. First I read Crépet’s commendable Baudelaire biography. . . . Then I read an extravagant piece of rubbish by Paul and Victor Margueritte. Additionally, Farrère’s Black Opium. As you see, indiscriminate—­reading whatever happens to fall into my lap. But it is necessary to do this for a while in order to assimilate insights and pointers (for which I ask you [his correspondent, Ernst Schoen] once more) with that much more understanding. I subscribe to the Nouvelle revue française. A lot in it is still opaque to me and has a tendentious obscurity, even though its German analogue might be penetrable to the point of triteness. I am making some progress in clarifying it. (Correspondence, 143–­44).

The engagement with French literature and culture deepened in subsequent years. Just after finishing his comments on the impossibility of conversing with a Frenchman, which I quoted above, Benjamin told Scholem that he was planning to write a sequel to The Origin of German Tragic Drama by turning to seventeenth-­century French classical theater—­Racine, Corneille, and Molière. (He considered a trip in 1930 to the chateaux and cathedrals of the Loire as research for that project.) He not only wrote an important essay on Proust, but translated, with Hessel, the third and fourth volumes of À la recherche du temps perdu into German—­apparently translations of the next three volumes were completed but did not appear as a result of the bankruptcy of the firm that was to issue them. His translation work extended further. Late in life, impecu­ nious, he saw translations of French writers as a way to support his vocation as a

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free-­floating man of  letters. His most famous essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” was published in his lifetime only in a French translation. At the moment of his death, Benjamin was working on an essay about the political commitments of contemporary French writers. So what are we to make of the French Benjamin? Even though he divides his interests into the French and the German, he firmly locates himself in the camp of the latter. In a letter of November 1923 to Florens Christian Rang, he writes: “For me . . . circumscribed national characteristics were always central: German or French. I will never forget that I am bound to the former and how deep these ties go” (Correspondence, 214). It’s difficult to escape the sense that even late in his career Benjamin’s primary sense of himself was as a German malgré lui: an exile, as he very much seems to have seen himself, defines himself in terms of the culture he has left, not the one in which he lives. But Benjamin followed his 1923 reflection on his Germanness with a thought about his French drama project that leads in a different direction: “nothing takes you deeper and binds you more closely than the attempt to ‘redeem’ the writings of the past, as I intend to do” (214). The work of such redemption takes on an almost exclusively French character in the last fifteen years of his life. In relation to French culture and identity, in other words, we see the same push-­and-­ pull of identification and distancing, engagement and revision that we see in Benjamin’s relation to everything else. Consider his essay “Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia,” from 1929. Here Benjamin adopts the stance of an observer who can see exactly how surrealism must point beyond itself because as a German he is excluded from it: The German observer is not standing at the source of the stream [of surrealism’s imaginative expression]. This is his opportunity. He is in the valley. He can gauge the energies of the movement. As a German he has long been acquainted with the crisis of the intelligentsia, or, more precisely, with that of the humanistic concept of freedom; and he knows how frantically determined the movement has become to go beyond the stage of eternal discussion and, at any price, to reach a decision; he has had direct experience of its highly exposed position between an anarchistic Fronde and a revolutionary discipline, and so has no excuse for taking the movement for the “artistic,” “poetic” one it superficially appears.7

This is classic midperiod Benjamin, touching on two of the three points of the triangle I am trying to turn into a star, Germanness and Marxism. Indeed, of

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the two, it’s probably the former that stands out, since the imagery—­mountain streams and valleys—­comes directly out of German Romanticism or its real-­life offshoot the Wandervögel, the German youth movement to which Benjamin belonged, an imagery very much like his description of aura in the famous “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”: “If, while resting on a summer afternoon, you follow with your eyes a mountain range on the horizon or a branch which casts its shadow over you, you experience the aura of those mountains, of that branch.”8 Along the way to this conclusion, however, the argument detours into an evocation of the privileged site of surrealism, Paris, to the description of which Benjamin devotes several heartfelt paragraphs. There’s warrant for Benjamin to do this—­Paris was indeed the center of the surrealist movement. But what’s remarkable is the degree to which Paris qua Paris informs, funds, and molds his vision of surrealism rather than the other way around. The site itself shapes the expressive practices that took place there: At the center of this world of things stands the most dreamed-­about of their objects: the city of Paris itself. . . . The Surrealists’ Paris, too, is a “little universe.” That is to say, in the larger one, the cosmos, things look no different. There, too, are crossroads where ghostly signals flash from the traffic, and inconceivable analogies and connections between events are the order of the day. It is the space on which the lyric poetry of Surrealism reports. (“Surrealism,” 211)

This Paris is not just meaningful in and of itself; it is the node from which meaning emanates. It bristles with signs and portents that betoken the past, modernity, and meaning all at once, and not in an ideal sense but, rather, in a material one. But as such it is both material in nature and a sign—­a sign for what it signifies but also a signifier made up of other signs, the texts that compose our understanding of Paris, that make Paris “Paris.” As such, it keeps alternating, in rapid motion, from the one to the other—­from material substance to text and back again, so that the two become indistinguishable and Paris qua Paris becomes a living text made up of all the texts that constitute it and to which, in turn, it gives life. Here is another example, one that not only confirms the pattern of the “Surrealism” essay but suggests other dimensions of Benjamin’s textualized engagement with Paris. In The Arcades Project, he writes: Balzac has secured the mythic constitution of his world through precise topographic contours. Paris is the breeding ground of his mythology—­Paris with its

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two or three great bankers (Nucingen, du Tillet), Paris with its great physician Horace Bianchon, with its entrepreneur César Birotteau, with its four or five great cocottes, with its usurer Gobseck, with its sundry advocates and soldiers. But above all—­and we see this again and again—­it is from the same streets and corners, the same little rooms and recesses, that the figures of this world step into the light. What else can this mean but that topography is the ground plan of this mythic space of tradition, as it is of every such space, and that it can become indeed its key.9

These lines are cited by David Harvey at the beginning of his Benjamin-­ drenched book Paris, Capital of Modernity, and they remind us of just how central Paris was, not only to Benjamin’s thinking, but to our understanding of its historical role.10 It was for Benjamin more than just “capital of the nineteenth century”; it was, and became for the critics who followed, the capital of the empire of modernity itself. But there’s a second element of Parisness that seems important to mention here—­namely, French Jews, who are both present and absent for Benjamin. Note what happens when he turns to Balzac. Practically all of the characters he mentions in the quotation I cited above are Jewish. Nucingen and Gobseck, Balzac’s great Jewish banker and his most insidious moneylender, respectively, recur throughout La comédie humaine. Baron Nucingen, modeled on a Rothschild, is husband of Delphine, daughter of Père Goriot and lover of Eugène de Rastignac. A later novel, The Firm of Nucingen (1838), details his maneuverings after Goriot’s death: Rastignac dumps Delphine to insinuate himself in the good graces of the baron, ultimately using Nucingen’s political connections to guarantee a career in public life for himself. In Gobseck (1830), the usurer lends money to Goriot’s other daughter, Anastasie, but doesn’t prevent her from falling into financial catastrophe, from which he profits in different ways at the same time—­he ends up getting her diamonds as collateral on a loan she has taken out to cover the debts of her lover, then sells them back to her husband. Moreover the cocottes, or courtesans/prostitutes, Benjamin mentions are frequently Jewish—­I am thinking of Josépha Mirah in La cousine Bette and especially Esther Van Gobseck in Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes. Esther, a.k.a. “la Torpille,” the Torpedo, is the daughter of the Dutch niece of the usurer Gobseck; in Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes she falls in love with the hunky Lucien de Rubempré, with whom she spends five blissful and monogamous years until she is pimped out by Balzac’s arch-­villain, Lucien’s malign angel, Jacques Collin, a.k.a. Vautrin (here masquerading as the Abbé Carlos Herrera) to none other than the Baron Nucingen. She is susceptible to

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Nucingen—­who had been entangled in the affairs of her great-­uncle Gobseck—­ because Collin/Herrera/Vautrin promises her that the baron will gift her with money that she can then pass to Lucien, enabling Lucien to clear his debts, buy back the family property, and achieve his social destiny. Although she puts off physical contact as long as she can, she finally sleeps with Nucingen, and then she kills herself; only after her death is it learned, ironically, that her great-­uncle Gobseck has also passed away and left her the fortune with which she could have endowed Lucien and saved herself. These, then, are the figures on whom Benjamin concentrates when he apotheosizes Balzac as the embodiment of a textualized Paris—­not, say, Old Goriot dying of a broken heart in his garret or Cousin Bette and her nest of grasping relatives, politicians, and retired military folk, but moneylenders, courtesans, and financial wizards. Benjamin’s Balzac-­saturated Paris is thus a city of capital, of usury, and of prostitution as well as a city of arcades and flâneurs. It is, in short, a city of  Jews.

B e n j a m i n a n d F r e n c h E c o n o m i c A n t i - S­ e m i t i s m —­ R e l a t i o n s h i p S ta t u s : I t ’ s C o m p l i c a t e d This conflation demands further commentary. Maurice Samuels has suggested how fully Balzac’s fictions of nineteenth-­century Jewesses, as of Jews in general, were reshaped by a new form of anti-­Semitism, French economic anti-­Semitism, a strain distinct from the anti-­Semitism of the cynosures of traditional authorities like the Church and the nationalist Right.11 These representations originate as early as the writings of Charles Fourier, in which Jews and capital are conflated in ways that define the former as the fundamental corrupter of a natural way of living; the Jew is the embodiment of the spirit of commerce, from which all ills originate. To Fourier, far from being a triumph of universalism, Napoleon’s admission of Jews to the status of citizen conduced irrevocably to the corruption of the body politic, since Jews are capitalism incarnate. In addition to arousing the early Marx and Pierre-­Joseph Prou­ dhon, Fourier’s set of equations thereafter made its way into the mainstream of French Left thought. His direct successors, like Alphonse Toussenel, honed his arguments into outright anti-­Semitism, influencing no less a Benjaminian figure than Baudelaire, whose doctrine of correspondances comes straight out of Toussenel and whose anti-­Semitism follows the same lines as his predecessor’s. A chain of metonymies perhaps—­but didn’t Benjamin himself teach after what he learned from Toussenel and Fourier, not to mention Baudelaire, that such interconnections are everything? After all, the very first section of the

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published essay version of “Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century” is called “Fourier, or the Arcades.” But why link these, the Arcades and Fourier? In his withering critique of Benjamin’s Arcades Project, Adorno writes that “the precise relationship Fourier–­arcade is never clear” (Correspondence, 499), and he’s right. Benjamin is indeed making one of his characteristic associational leaps here; he sees the Arcades as providing Fourier with a kind of inspiration, the “architectural canon of the phalanstery,” the space in which his new communal society, the phalanx, is to live (Arcades Project, 5). But Fourier’s biographers have struggled mightily to accommodate Fourier’s actual inspirations for his “street galleries” with the passages Benjamin apotheosizes. “The least one can say then,” writes one of those biographers, “is that Paris’s arcades were known to Fourier and were already becoming a significant part of the urban landscape at a time when he conceived of his street gallery.”12 Jonathan Beecher more plausibly goes on to trace Fourier’s actual claims of inspiration from the Louvre and the Palais Royal—­not exactly a progressive pedigree like that suggested by a connection to the Arcades. A better way of posing this question might be to ask what’s at stake in Benjamin’s linking of Fourier and the Arcades, brilliant though it may be. I want to suggest that it has something to do with the profoundly anachronistic quality of each in Benjamin’s moment, and thence with that which was not anachronistic but rather increasingly powerful as the century rolled on: anti-­Jewish thought, whose power was often hidden from Benjamin himself. To begin with the Arcades: there are two facts we need to bear in mind. First, although they were built to protect upper-­and middle-­class Parisian shoppers from the dirt and smog of the plein air, that they might better encounter a dazzling array of  by-­and-­large luxury goods, the Arcades were themselves part of a larger panoply. Unlike the Burlington Arcade in London, the Arcades in Paris were open to all and hence crowded with pickpockets, prostitutes, and social riffraff as well as shoppers. Moreover, alongside the Arcades and frequently looming above were apartments in which lived the shop owners and working-­class folk looking for cheap habitation, and they were open to precisely the conditions from which the Arcades were designed to shelter shoppers, including the foul air created by multitudes moving through an enclosed space open at either end to the dirty air of the city. Neither in Benjamin, king of the sensorium, nor in the extensive body of criticism devoted to the Arcades Project have I read an account of the smells and atmosphere within the Arcades: as Jay Geller puts it, “in more than nine hundred published pages of notes and quotes that followed these [Benjamin’s] first notebook jottings,

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smell is mentioned only once, as an urban problem, and then only to be displaced onto the visual register.”13 But novelists, truth tellers that they so frequently are, recount a different story. Here is Joris-­Karl Huysmans, from his weird conflation of Satanism and naturalism, Là-­Bas: Can you even begin to imagine, for example, what the living conditions are like in some of those tenement blocks above the Paris arcades? Close your eyes: a consumptive is spitting blood and choking to death in a first-­floor flat below the glass roof of, say, the passage des Panoramas. If the window is open, a dust saturated with stale cigarette smoke and cold sweat gradually seeps into the room. The sick man complains that he is suffocating and begs for fresh air; someone runs to open the window—­but immediately slams it shut. The only way you could begin to help someone in such a condition would be by taking them as far away as possible from the stench of the arcades!14

And here is Louis-­Ferdinand Céline (Louis-­Ferdinand Destouches), who in Morte à crédit (1936) writes about his boyhood home in a shop above passage Choiseul with his characteristic grit and ferocity: I have to admit that the Passage was an unbelievable pesthole. It was made to kill you off, slowly but surely, what with the little mongrels’ urine, the shit, the sputum, the leaky gas pipes. The stink was worse than the inside of a prison. Down under the glass roof the sun is so dim you can eclipse it with a candle. Everybody began to gasp for breath. The Passage took cognizance of its asphyxiating stench.15

The Arcades stank to high heaven. Benjamin aestheticizes them as fully as he argues they aestheticized the world of commodity fetishism. Secondly, and also de-­idealizingly, these enclosed malls were outmoded by the time Benjamin wrote about them. Arcades dated to the late eighteenth century and flourished in Paris, then as ever the trendsetter for the rest of the world, in the first half of the nineteenth. But by the 1870s and 1880s, the Arcades began to be superseded in sales, publicity, and éclat by the department stores—­including the Grands Magasins du Louvre (ca. 1860), the Grands Magasins au Printemps (rebuilt on a grander scale 1881–­1885), the Galeries Lafayette (built 1906–­1910)—­that flourished as the small shops that found space in the Arcades foundered. To this eminently Benjaminian point it needs to be added that many of these magnificent temples of display and acquisition

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were owned and operated and in some cases designed by Jews like the Pereire brothers (Grands Magasins du Louvre), Jules Jaluzot (Grands Magasins au Printemps), and Alphonse Kahn and Théophile Bader (Galeries Lafayette—­ whose architect was the Jewish Hector Guimard). Not all of these were Jewish enterprises; to the contrary, the famous Bon Marché, the first and most dazzling—­and the model for “Au Bonheur des Dames,” the fictional department store in Zola’s novel of the same name—­was founded by a gentile entrepreneur, Aristide Boucicaut, and non-­Jews owned other major stores. It is all the more striking, then, that department stores were discursively linked to Jews and Jewishness by anti-­Semites. Modern, vulgar, and ruthless in their ability to use economies of scale, mass advertising, and deep capitalization to dominate small shops, department stores came in their polemics to represent the triumph of commerce, capital, and cupidity over the virtuous indepen­ dent businesspeople—­the shopkeeper, the florist, the dressmaker—­who represented the true—­the vieux—­Paris. And indeed, the true France, not just the true Paris. Here is a representative rant, published in a provincial newspaper: The Monopolist, with his big store, where he carries on a hundred branches of commerce under one roof without paying the patente for each, enjoys an unfair advantage. He crushes and ruins small business, by a competition which knows no bounds. . . . Don’t be misled by the label that reads “Bargain.” To produce these so-­called bargains, any number of tricks are employed, any number of sharp practices are invented daily to stretch and expand the material. . . . The purchaser of such a garment is left with nothing of any value, while the till of the Jewish store has been filled. Workers! Remember that such “bargains” can also be found by pushing down your wages. Patriots! You ought to know that all these emporia are usually financed by cosmopolitan and anti-­French capital . . . and that their profits will enrich a few Jewish financiers to the detriment of other traders who cannot compete against them. Landlords, Rentiers! What will happen to your property, when the traders in our town are forced to close their shops, which you have failed to patronize!16

Anti-­Semites took matters so far that when they rioted throughout France in 1898 after the acquittal of Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy for complicity in the Dreyfus affair—­that is, acquittal on charges of which he was actually guilty—­ they often turned their efforts against a wide variety of Jewish stores and storeowners. Philip Nord reports that in Paris, Marseilles, Nantes, and elsewhere, “Jewish stores, Jewish-­owned department stores in particular, were

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the anti-­Semites’ targets of choice”; what Nord calls the “révolution du bon marché” was met with a contre-­révolution des antisémites.17 The Arcades were thus not ethnoracially neutral sites in which capitalism created its dream world of commodity culture. In the hurly-­burly of French discourses on Jewishness, they occupied an especially loaded place, a place where the small shops that filled them denoted francité and the department stores that supplanted them conjured forth cosmopolitanism and capitalism. And this has problematic implications for Benjamin’s invocation of the Arcades as one of what he called “dialectical images,” wrought from the past into the present to illuminate both. For one might note here the similarity between Benjamin’s vision of the Arcades and that of  Édouard Drumont, whose plaint at their disappearance had had much to do with the transformation of anti-­Semitism into a mass political movement during and after the Dreyfus affair. Consider Drumont’s Mon vieux Paris, a book first published in 1874, then extended and updated in 1893, the year before the Dreyfus affair exploded into public knowledge, and then updated again by 1897, when the affair was at its height, two years before Action française, the fascist, anti-­Semitic political movement, was founded. Instead of looking to the misty medieval past with a nostalgic eye, the second edition ramps up the denunciation of the present, with reference to the degeneration of the central shopping district in and around the Palais Royal (today a chic stopping destination), where the Arcades first proliferated.18 Drumont first inquires into the Palais itself—­residence of the duc d’Orléans, the site where Cardinal Richelieu died, a place where princes resided, a place, he tells us, worthy of lines from Corneille: Il nous faut présumer, en voyant de tels toits, Que tous ses habitants sont des dieux ou des rois. —­Mon vieux Paris, 2:113 And we must presume on seeing such rooftops, that those who lived there are gods or kings.

But as Cicero, whom Drumont echoes repeatedly here, might put it, o tempora, o mores! For the noblemen who inhabited the Palais and environs and are “of illustrious race,” mésalliés à des filles de marchands . . . et adoptant résolùment les goûts, les allures, les façons de voir de leur nouvelle famille. . . . Ils entrent dans le négoce,

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ils quittent l’épée pour l’aune, cedant arma lucro . . . ils deviennent barons dans la finance. (2:114) mis-­allied with the daughters of merchants . . . and decidedly adopt the tastes, the attractions, the ways of seeing of their new family. They enter business, they abandon the sword for the aune [a measure of cloth], they cede arms to profit [the Latin is an adaptation of Cicero’s claim that arms must be ceded to togae, to the state; Dumont’s implication is that money has become the state] . . . they become barons of finance.

Moreover, outside the walls of the Palais and in the area around can be found a motley of shops, entertainments, all containing “Le Plaisir, la Misère, l’Orgie, la Faim, le Crime, la Ruine, les perversités parisiennes, les naïvetés provinciales vivaient là dans la plus étonnante des promiscuités” (2:119). (“Pleasure, Misery, Orgies, Hunger, Crime, Ruin, Parisian perversities, provincial naïveté, all living there amid the most astonishing promiscuity”—­blink twice and you’re in a Balzac novel!) This carnival of vice had passed away by the time Drumont wrote, to be sure, along with the small shops and the Arcades themselves (another observer notes that the first glass-­covered arcade, the passage Delarme, had become a carpet factory turning out shoddy goods for a department store, the Louvre). Moreover, the parade of entertainment, shopping, and vice once contained within the Palais Royal (the complex also contained the Comédie Française and was adjacent to the Bourse) had spread out across Paris, which in Drumont’s Balzacian vision is now a city of merchants, finance capitalists, prostitutes, actors, entertainers—­that is, explicitly for Drumont as it was implicitly for Balzac, Jews. This is the vision Benjamin picks up from Balzac, sans the anti-­Semitism added by Drumont. My point here is not that Benjamin is an anti-­Semite of Drumontian proportions. Rather it is that unexpected affinities between Benjamin and Drumont emerge when one places Benjamin’s writing in the context of Drumont’s anti-­Semitic deployment of the politics of nostalgia. This makes Benjamin’s account of the Arcades more problematic than its rapturous, almost canonical status in contemporary criticism would suggest. Some critics would argue, I assume, that this is another example of Benjamin’s use of the rhetoric of nostalgia, or his appropriation of the past, for dialectical purposes. So be it, although in my opinion this history is not exactly being brushed against the grain; it’s more like history is being embossed. Whatever one wants to call it,

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in the context of the burgeoning anti-­Semitism of the 1930s, Benjamin’s affinity with anti-­Semitic topoi seems more than a little naïve.

B e n j a m i n a n d F r e n c h A n t i - S­ e m i t i s m —­ R e l a t i o n s h i p S ta t u s : E v e n M o r e C o m p l i c a t e d But what happens when Benjamin takes on French anti-­Semitism directly? He acknowledges, to be fair, the anti-­Semitism of Fourier—­but only in a brief note in the Arcades Project notebooks. His engagements with others are even more problematic. He quotes from Les juifs, rois de l’époque (1845), the explicitly anti-­Semitic tome of Fourier’s disciple Alphonse Toussenel, which offers an extensive exposition of the Jew = usurer = capitalist equations that defined French anti-­Semitism for the next generations. In one instance, Benjamin jots down a relatively benign passage, in another, an explicitly anti-­Semitic one, both without commentary. He mentions Léon Daudet, cofounder with Charles Maurras of the Action française, whose book on Baudelaire, significantly entitled Baudelaire: La malaise et l’aura, Benjamin echoed, as Jay Geller has argued.19 But Benjamin comments that Daudet’s “political folly is too gross and too obtuse to do much harm to his admirable talent.”20 (The case of Daudet is indeed complicated, for although he was an active, politically engaged anti-­Semite, some of his best friends—­and most admired authors—­were Jews. I’m inclined to let Benjamin off the hook for this one.) Standing behind all of these, complicating the picture, is Benjamin’s adoration of Baudelaire, with respect to whom Benjamin devotes some of his most extensive, and bizarre, remarks on French Jew-­hatred. I am thinking here of the odd moment at the beginning of the 1938 version of Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century, in which Benjamin notes: The seeds of the culte de la blague, which reappears in [anarchist, pursuer of violence] Georges Sorel and has become an integral part of fascist propaganda, are first found in Baudelaire. The spirit in which Céline wrote his Bagatelles pour un massacre, and its very title, go back directly to a diary entry by Baudelaire: “A fine conspiracy could be organized for the purpose of exterminating the Jewish race.”21

It’s an odd and discordant note that Benjaminians rarely mention, leaving it to Jeffrey Mehlman and Geller to discuss in detail. It at once indicts and exonerates Baudelaire and Céline as well as Sorel, no mean promulgator of

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anti-­Semitism himself, and places the latter two in a direct relation to their predecessor Baudelaire. Let me briefly follow out each of these lines, as Benjamin himself might do, in reverse, just to see how much Benjamin has to deal with, and hence how much he is evading or finessing. Sorel is not just representative of the conflation between Left thought and anti-­Semitism I’ve been dealing with in this chapter, but also a testimony to the ways in which Left and Right consorted with each other. He is walking proof of Zeev Sternhell’s controversial argument that anti-­Semitism in 1930s France was attached to neither Left nor Right but belonged to both. Sorel’s anarcho-­syndicalism grows out of his revisionary reading of Marx, but he began his career dallying with Maurras and anti-­Dreyfus sentiment and ended it with praise for Mussolini. Along the way he rejected precisely the cultural combination of the 1890s and early years of the twentieth century that I have been describing throughout this book. Sternhell writes, “Sorel thought that the Dreyfus affair could never have happened if France had not already been declining for many years. The Russian novel, neo-­Catholicism, anarchism, the aesthetics of the Jews of La Revue blanche, cosmopolitan salons, and the paintings of the impressionists and the fauvists all demonstrated how deep the sickness went.”22 Coming under attack here is the conjunction I have focused on between fin-­de-­siècle and modernist culture that Jews superintended in magazines and “cosmopolitan salons,” a conjunction that was crucial to Proust and to his larger cultural milieu and hence to Benjamin’s own unfolding work. Benjamin’s response is to pooh-­pooh Sorel and his fellow leftists, noticing their anti-­Semitism but writing it off as part of what he calls the culte de la blague—­ the cult of the joke—­a phrase that remains so obscure that the editors of the English translation of Benjamin have not been able to trace it. The best I am able to add is to note that in 1938, when Benjamin was writing this piece, Julien Benda—­no mean analyst of anti-­Semitism—­accused Sorel of pursuing “un culte satanique de la ‘blague,’ ” but this hardly helps interpret Benjamin’s use of the phrase vis-­à-­vis Sorel.23 Nor does it explain Benjamin’s characteristically fascinating extension of the idea of the culte de la blague to fascist propaganda in general, one of those aperçus that make reading him such a challenging pleasure: it anticipates Jean-­Paul Sartre’s brilliant analysis just eight years later of the anti-­Semite’s tactical use of  jokiness: Never believe that anti-­Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge.

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But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-­Semites have the right to play. . . . They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.24

Such blague-­ness—­or lack thereof—­infects the second example Benjamin gives here, Céline’s Bagatelles pour un massacre. Its republication interdicted by Céline’s widow (I read a samizdat copy on the internet), Bagatelles pour un massacre appeared in 1938 as one of the writer’s so-­called pamphlets, although it is of monstrous length, as opposed to his novels, which are not short either. It is a sustained rant, interrupted by bursts of plot, with accounts of Céline’s travel to Russia, scenarios for ballets that read as parodies of Maurice Maeterlinck or some other fin-­de-­siècle fantasist/poet, digressions and digressions within digressions and digressions within digressions within digressions, all of which conduce to a vociferous rant against Jews, who are everywhere serving as the despoilers of all value—­quoting, alluding to, and, as Alice Kaplan has shown, even incorporating directly the language of other French anti-­ Semitic pamphleteers as well as of Henry Ford’s The International Jew and, of course, of the grandparent of them all, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.25 The incessant thudding of the standard anti-­Semitic topoi, the sheer sweep of Céline’s stomach-­churning sensual vision and graphic prose, the intercalation of bizarre and seemingly discordant details (all Englishmen are Jews; so is the pope)—­all of these make the tone here both idiosyncratic and typical, labile but still a variation on themes so familiar as to seem virtually indistinguishable from its antecedents. I’m going to quote a long passage just to give a sense of what one is up against in dealing with this text: For the vengeance of the little Jews turned out of their comfortable situations in Germany! . . . For the glory of the Stock Exchange! of Exchange Rates and of Commerce! and of Meats! For the fresh and joyous arrival of the millions of good Kikeish looters that we are still needing, and who are consumed with impatience in the misery of the ghettos! . . . Native Frenchmen, have a bit of courage! Don’t go on sleeping like that! . . . Do you want to become degenerates? In that divine instant, admirably awaited, you will remember your knightly traditions! a Frenchman has never blinked for a single second when it came to the defense of the Homeland! Good blood does not know how to lie! Warrior’s blood! The Frenchman has rectitude only under fire! What a soldier!

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Bayard! Murat! La Tour d’Auvergne! Présent! Attack the Germanic hordes! Those frightful massacrers of Jews! The “Internationale”! yes! but only with the Russians! attention! the Judeo-­mongols. Make no mistakes! do not leave Yubelkrantz waiting! . . . Lisok, Levy, and Rosenbaum are depressed, those unhappy fellows, over there, they suffer, they are in pain . . . while you remain chitchatting before the gate to the mass grave. . . . So what are you waiting for, you bunch of cowards? You can depart this world without worry . . . you will promptly be replaced at your jobs, in your homes and in your beds . . . ten for the price of one! . . . As for your wives, they ask only that you go, I must say! they are as impatient for you to take to the Gare de l’Est as are Lizok, Levy, and Yubelkrantz . . . to push you towards the front. . . . Woman is a born traitorous dog . . . just like the Jew is a born crook. . . . Women, particularly in France, are just mad for fuzzy-­wuzzies, for Abyssinians, whose naughty bits will surprise you! These chaps are so depraved, so affectionate! They understand women so well! . . . Ah! the Orient! . . . it’s different! . . . you cuckolds of the trenches, you poor “kosher” meat! you will not be forgotten! you will be undertaken, snapped-­up, swallowed, and assimilated into the Jewish Victory. . . . Pensions will be arranged for your very consenting widows! . . . They will have a great time with your bones. . . . They will go in busses to admire the sites where you were knocked-­out for the Jews, they will dance on your graves, your dear wives with their Jews. They will come to your mass graves, and piss-­away a Sunday, shoving your martyrdom back up your ass. Such will be the afterlife, and the remembrance! To your health, buddy!26

And on and on and on in the same vein for quite literally hundreds of pages. We can note a few things about the passage. Its strategy is to render visceral the standard topoi of late 1930s anti-­Semitism, which take on a grotesque, indeed Rabelaisian, life of their own through their embodied overstatement. Hence one can understand Benjamin’s sense of its blague-­ness, a sense shared by Céline’s many defenders in the intellectual élite, a sense Benjamin communicated (unsuccessfully) to his friend Scholem when the latter complained of Céline’s anti-­Semitism. But humor, especially the humor of Rabelaisian hyperbole, is never innocent, and this example is particularly stomach-­turning. When the Frenchmen slaughtered at the front become kosher meat for carrion-­eating Jews, Céline kicks the familiar blood libel—­Jews devouring Christian blood and bones at the Passover Seder—­up a notch, making the Jew a kind of zombie craving dead flesh. Similarly with respect to sex: women, as crooked and as “traitorous” as Jews, are symbolically akin to them even as (and perhaps because) they desire their obscene, almost inhuman “fuzzy-­wuzzies.” The Rabelaisian/

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Bakhtinian grotesque body here becomes racialized and sexed in a particularly vile and lurid way, not just compatible with anti-­Semitism and misogyny but compacting the two into a new, ugly, and undeniably powerful whole. So if the notion of the anti-­Semitic blague makes no sense in the context of Sorel, its use in the case of Céline is absurd. That this was the opinion of many of his gentile friends—­André Gide, for example—­is hardly exculpatory for this refugee from a German anti-­Semitism that, it needs also to be acknowledged, he rarely commented on. Benjamin’s naïveté again, perhaps, or perhaps his overinvestment in the opinion of the French literary establishment? I’m not entirely sure, but I suspect that the whole point of the exercise is to turn back to the presence behind all of these manifestations, Baudelaire, in such a way as to deal with—­and write away—­that beloved poet’s anti-­Semitism. The recognition that Baudelaire was anti-­Semitic is an insight only of recent criticism. (Sartre is a distinguished exception, but he described Baudelaire’s anti-­Semitism in a brief if pungent phrase and then moved on.)27 Brett Bowles has observed that his engagement with the Jew partakes of a number of potent stereotypes ranging from the Wandering Jew to the Jewish prostitute, in addition to his genocidal remarks in his notebooks.28 What’s remarkable to me about all but the last is their lack of remarkableness. Both the Wandering Jew and the Jewish prostitute are staples of French (and European) literature, the former represented in Eugène Sue’s Le juif errant, which appeared in 1844; the latter in the numerous Jewish prostitutes whom we have seen not only in Balzac but throughout French literature. “Why are the brothels of modern French literature filled with Jewish prostitutes,” Maurice Samuels strikingly asks, adding Huysmans, Guy de Maupassant, and of course Proust’s Rachel to the Balzacian list.29 But Baudelaire’s Jewish prostitute is more than just your run-­of-­the-­mill purchased night-­companion. Based, scholars tell us, on Sarah, a.k.a. “la louchette,” the first prostitute Baudelaire visited and the one, they suspect, who gave him the venereal disease that contributed to his death, this unnamed prostitute is corruption personified: Une nuit que j’étais près d’une affreuse Juive, Comme au long d’un cadavre un cadavre étendu, Je me pris à songer près de ce corps vendu À la triste beauté dont mon désir se prive. —­Baudelaire, Fleurs du mal One night when, near a fearful Jewess lying, As one corpse by another corpse, I sprawled—­

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Beside the venal body I was buying The beauty that was absent I recalled. —­trans. Roy Campbell

and she then sends him into paroxysms of gorgeous praise for his ideal love, the black-­haired mulatta Jeanne Duval. As such, it is Sarah whose purchase enables Baudelaire’s verse, making him complicit (to say the least) in a market where sexuality and inspiration alike are for sale. Elsewhere in his oeuvre, Baudelaire figures himself directly as a kind of prostitute, and this is well known in no small measure because Benjamin focused intently on that conflation. As he puts it, “Baudelaire knew the true situation of the man of letters; he goes to the marketplace as a flâneur, supposedly to take a look at it but in reality to find a buyer.”30 All this is pretty standard fare, in Baudelaire and Benjamin alike. What stands out in relation to it is the genocidal frenzy of the words Benjamin finds jokey, “a fine conspiracy to be organized for the purpose of exterminating the Jewish race,” which are an exception not only to his rule but to the language of the overwhelming majority of his anti-­Semitic contemporaries.31 Drumont advocated many heinous things. But while many angry anti-­Semites chanted “morts aux juifs” in the streets, Drumont never argued for mass extermination. Neither did any other major politician in the period that I have been able to find. Baudelaire’s proto-­genocidal fantasy avant la murderous lettre stands alone—­and Benjamin’s defense of it does as well. He comments on it in an even more complex way in the Arcades Project notebooks: “Gauloiserie in Baudelaire: ‘To organize a grand conspiracy for the extermination of the Jewish race. / The Jews who are librarians and bear witness to the Redemption.’ . . . Céline has continued along these lines (Cheerful assassins!)”32 This is better, it seems to me, not only in its excellent description of Céline et al. but because of its use of the term Gauloiserie. It means similar things to blague but has a different etymological ring to it. The word denotes a joke of a bawdy nature—­which is odd here, since bawdiness is the last thing I’d attach to the comments that Benjamin is discussing. Perhaps he uses the word out of an (unconscious?) effort to connect Baudelaire’s range of responses to Jews, including the most despicable responses, to Frenchness. Originally, a French philologist friend tells me, “Gauloserie means everything that is free, licentious, away from the rules. It comes from the idea that Latin was the language of culture and refinement (also the language of domination and empire), and the Gauls symbolized lower culture and tastes.”33 The point of Benjamin’s remark is to remind us of the original, earthy quality of French anti-­Jewishness in all its manifestations: out-­and-­out genocidal Jew-­hatred, the

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language implies, is part of the essential makeup of the French people, lying there, naked and ugly, vulgar and pressing, underneath its ostensible (and imperially enforced) commitment to civilization, culture, and refinement. Walter Benjamin, Frenchman, here comes to terms with what he has to come to terms with throughout his work: that, as he famously puts it in Theses on the Philosophy of History, there is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. What he persistently failed to reckon with is that barbarism has historically been (and continued and continues to be) focused on the figure of the Jew, and nowhere more so than in the familiar-­ seeming country of Benjamin’s exile. It was a blindness that kept him too long in France, even though his friend Adorno urged him to come to New York and his friend Scholem to Jerusalem. It was a blindness that, in the end, killed him. On the Other Hand (Thinking Dialectically) If Walter Benjamin the subject evinced literally fatal flaws when he tried—­and failed—­to come to terms with French anti-­Semitism, then with Walter Benjamin écrivain, thinker, and critic things are much different, and it would be unfair to leave the subject without considering the ways in which he dealt with this aspect of the French patrimoine in his own work. For if he is a perfect representative of some of the blinkeredness of French and indeed European Jews with respect to anti-­Semitism, he is also a perfect example of one of the central theses of this book, that Jews entered a world dominated by decadence and remade its topoi into their own imaginative constructions. In Benjamin’s case this alchemy is even more impressive because he remakes some of the central tenets of two anti-­Semites into structures infused with Jewishness. What he could not do in his life, sadly, ironically, he succeeded brilliantly at doing in his writing. I am thinking here of the doctrine of correspondences. We may remember it best from Baudelaire’s great poem “Correspondances,” but its most central articulators before him were Charles Fourier, who placed a doctrine of analogies at the center of his educational theory—­we learn by seeing this as analogical to that, even when this and that are only wackily related—­and then Fourier’s philosophical heir, Alphonse Toussenel. We have dealt with Toussenel as the author of the anti-­Semitic Les juifs, rois de l’époque, but he was also a naturalist with pretensions at being a philosophe: By virtue of the principle of unity, the tree, the bird, the quadruped, the insect are so many hieroglyphs in which God wrote his will, that is to say, the

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revelation of human destinies. The man has nothing better to do than to apply his intelligence to guess these riddles that must find him the way of his happiness.34

When in Toussenel’s repackaging of these familiar notions (not entirely dissimilar, ironically, from many in kabbalistic mysticism) man does indeed do so, he finds a system of analogies and correspondences within nature, and between nature and human beings as types. Following from this there is, one might say, a correspondance between Toussenel the naturalist and Toussenel the anti-­Semite. A zoologist by trade, Toussenel sees Jews as analogous to what one might call their spirit animal or representative, the vulture. Rapacious, “a foul ghoul that does not kill but lives off the killing of others,” the usurious Jew does the work of this bird of prey. His stereotypical features make the link manifest: “A devastated accouterment, an ignoble face, a crapulous gait . . . strange resemblance of portraiture . . . between the family of the vulture and that of Jacob, and which is betrayed above all by the similarity of the cut of the nose”. The neck of the Vulture, engaging deep inside the entrails of its spoils, “is the image of the tortuous and underground ways that the usurer uses to ruin his victim and to draw the last obols of the purse of the poor worker.”35

Even though Benjamin is quite aware of  Toussenel’s anti-­Semitic writings, and quotes (on another subject than Jews, without citing its provenance) from his Les juifs, rois de l’époque (Arcades Project, 763) and, what’s more, even quotes (as if to mark them? as if to forget them?) some of the anti-­Semitic passages from that book (784), it is Toussenel the naturalist and Toussenel the fabulist of correspondences he cites more often. This citation, it seems to me, has as much to do with Benjamin’s running engagement with Baudelaire as it does with Toussenel and his development of Fourier’s doctrine of analogies. For, in a well-­known letter to the naturalist that Benjamin also reproduces in his Arcades Project, Baudelaire praises Toussenel’s notion of “universal analogy” and tells Toussenel to unshackle himself from the chains of Fourier, for without Fourier you’d still be what you are. Rational men didn’t await Fourier’s arrival on earth to realize that Nature is a language, an allegory, a mold, an embossing, if you like. We know all that, and it’s not through Fourier that we know it. We know it through our own minds and through the poets.

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But via the poets we learn that we must move through correspondence to the doctrine of artifice, which has taken the place of the doctrine of nature—­I mean the suppression of the concept of original sin. Your book arouses in me a great many dormant thoughts—­and where original sin is concerned, as well as the concept of a form molded on an idea, I’ve often thought that noxious, disgusting animals were, perhaps, merely the coming to life in a bodily form of man’s evil thoughts, the transformation of those thoughts into material shape. Thus the whole of nature participates in original sin.36

This double-­sided figure of the idea of correspondence is transformed by Baudelaire into one of his greatest and most influential poems: La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles; L’homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers. Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité, Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté, Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent. Il est des parfums frais comme des chairs d’enfants, Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies, —­Et d’autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants, Ayant l’expansion des choses infinies, Comme l’ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l’encens, Qui chantent les transports de l’esprit et des sens. Baudelaire, “Correspondances,” from Fleurs du mal The pillars of Nature’s temple are alive and sometimes yield perplexing messages; forests of symbols between us and the shrine remark our passage with accustomed eyes. Like long-­held echoes, blending somewhere else into one deep and shadowy unison as limitless as darkness and as day, the sound, the scents, the colors correspond.

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There are odors succulent as young flesh, sweet as flutes, and green as any grass, while others—­rich, corrupt, and masterful—­ possess the power of such infinite things as incense, amber, benjamin and musk, to praise the senses’ raptures and the mind’s. —­trans. Richard Howard

The first two stanzas of the poem lay out a positive vision of Toussenel’s correspondences, shuttling them from the realm of resemblance to that of the semiotic: the pillars of nature offers meaning through symbol, albeit more or less in the same way the Delphic oracle did. The poem then shifts registers, to offer synesthetic appeals—­sounds, scents, colors, echoes, sights—­evoking the sensorium of this universe of correspondences. But then in the last lines, as in Baudelaire’s letter to Toussenel, the poem moves beyond the semiotic and the sensual alike to raise the possibility of a corrupt, deliciously evil correspondance to complement the ideal ones; what Baudelaire might call the flowers of “evil”—­“rich, corrupt, masterful”—­that “sing” the possibility of both rapturous senses and that of l’esprit—­mind, spirit, even, to adopt different national terms, Geist. In its turn from the semiotic to the sensual; in its evocation of the richest, most corrupt of sense-­experiences; in its synesthetic mixing of them; and in its pouring of this rich stew into a classical frame—­the sonnet form has never been more perfectly exemplified nor more fully at odds with the material that is framed—­in all of these, “Correspondances” can be thought of as the first great poem of the decadent movement and perhaps its most perfect. Benjamin’s engagement with Toussenel’s and Baudelaire’s notion of correspondances is a prime example of the pattern I am describing in this book: Jews respond to, incorporate, and transform the products of the decadent imaginary. Strikingly, with respect to this line of thought, Benjamin does explicitly what many Jews did implicitly—­he adds Jewish thought and theological dispositions to the interpretive mix to come up with something new. Benjamin’s acts of transformation focus in his writings on mimesis and language. Correspondences and analogies are particularly important to him in two fascinating essays, the first a sketch for the second, written in 1933 and 1934 respectively: “Doctrine of the Similar” and “On the Mimetic Faculty.” In both he begins with the idea behind correspondence theory—­nature produces similarities—­ but adds to it the suggestion that correspondences are shaped by the humans

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who perceive them: “These natural correspondences, however, assume their decisive importance only in light of the consideration that they stimulate and awaken that mimetic faculty which responds to them in human beings.”37 And here especially his thought grows directly out of Toussenel, as he makes clear in a long quotation in the Arcades Project notebooks (Arcades Project, 622–­23), although he shifts his imagery from that of the bird à la Toussenel or the forest à la Baudelaire to that of another natural phenomenon: “The similarities one perceives consciously, for instance in faces, are, when compared to the countless similarities perceived unconsciously or not at all, like the enormous underwater mass of an iceberg in comparison to the small tip which one sees projecting above the waves” (“Doctrine of the Similar,” 65). He traces the history of that faculty, telling the familiar story, as old as Schiller (if not Plato) and as new as Lacan, in which the ability of the child to perceive similitude sinks with the acquisition of  language. But if  language alienates, it also retains a share of its original wholeness. Word and thing are not only distantly related but partake of each other’s essence because language, Benjamin tells us, is inherently onomatopoeic in nature—­and its “non-­sensuous similarity” to its objects extends from spoken language to the written word. Here, Benjamin’s thought is congruent with that of Jewish mysticism. In kabbalah, the letters of the aleph-­bet that compose the Torah are gifted with the transcendent presence that inspired them. But Benjamin then goes a surprising and uncharacteristic step further, into dealing with the materiality of the Hebrew aleph-­bet itself, one of the very few allusions to Hebrew I can recall in his work: And here it is worth noting that the written word . . . clarifies, in the relationship of the graphic image of words or letters to that which is meant or which gives the name, the nature of non-­sensuous similarity. Thus, for instance, the letter “beth” has the name of a house. It is therefore non-­sensuous similarity which not only creates the connection between the spoken word and what is meant; but also the connection between what is written and what is meant, as well as that between the spoken and written word. And each time in a completely new, original and undeliverable way. (“Doctrine of the Similar,” 67)

Striking here is not only Benjamin’s choice of a Hebrew letter to enact his claims, but the letter that he chooses. Bet, ‫ב‬, is commonly thought of as looking like a sideways house, as Benjamin states, or more properly, an open tent, like the one God commanded Abraham to build to welcome others into his world. But in Jewish mysticism, it means much more. Aleph is the first letter of

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the Hebrew alphabet, but the Torah begins instead with bet, its first word being bereshit, ‫בראשית‬, “in the Beginning.” The bet therefore signifies that which comes after that which is not, the beginning of time and space, while the aleph prophesies all that is to follow. It is significant, kabbalists tell us, that in the beginning of the Torah there is an open house, a dwelling, a tent. And one might add to this that the aleph, as powerful a symbol as it is in kabbalistic cosmology, is a letter appropriated by Christians to designate their three-­part God, the logos. For them the beginning was the word made flesh, not the blessed tent open to all wanderers. Jews, by contrast, are people of the bet—­eternally seeking home, finding it in language. All of these meanings, I think, are circulating in Benjamin’s text, and it’s important to see how he got to their revolving correlation there. Far from merely picking pieces up from the anti-­Semite Toussenel and the anti-­Semite Baudelaire, he employs their thought to craft a cosmology, a theory of language, and a theory of writing that is Judeocentric. To their symbolistic and ultimately decadent (in the technical sense of the word) understanding of correspondances, he adds an account of language and of writing that brings what he calls their “non-­sensuous similarity” into contiguity with Jews and Jewishness, with the essence, in fact, of Jewish mysticism, and even, movingly, with predications of secular Jewish identity. It’s a brilliant dialectical maneuver, one that accomplishes what neither Benjamin nor his contemporaries were fully able to do in life: the creating of a collocation of the European and the Jew in a structure of similarity that includes without isolating or eliminating either. Deconstructive and post-­deconstructive critics, themselves deeply indebted to Benjamin, would call this structure a chain of metonymies. Let us call it instead a constellation, and hope, perhaps against hope, that its stars govern the temper of our own times as they failed to do for Benjamin’s.

Chapter Seven

Dybbuks, Vampires, and Other Fin-­de-­Siècle Jewish Phantasms

The fin-­de-­siècle was a sea brimming with monsters. Oscar Wilde’s sphinx sported with Gustave Moreau’s and cavorted with Odilon Redon’s half-­men, half-­arachnids and one-­eyed globules. (In Joris-­Karl Huysmans’s À rebours, arch-­aesthete Des Esseintes hangs works by both artists on the walls of the chateau he retires to, closing himself off from the world in an artificial paradise that turns into an aesthetic prison.) In Walter Pater’s hands, even the Mona Lisa became a siren, older than the rocks on which she sat, luring men to their death by art. (So, mutatis mutandis, did Odette in Swann’s Way.) The fin-­de-­siècle was a time of folktales too, from Henrik Ibsen’s mountain kings to the leprechauns of  W. B. Yeats and The Celtic Twilight. Wilde repackaged these tales for a wider audience—­his lovely fairy tales, written for his sons, remained enormously popular even after his trial, disgrace, and retreat into oblivion. Jews were part of this process. Wilde’s confrère Marcel Schwob wrote a wildly popular novella, Le livre de Monelle (1894), that retold the story of a young prostitute with whom he had been in love, weaving into the narrative fairy tales and folk legends associated with her. Anthropologist Joseph Jacobs moved fluidly between his fine technical work—­a student of Francis Galton’s, he offered statistically exacting as well as imaginatively constructed work on the nature of Jewish intelligence, Jewish occupations, and Jewish marital practices—­and his collecting of folklore from England, Europe, and even India. As Jacobs’s experience suggests, the road from folklore studies to ethnography was broad and very much a two-­way street. And it turned more and more

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frequently to Jews as subjects as well as creators. Writers, intellectuals, and social reformers of both Jewish and gentile origins began to take an interest in the enormous Jewish minorities in Eastern and Southern Europe—­1.2 million in the Austro-­Hungarian Empire, 5.8 million in the Russian Empire—­and in their trove of narratives. Most significant among these perhaps was Leopold von Sacher-­Masoch—­yes, that Sacher-­Masoch—­who collected folk stories from Galicia, in part aided by his tenure as imperial police commissioner in Lemberg, now Lviv, Ukraine. A sympathetic liberal on ethnic questions, Sacher-­Masoch anthologized  Jewish folk tales and customary practices in several volumes in the 1880s. Although technically this writing fits into a genre known as “Dorfgeschichten” (village tales, a genre that frequently retold narratives of  Jewish villages as well as gentile ones), it also is positioned on the cusp between folkloristic (“fairy tale”) and proto-­ethnographic perspectives. Thus, for example, early on in Der Judenraphael: Geschichten aus Galicia (1882), Sacher-­Masoch asks his reader to suspend disbelief with respect to matters having to do with the Hasidim: All these things I’ve told you must seem like fairy tales to an educated audience. I understand that completely, but I haven’t been telling you fairy tales; they’re facts, and I shall attempt to explain these strange facts to you. How could such a strange, fantastic sect arise in Galicia? Are they fools, the Chassidim, or swindlers? They’re neither one nor the other. I was the first novelist to try to explain a person and his thoughts, feelings, and behavior not just in psychological and physiological terms, but also in terms of the nature he was born into, the nature he grew up in, the nature that surrounds him, and the nature where he is just one member, like a tree or an animal. I have also tried to explain people by means of the relationships and the conditions in which they live.1

This very project—­to “explain” people—­and especially Jewish people—­“by means of the relationships and the conditions in which they live”—­became a central task of an increasingly scientific ethnographic project not only in Galicia but even more prominently in Czarist Russia. Seth Wolitz is not exaggerating when he writes that at the turn of the century, “Russia was awash in collectors of  its folk-­artistic heritage and sponsored ethnographic expeditions collecting folk songs and folk art.”2 The guiding belief underlying these endeavors, Nathaniel Knight explains, was the quest for byt—­“a concept covering all of daily life from tools and implements to customary laws and rituals. . . . The concept of byt—­the totality of material

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and cultural elements comprising a particular way of  life—­was unique to Russian ethnography.”3 In search of byt, Russian ethnographers like Viacheslav Nikolaevich Tenishev and Olga Semyonova Tian-­Shanskaiai not only observed the life-­world of Russian peasants (the latter in the village near her family estate); they also developed extensive questionnaires designed to ferret out peasants’ practices and belief system.4 Not all of these efforts used questionnaires or focused on Jews, but many did. Most important of these ethnographers was Shloyme-­Zanvl Rappoport, better known under the pseudonym An-­Sky. Originally a Russian-­centered revolutionary—­a Populist, in the jargon of the time, that is someone with a Tolstoyan faith in the peasant-­dominated Volk, or people—­An-­Sky became focused on the Jewish masses, for whom he had previously evinced indifference or contempt, during the years he spent in exile in Paris, roughly 1892 to 1901. As for Theodor Herzl, Dreyfus’s martyrdom and the perdurability of anti-­Semitism it revealed in France, ostensibly the nation with the most tolerant attitudes toward Jews, moved An-­sky to greater Jewish self-­identification and he returned to Russia in the revolutionary year of 1905 eager to map, and hence understand, the Russo-­Jewish nation. To this end, he organized an ethnographic expedition that traveled into the Pale of Settlement—­the territories in the western Russian Empire to which Jews were confined—­in the early 1910s, to seek answers to an enormous questionnaire (the answers having been lost, all we have, Jewishly enough, are the questions, as Nathaniel Deutsch has observed) and gather, along with them, a collection of songs, folk beliefs, stories, and customs that to this day provides the deepest insight into the culture of the small market towns and rural backwaters we call shtetls (shtetlakh). His endeavor had a hodgepodge of motives—­the desire to know or understand Jewish peasant Others in their full primitivism; the desire to generate a canon of texts, narratives, and songs that would compose (in David Roskies’s formulation) an oral “Torah” of the Jewish people; a desire to describe and encompass the Russo-­Jewish byt.5 The endeavor, in theory, fell firmly on both sides of the ethnography/folklore divide. But its intra-­Jewish dimension inclined An-­Sky away from the ethnographic to the folkloristic approach: “Collecting folklore,” he asserted, for us is a task that is not only scholarly but also national and timely. In order to educate our children in a national Jewish spirit, we must also give them folktales, folksongs, in short, that which forms the basis of children’s education for other peoples. Of course, we must not deny the great importance of

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anthropological work but at this moment it does not have for us such vital importance because anthropological data is not disappearing like our folklore.6

Aiming at the revival of the Jewish nation by means of culture, language, and narratives, An-­Sky fit himself into a Herderian paradigm that had become increasingly superseded in the decades of scientizing work that preceded his efforts—­not only in America or England or Germany, but also in Russia, where colleagues were already moving on to a more methodologically rigorous ethnography. Nevertheless, or perhaps therefore, An-­Sky’s work lives on. While the objects he assembled and the photographs he collected were neglected, dispersed to museums and left to molder in their basements, his posthumous reputation is forever sutured to a play he crafted out of the folk narratives he collected: The Dybbuk: Between Two Worlds. Originally written in Russian, translated by him into Yiddish twice, the second time on the basis of the Hebrew version by the great poet Hayim Nahman Bialik (An-­Sky had lost the first Yiddish version), the play has been an audience favorite since its premiere in Poland in 1920. The “Between Two Worlds” subtitle refers to the plot, in which the spirit of Khonen, a dead young student, possesses his beloved, Leah, who is preparing to be married to a merchant, ultimately carrying her away with him into death. It refers as well to the status of Jews in Russia, torn between their traditional values and beliefs and the new ones represented by the mercantile spirit of Leah’s betrothed. And it could also refer to An-­Sky himself, a mediator between the Jewish and Russian folk or between the Jewish world and that of the Russian intelligentsia, or both. Or it could refer to An-­Sky’s status as mediator between the fin-­de-­siècle culture of  Europe and that of the Jewish world—­defining him as a figure who, like Walter Benjamin, entered into dialogue with the former in order to enrich and complicate the latter. I shall be arguing below, as I did for Benjamin in my previous chapter, that by placing The Dybbuk in the one context in which scholars have not located it fully—­that of aestheticism/decadence/fin-­de-­siècle in general—­we can recognize new and different elements in it, and hence in An-­Sky. To do so is to see his play more fully invested in a European modernity that An-­Sky experienced immediately in Paris but that extended well beyond it, as far as Ibsen’s Oslo, Bram Stoker’s London, Wagner’s Bayreuth. In form and content, I am arguing, The Dybbuk is not only a product of An-­Sky’s negotiation between two worlds in which he lived but another example of the mutually generative relation between Jewish culture and that of the fin-­de-­siècle.

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But this is hardly the end of the story. With all due respect to those who would nominate the Golem as the Ur-­myth of Jewish identity formation (scholar Maya Barzilai and novelist Michael Chabon among them), I nevertheless cleave to Israeli novelist A. B. Yehoshua’s argument that the dybbuk narrative is the central narrative of  Jewish life. There’s ample evidence to support this claim: there have been numerous translations of An-­Sky’s play into different media: theater, television, ballet, and film. And fiction: there’s no better proof of Yehoshua’s words than his own 2001 novel The Liberated Bride. That novel’s protagonist, Rivlin, is a professor of Arabic at Haifa who sees The Dybbuk at a cultural festival in Ramallah in the West Bank, a play with uncanny echoes in his own life and that of his daughter-­in-­law Galya and that of the Arab student who translated it. The between-­two-­worldness of this novel shoots between male and female, Israeli and Palestinian, endogamy and exogamy in a fluid process in which Israeli and Palestinian identities are negotiated with respect to the narratives of fin-­de-­siècle Europe. Yehoshua, like An-­Sky before him, uses the figure of the dybbuk to limn two worlds in dialectical relation, merging them, if they are to be merged at all, in a complex amalgam made possible by the topoi of the Jewish decadence.

The Decadent


In her splendid biography of An-­Sky, Gabriella Safran tells us that while in semi-­exile in Paris, he became briefly transfixed by the dominant aesthetic practices of his temporary home. He was fascinated with French popular music—­indeed, claimed to want to write a book about it—­but offended by its flagrant xenophobia and abundant invocation of double entendres. Worried, one assumes, by his own closed-­mindedness with respect to the latter, “he claimed to go to ‘a café of the Decadents’ in hopes that the ‘ignorance’ that had prevented him from appreciating Decadence would finally leave him. But there he found most of the performances tedious and risqué, and he was happy only at the end, when a man sang ‘simply and with feeling.’ ”7 This anecdote suggests how fraught the issue of art was for An-­Sky. After all, he was not a prude—­his recurring pattern was to have fruitless affairs with women, usually married, and after they ended to sink into erotic depressions. But he seemed disappointed by the lack of connection between popular song and purity of spirit. What he encountered in Paris were culturally decadent populations whose decline he saw as measured in their representational practices, and he felt relieved only when he encountered naïve and feeling song.

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Yet those representational practices clearly fascinated him, drawing him to a café for further examination.8 This return seems to me to suggest a pattern that manifests itself in The Dybbuk, where An-­Sky’s fascination with fin-­de-­ siècle and/or decadent culture is repeatedly evident, in ways that critics have sporadically but not fully investigated. I focus on these briefly, not so much to discern sources for the play different from the results of the ethnographic expedition as to suggest the dialectical relation of An-­Sky’s famous work to the European fin-­de-­siècle culture he experienced so ambivalently in the crucial decade before its development. Bringing An-­Sky’s play into contiguity with contemporaneous texts puts its own aims in sharp relief, revealing its true role as a mediator between the mirroring worlds of Jewish and European culture, each engaged in similar struggles between tradition and modernity in representational and life practices. To be sure, fascination with the undead had long proliferated in the popular lore of both Jewish and gentile communities, ascending into full articulation with the rise of print culture, in the eighteenth century in the case of Europe, later by and large for Jews. Christine Worobec, in her fascinating book Possessed: Women, Witches, and Demons in Imperial Russia, shows just how widespread was the phenomenon of women claiming to be possessed by demons, a phenomenon so common it was given a name, klikushestvo.9 Narratives of the undead performing these kinds of possessions spread sporadically throughout England and Europe, reaching epidemic status in Central and Eastern Europe in the eighteenth century. But their deepest afterlife has been literary. Dracula (1897), by Oscar Wilde’s friend Bram Stoker, is only the most famous of a series of vampire novels that emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including Sheridan LeFanu’s lesbian vampire romp Carmilla (1871–­1872). In these texts, men ravish women (and women ravish women) either from beyond the grave or with preternatural powers of influence, powers which, in An-­Sky’s play and Stoker’s novel alike, are indistinguishable from sexual love. I’m fascinated by Stoker’s novel in this context, and not only because it is inextricably connected with a number of factors that also come together in The Dybbuk. To be clear, there’s no question of direct influence here, but the comparison is mutually illuminating. Count Dracula, for example, has been read, most powerfully by Judith Halberstam, as a version of the stereotypical Jew.10 His appearance—­pale face, elongated nose, sharp teeth—­could come out of a text by an arch anti-­Semite like Frenchman Édouard Drumont, who states that Jews can be recognized by “the curved nose, the flashing eye, the protruding ears, the square teeth.”11 When he is cut late in the novel, the knife slashes only

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his pocket and coins fall out as if he were bleeding money. And as Daniel Pick has written, his movement from the East to the West is paradigmatic of the vast and disorienting immigration of putatively degenerate Ostjuden to London, Paris, and other cities.12 There are reasons to contest and complicate this analysis, as Halberstam herself does, although I myself cleave to its basic outlines. But at least in the first portions of the novel, I would reorient this reading. I would read Dracula as a text that comports to the outlines of an An-­Skyish pseudo-­ethnography via the focalizing figure of  Jonathan Harker, who is at the center of the first quarter of the novel and a crucial character thereafter. Readers of the novel will remember that Harker is an estate representative sent to Transylvania to negotiate the move of Count Dracula to his new digs in London. In so doing, he also acts as a kind of ethnologist, picking up clues about the strange land into which he is traveling and portraying it as space of primitive otherness, full of yarns, folk beliefs, superstitions—­indeed, as with An-­Sky’s Pale, “every known superstition in the world is gathered into the horseshoe of the Carpathians, as if it were the center of some sort of imaginative whirlpool; so my stay may be very interesting. (Mem., I must ask the Count all about them.)”13 Harker prepares for his journey in the British Library, researching the history and customs of the area and identifying its distinctive ethnic mix: “Saxons in the south, and mixed with them the Wallachs, who are descendants of the Dacians; Magyars in the west; and Szekelys in the east and north. I am going among the latter, who claim to be descended from Attila and the Huns” (Dracula, 8). When he arrives, he gives us minute descriptions of  languages he does not speak, of food that is novel to him (“I had for breakfast more paprika, and a sort of porridge of maize flour which they said was ‘mamaliga,’ and eggplant stuffed with forcemeat, a very excellent dish, which they called ‘impletata.’ (Mem., get recipe for this also)” [8]), and of the natives’ exotic dress (“The women looked pretty, except when you got near them, but they were very clumsy about the waist. They all had full white sleeves of some kind or other, and most of them had big belts with a lot of strips of something fluttering from them like the dresses in a ballet, but of course petticoats under them” [9]). He adds nationality to the list of relevant characteristics (“The strangest figures we saw were the Slovaks, who are more barbarian than the rest. . . . They are, however, I am told, very harmless and rather wanting in self-­assertion” [9]) and notes the Transylva­ nians’ odd behaviors (including the abundant crosses the villagers make when Dracula’s name is mentioned). Once arrived at Castle Dracula, Harker encounters the yet stranger customs to which Dracula himself is given, customs the count explains away in

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ethnological terms: he articulates the ethnographer’s credo when he says in his first meeting with Harker, “We are in Transylvania, and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things” (28). He glosses the odd behavior of his countrymen with a folktale: the coachman’s behavior is explained by the story that “on a certain night of the year—­last night, in fact, when all evil spirits are supposed to have unchecked sway—­a blue flame is seen over any place where treasure has been concealed” (28), but the people are too ignorant to actually find it. And he offers a two-­page-­long narrative of his own people, the Szekelys, and their intricate interplay with the other ethnic invaders. No native informant could have informed more. Layering Stoker against An-­Sky in this way offers a suggestive homology: the ethnographic observer, committed to and using the tools of reason and knowledge, goes to invigilate the Volk but discovers something deeper, more powerful, more uncanny in the process. In Stoker’s case, this uncanny force is named Dracula; in An-­Sky’s case, the dybbuk, which emerges from its folk origins to become, as Yehoshua reminds us, one of, if not the, central narrative of Jewish life. And there are diagetic similarities as well as these extradiagetic ones. Dracula is a malign version of An-­Sky’s Khonen, the dead beloved of the beautiful bride Leah who haunts and ultimately possesses her—­or is it vice versa? Moreover, Dracula’s uncanny power is opposed to fonts of traditional power and knowledge—­and as we shall see, so is Khonen’s. Establishing Dracula’s power takes up roughly the first two-­thirds of the novel, as he moves from Transylvania to England and attacks and ultimately vampirizes Lucy, best friend of Harker’s intended, Mina. But exorcising Dracula takes up much of its last third and, as Hugh Stevens has suggested to me, doing so involves just about every form of  knowledge—­and knowledge production—­that late-­Victorian England had on offer. The Dutch doctor Van Helsing, outfitted with a curious accent rendered only intermittently by Stoker (not the finest stylist of his era), is called in to use his medical knowledge to save Lucy, yet she is slowly being consumed by Dracula’s power, wasting away even as Van Helsing and her three suitors offer transfusions of their own blood. After death, rebirth as a vampire, and her subsequent execution (the classic one—­a stake is driven into her heart by her intended—­to which is added, in a mere subordinate clause, a beheading by Van Helsing), a group forms to combat Dracula that consists of Lucy’s three suitors plus Van Helsing, Mina, and Harker. They pursue Dracula by accumulating data about him: as Mina says, “in the struggle which we have before us to rid the earth of this horrible monster we must have all the knowledge and all the help which we can get” (237).

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This knowledge is acquired in multiple forms—­through newspaper accounts of strange goings-­on; forensic investigations of Dracula’s real-­estate transactions; scientific study of Renfield, the mysterious fly-­eating mental patient and Dracula devotee; collections of folklore and other historical documents—­and through the use of multiple technologies: for example, Mina transcribes observations recorded on phonographic cylinders in shorthand, then types them up. Mina realizes that the way to defeat Dracula is to create a text about him, and to that end she collates and curates all of these clippings, reports, journals, narratives, and so on, “knitting together in chronological order every scrap of evidence they have” (240). Which is to say, she is creating a palimpsestic text isomorphic to the novel itself, which is similarly constructed out of  journal entries, newspaper reports, forensic documents, shipping manifests, and the like. Although Dracula attacks Mina, she is relatively immune to his infection—­the difference with Lucy being that Dracula has fed Mina his blood rather than the other way around. She is, however, placed in a kind of trance or dreamlike state that allows her to see him and the band to locate him, killing him in the proper fashion. The band employs all the mechanisms of fin-­de-­siècle knowing—­from medicine to science to folklore to the new art of hypnosis (given its evocation of sexual hysteria in these Dracula-­bitten women, can Freud be far behind?) to dreaming to the making of art. It takes all of these to defeat Dracula—­who manages to resist his pursuers, almost, to the end, until he is tracked down in his lair via Mina’s hypnotically induced geo-­locational abilities. The Dybbuk too is a play about the contestation between different orders of knowledge and conflicting means of knowing. The play is saturated with myths, legends, folk sayings, and folk beliefs, all cited by characters who instruct, debate, inform, or challenge each other with them. (What Stoker’s band knows about Dracula, too, is a matter of non-­canonical knowledge: “All we have to go upon are traditions and superstitions” [254], says Van Helsing as he tries to instruct his group in the ways of vampires.) To a certain extent, these characters serve as channels for the articulation of narratives and pieces of folk wisdom An-­Sky picked up during the course of his ethnographic expedition. Leah, for example, is haunted by the story of a bride and bridegroom slaughtered on their way to the altar in a pogrom—­a folktale uncovered by An-­Sky and apparently so oft-­repeated as to be a Russo-­Jewish myth or meme. So too with folklore, largely supernatural in nature: “If the bride is left alone before the ceremony, evil spirits come and carry her off ” and “The dead come to the synagogue to pray at midnight. . . . They come to finish up the prayers that they had no time to recite.”14 These are not just inert bits of folk wisdom bolted into the play by the ethnographer/playwright; rather they are dialectically

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articulated: contested, supplemented, quarreled with, with perhaps only one authoritative voice being heard, that of the Messenger, a supernatural-­inflected character whose contributions to the discussions tell us much about dybbuk-­ lore and the fate of spirits in general. He is, in other words, the play’s version of  Van Helsing, with knowledge of mystical matters substituting for that of the medical profession. But in the end neither Messenger nor doctor can fully account for the supernatural force or event they are attempting to explain. The play is thus less a rendering of an exotic, long-­past culture than a portrait of culture facing a world in rapid transformation, searching for explanations, governing paradigms, and forms of certain knowledge. There is no apodictic knowledge or uncontested value to be ascertained in the world of The Dybbuk, any more than there is a firm line between natural and supernatural. The play opens with a discussion of the wealth of various famous rabbis by the Idlers, serving as a kind of  Jewish Greek chorus and topping each other in their hyperbolic claims for individual rabbis. But this soon turns into an argument between those who would praise the rabbis’ earthly magnificence—­ “True grandeur should wear the finest garments”—­and those, including the Messenger, who think that worldly goods are overrated—­“True greatness doesn’t need a lovely wardrobe” (6). The play then segues into a long story from an Idler about a rich man who ignores a rabbi’s words until the rabbi converts a whip into a snake and begins to strangle him with it. The tensions that are announced here run throughout the rest of the play, emerging in fact as its structuring conflict: between wealth and moral value, rich people and godly ones. The revelation upon which the play turns is that the prosperous merchant Sender has violated his promise to his less successful best friend, Nisan, that their two children should be wed, not only forgetting about it but choosing to marry off Leah to a wealthy man in order to guarantee her comfortable future. But since Leah’s marriage to Khonen has been beshert—­fated to be—­from before either of them was born, his spirit’s possession of her is grounded in, and hence affirms, a value that exists outside economic concerns, even ones that are well intended. The class-­based critique of Sender’s materialism is clear. But as is often the case in the play, no one position prevails. Sender is reproved by a rabbinic court, sentenced to give up half his fortune but allowed to keep the other half—­a judgment that admits of both the vices and the virtues of material wealth. In many other ways, The Dybbuk shows religious authority to be multiple, contested, and variable. When the distinguished rabbi Azriel arrives to exorcise Khonen, he delivers a multiparagraph speech outlining the tenets of his faith, another way the play has of delineating Jewish popular beliefs for a

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cosmopolitan audience. But no sooner are these words out of his mouth than he starts doubting his own authority to utter them. A hanger-­on praises him, saying, “Rebbe, the whole world comes to you,” and he starts musing: The whole world. . . . A blind world. . . . Blind sheep following a blind shepherd. [ . . . ] I’ve been sitting in the rebbe’s chair for forty years now, and I’m still not sure that I am the emissary of God—­Blessed be He . . . . There are times when I feel so close to Him, and I’m not assailed by any doubts, I feel confident, and I have power over the higher worlds. But there are also times when I lose my confidence, and then I’m as tiny and feeble as a baby. And then I’m the one who needs help. (35)

Azriel, to be sure, is never in doubt about the God whose emissary he worries about his fitness to be. But perhaps one of the things on his mind here is the challenge to traditional rabbinic authority by the adherents of kabbalah, the mystical brand of Jewish faith and practice that, while nourished for centuries, leapt to the forefront of Eastern European Jewish life with the messianic revolt of kabbalist Sabbatai Zevi in 1665. The channel for these sentiments is Khonen, who in the first act of the play declares his identity as a kabbalist in Talmud-­bokher’s clothing. Against the kind of knowledge that comes from the Talmud—­from text and commentary—­“The Talmud is all cold and dry. . . . The Commentators are all old and dry”—­kabbalah offers an ecstatic vision that transcends this desiccated approach to the world: Beneath the earth there is another world just like our surface world. It has fields and forests, oceans and deserts, towns and villages. . . . Yet one thing is missing from that netherworld: It doesn’t have a lofty sky with fiery lightning and a dazzling sun . . . And that’s what the Talmud is like. The Talmud is profound, it’s grand and splendid But it shackles us to the earth, it doesn’t let us soar to the heavens. The Cabala, however! . . . The Cabala! . . .  It tears the soul away from the earth! It carries us to God’s highest palaces, it opens all the heavens to our eyes.

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It takes us straight to Paradise, it draws us all the way to endlessness! (12–­13)

Moreover, kabbalah, Khonen insists, embraces sin as well as virtue, and the sin he has in mind is sexual desire: And if you purify that sin [of lust] in powerful fire, the vilest sinfulness becomes the most exalted holiness —­it becomes the Song of Songs. The Song of Songs. You are beautiful, my beloved, you are beautiful. (15)

And as he begins to recite from arguably the most beautiful book in the Bible, by providential coincidence that is no coincidence, Leah walks in and he is overcome by love at first sight. So, it later turns out, is she. Two ways of knowing, processing, and understanding the world: on the one hand, the rationalist, logic-­chopping mode of the Talmud; on the other, the mystical visions of kabbalah. The former is affiliated with marriage, family, and other such normative values; the latter with mystical faith, possession, eroticism, and love. The adherents of rabbinical Judaism, like the band who pursue Dracula, use their forces to invigilate and expel the dybbuk by invoking the forms of knowledge and action at their disposal. Convening a rabbinical court, Azriel questions and then finds the spirit Khonen guilty of, as it were, illegal trespass; he attempts to compel Khonen to leave by invoking every spell and command at his disposal. Stubborn, insistent, and in love, Khonen refuses, even under threat of excommunication that would condemn his soul to wander in the void forever. No one seemingly can understand his tenacity nor effectuate his departure until another rabbi arrives to reveal disquieting dreams he has been having about Khonen, dreams that reveal Sender’s betrayal, his reneging on his promise to Khonen’s father, Nisan; once these are added into the mix, and Sender is judged and reproved, balance can be restored, justice can be done, and Khonen can be, and is, expelled. As in Dracula, the forces of the normative must be supplemented by those of dream in order to make events happen in the “real” world. There couldn’t be a more deeply fin-­de-­ siècle structure. Unless it is the denouement of the play, which shoots off into an entirely different direction. It is often forgotten in the criticism that the play doesn’t end with the exorcism of Khonen. To the contrary: some of its most powerful

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action and most beautiful language occur after that exorcism. Extracted from Leah but still confined to a magic circle next to her, Khonen speaks in his own voice of  his love; and she speaks back hers to him. The dialogue between them is daring, gorgeous, and ultimately heartbreaking: khonen’s voice: I smashed all barriers, I conquered death, I flouted all the laws of time and space. [ . . . ] I left your body so I could return to your soul. leah: Come back to me, my bridegroom, my husband . . . I’ll carry you in my heart as a dead man And in dreams at night we’ll cradle our dead babies. We’ll sew shirts for them, we’ll sing lullabies to them Weep, oh weep, my babies sweet, No cradle for you and no sheet. (51)

Khonen’s proclamation of a love that transcends body and speaks from the soul takes the language of passion used earlier and pushes it to its ultimate—­ and heretical—­limit. This is not the language of the Song of Songs he invoked earlier in the play; it’s not in fact part of the Jewish tradition at all, coming closer to the language of courtly love at its most extravagant. Even more boundary-­challenging is Leah’s response. It is also often ignored by critics of the play that she is not possessed when she chooses Khonen over life, at least not in the bodily sense; there’s some suggestion that their two souls will live on in perpetuity. To do so she must rebel against the expectations not just of her family and her community but also of her sex, and against the assumptions that go along with all of these. This choice is made by means of her language. “Come back to me, my bridegroom, my husband,” she cries; in the movement from “bridegroom” to “husband” she conducts her own wedding ceremony, marrying him by means of a performative utterance in the classic Austinian sense—­indeed, as feminist critics often remind us, many of J. L. Austin’s examples of the performative come from the wedding ceremony (e.g., “I do” and “I now pronounce you man and wife.”) To be more accurate, here the ceremony is performed in the blank, the pause, the interstices between the words “bridegroom” and “husband.” Leah, on her way to being whatever she becomes (spirit, ghost, or what Dracula would call “the undead”), marries Khonen not in words but by means of her silence, which houses the fiat that words can only ratify.

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It is appropriate that she does so. In her world there are no words for what she is doing, for in choosing Khonen and love over life, she revolts against all the norms that govern her identity as a Jewish woman. If there is one imperative for women in traditional shtetl society, after all, it is to childbearing and child-­ rearing: the injunction to be fruitful and multiply is honored in Jewish religious and secular ideologies and customs alike. Sexuality within the bounds of marriage is in traditional Jewish culture, as it is not in the surrounding Christian cultures, an untrammeled good, since it conduces to procreation (and is a lot of fun along the way). Yohanan Petrovsky-­Shtern summarizes this view by quoting Yiddish proverbs that are unwittingly relevant to An-­Sky’s play: “Since sex is about family and procreation, and since pirya ve-­rivya iz di beste mitzve—­‘be fruitful and multiply’—­is the best commandment, one should consistently and selflessly dedicate oneself to its implementation. A mes iz potur fin pirya ve-­ rivya: ‘only the dead are exempt from this mitzvah.’ ”15 But not for these two, whose physical bodies are respectively dead and about to become so. Their union is understood to be both physical and metaphysical. The merging of two souls, a union that is equated with sexuality but transcends it, enacts a passion that is outside the imperative to affirm family and procreation—­outside reproduction, that is to say, in every sense of the word. Hence these beautiful, sad words in which Leah says farewell to her and Khonen’s unborn children, which accompany her affirmative decision to become one with him. Leah casts her lot not in line with any traditional Jewish prototype that I know, but rather with that of fin-­de-­siècle heroines who similarly defy convention to affirm their own agency, often courting death in doing so. I’m thinking here (along with Seth Wolitz, the only critic to mention her) of Isolde in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde as the arch-­example of this topos, and one of the central icons of the fin-­de-­siècle.16 I’m also thinking of Nora, the feminist heroine of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, who chooses self-­determination rather than her (born) children when she leaves her husband. Such too, mutatis mutandis, is the case with Lucy in Dracula. Although her friend Mina survives Dracula’s bite to marry Harker and bear children, it’s clear that these were never on Lucy’s radar. When Lucy turns into a fully sexualized monster—­“The sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness” (225)—­she speaks to her fiancé in language that prefigures the words Leah uses with Khonen: “Come to me, Arthur. Leave these others and come to me. My arms are hungry for you. Come, and we can rest together. Come, my husband, come!” (225–­26). Like Leah, Lucy creates a completed sexual and amatory world by a speech act—­one linked to death. For here, as in The Dybbuk, fiancé becomes husband by means of an unspoken fiat, and a woman

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asserts as her own the magical power of naming even though—­especially because—­she has been transformed into a monster. Leah, Lucy, Isolde, Nora: all challenge a patriarchal culture organized by the ordering of passion and sexuality into marriage and the commitment to reproduction and child-­rearing; they court death (or in Nora’s case, divorce) in order to affirm that decision. The Dybbuk thus takes its place alongside other spectacular fictions of female agency that mark the fin-­de-­siècle and define its crucial role as a maker of modernity. In so doing, it reminds us that An-­Sky’s Jewish world, no less than the world of his gentile counterparts, was a place where new imaginings were being forged in an ecstatic union of passion, death, language, and art.

Afterlives of the Undead As I suggested earlier, the dybbuk narrative comes to be central to the Jewish cultural imaginary, at least after 1920. An-­Sky’s The Dybbuk is, says a Palestinian character in A. B. Yehoshua’s 2001 novel The Liberated Bride, the Jewish Hamlet.17 It became so largely through the famous productions of the Habima theater company (a company fostered by Stanislavski’s Moscow Art Theatre that ultimately became the national theater of the new state of Israel), but productions of this polyglot play could be found in multiple languages throughout the Jewish world. These included productions in New York City, at the Yiddish Art Theatre in 1922, just two years after its first performance, and in English at the Neighborhood Playhouse in 1925, as well as in Moscow, Warsaw, London, and elsewhere. The text soon became iconic, representative of the world of Eastern European Jewry at large—­precisely the reading I’ve been criticizing in all of the above. As I have observed elsewhere, George Gershwin announced in 1927 that he planned to write an opera based on the play, an enterprise that was going to lead him to Eastern Europe, where he would study Jewish music. It’s clear from the descriptions of the work that he had gone well into this research when he learned that acquiring rights to the play had become impossible. (Blocked in his endeavor, he went off to South Carolina to study African American song instead, and returned with Porgy and Bess.) Similarly, Jerome Robbins conceived the idea for a ballet version of The Dybbuk, in collaboration with Leonard Bernstein, after his Broadway triumph with Fiddler on the Roof, for which he went to Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn to watch Hasidic dancers. He extended his researches to create a different, much less successful ballet.18 He and Gershwin acted as pseudo An-­Skys, engaged in their own ethnographic endeavors, mining the tradition for dance, song, and

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story as a way of connecting themselves as Jews to that tradition. This impulse extends to our contemporary moment: the Coen brothers film A Serious Man (2009) opens with a longish prologue set “Somewhere in Eastern Europe,” complete with klezmer music, in which the great Yiddish theater–­trained actor Fyvush Finkel plays a character who may or may not be a dybbuk, thereby bringing the film’s invocation of the conundrum of quantum physics into line with Jewish mysticism. As the phenomenon continued to surface, it came to mean many different things. The 1937 film, helmed by the brilliant gay director Michał Waszyński, for example, emphasized the homoerotic elements of the text. Adaptation gives way to reimagination: Ha-­Dybbuk B’sde Hatapuchim Hakdoshim (1997; The Dybbuk of the Holy Apple Field) transplants the story to Israel. Contemporary New York is the setting of a mediocre horror film, The Unborn (2009), with Gary Oldman as a rabbi, of all things, where the encounter with a dybbuk leads to a resuscitation of the Holocaust via the ministrations of  Josef  Mengele and the fate of concentration-­camp twins. I would also cite a brilliant Polish film, Demon (2015), in which a dybbuk takes possession of the groom at a wedding to resuscitate—­literally—­the buried memories of the Holocaust. (There’s also a Malayalam-­language Indian film, Ezra [2016], which I have not seen.) The narrative branches out over time, but it increasingly comes to designate the haunting of contemporary culture by historical memories and unprocessed trauma. The dybbuk narrative as an example of the fusion of fin-­de-­siècle and Jewish cultures doesn’t always make it into these articulations. The closest, I think, is Waszyński’s film, which not only brings to the text the topos of alternative sexuality so crucial to the tradition we have been studying but also deploys the visual modalities of Expressionism, with its exaggerated camera angles and abundant use of shadows, a modality that was born at the end of the period we have been considering and fostered in many of the venues in which it emerged. But the text that is nearest in spirit to the nexus between The Dybbuk and the fin-­de-­siècle is Yehoshua’s The Liberated Bride, for this novel comes closest to exploring, as the title indicates, the relation between new inscriptions of gendered and sexed identity in a fluid and changing social milieu. Yehoshua animates these topoi as a means of negotiating, or failing to negotiate, the conjunction between two worlds—­male and female, Israeli and Palestinian—­in a way that takes up An-­Sky’s imperatives and translates them into a new key. The Liberated Bride is a rich palimpsest of a novel, not without its own ethnographic ambitions. Its protagonist is Yochanan Rivlin, a sixty-­year-­old professor of Arabic culture who proudly refers to himself with the pre-­Saidian

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term “Orientalist.” (He’s profoundly aware of his own anachronism in the field, mediated most forcefully through his relations with a younger theoretically inflected colleague whose tenure committee he secretly chairs and whose career he subverts by transferring, again secretly, the tenure case from his own sympathetic department to a less welcoming one.) Rivlin’s scholarship focuses on the civil wars in Algeria, searching for the causes of the extreme violence they brought in their wake; but his teaching brings him into contact with Palestinian students (the student body of Haifa University remains to this day about one-­third Palestinian). He becomes closely involved with two students in particular, Rashid, who makes a living ferrying Palestinians into Israel and Israelis into the Territories, and the talented but enigmatic research assistant Samaher. Samaher is close to Rivlin—­she has taken all her classes with him. Yet she remains a figure of mystery. Much of the novel is devoted to Rivlin’s attempts to parse her many appearances and disappearances, to interrogate the narratives she tells about herself and implicitly the conundrum of her identity itself. Gifted translator, fine student, talented actress, she is a protean figure, one essential to Rivlin’s researches in ways that he doesn’t seem to grasp. At one point, for example, she offers Rivlin a narrative that is designed to help him—­one of the many interpolated tales in this novel—­with her translation of an Algerian story that might explain the continuing violence. Rivlin fails to understand its importance, in large measure because its gloss, which can be summarized as “no matter how fast you dance, your identity is fixed—­and tragic,” is as applicable to Palestinian Arabs as to the Algerians her narrative explains. Samaher is mired in depression and may (or may not) have faked a pregnancy to explain it away. Particularly in terms of the depression, she is a figure for the Palestinian people at large—­and Yehoshua is careful to imply two different readings of this linkage. On the one hand, the depression can be a symptom of national loss, not individual mourning and melancholia, a reading suggested elsewhere in the text: in a tragicomic passage, we learn that the Palestinian contestants in a poetry contest at a music and poetry festival, barred from reading poems mourning their lost land, work in covert references to loss with descriptions of departed animals, relatives, fields. On the other, Samaher’s great promise is undone by her own neurotic conflicts, which recapitulate those of her mother, also a student who failed to complete her doctorate, and hence implies, from an Israeli point of view, the inherited haplessness of the Palestinian people. The novel leaves open both of these readings, providing diverging perspectives from which either might be sustained. Indeed, the construction of multiple perspectives is the prime structural device of the novel, extending from method to theme and bouncing back

Fin-de-Siècle Jewish Phantasms  223

again: Rivlin is the sympathetic focalizer of the novel, one whose attempts to negotiate a world of liberated brides—­not only Samaher but also his wife, Hagit, a judge, whom he affectionately spars with for most of the novel, and his daughter-­in-­law, Galya, who has divorced his son, Ofer, for reasons that remain mysterious—­are repeatedly frustrated by his own limitations of insight, understanding, and point of view. Hagit tires of his attempts to organize her life and rebuffs his sexual advances, asserting in her marriage, as she does in her courtroom, the right to her own judgments. His attempts to understand Galya’s departure lead him to a number of clumsy attempts to question her relatives at the Jerusalem hotel they own, attempts that are deflected largely through the efforts of the Arab employee Fu’ad. (In another of the novel’s hidden references to the Nakba, the expulsion of Palestinian Arabs in 1948, Fu’ad is promised an ownership share in the hotel by its owner, Galya’s father, a promise that is withdrawn when the owner dies. In an allusion to the fraying of the Oslo Accords and the spirit it engendered, he retreats from dealing with Jews and returns to his Arab village.) Rivlin may not learn the truth but we do: in a letter that is never sent, Ofer reveals that Galya left him after he discovered her sister and her father in a postcoital moment in the hotel’s basement (Fu’ad knew they were there); Galya accuses him of making up the encounter and claims that no marriage is possible with such a perverse fantasist. Late in the novel she admits that Ofer is right, and while she has remarried, she is pregnant with a child both admit should be Ofer’s. Although they don’t exactly reconcile, there is peace between them. There may be some resolution to this subplot, but Rivlin remains oblivious to the truth he has set out to learn. As Ofer’s long, unsent letter begins to suggest, The Liberated Bride pulls a wide variety of media into its narrative orbit. If the Israeli world is defined by Ofer’s written and Galya’s oral narratives—­narratives which center, tellingly, on a house of incest, of inbreeding—­the Palestinian one is delineated by a variety of narratives that offer, à la An-­Sky, a portrait of an entire social world unknown to the normative Western observer. Arab, and even Sufi, narratives, stories, poems, and voices weave their way into the text to suggest the richness of all the cultures stretching from Algeria to Iran, centered in the fraught, yet still lovely, co-­implicated states of Israel and Palestine. The beauty of the many poems read at the festival—­a beauty that Rivlin can appreciate, thinking that the true genius of a culture inheres in its verse, not its prose—­speaks overall to the vitality, not the putative decadence, of culture at large, in Israel, in Palestine, and beyond, a beauty to which Rivlin, whose Arabic is good but faulty, is only partially open. Along with beauty comes decidedly not-­Israel-­friendly opinions. Although Yehoshua is a committed Zionist, he is also by temperament and art a

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dialectician. As in The Dybbuk, in The Liberated Bride few positions go unquestioned or unqualified. For example, there’s a very interesting dialogue between a British expert and Rivlin in which the Englishman expresses disbelief that Rivlin would not understand how the experience of colonial oppression can lead to violence persisting after colonialism; Rivlin’s blindness to this perspective extends to his own culture’s situation vis-­à-­vis its Arab citizens and neighbors. Ranen Omer-­Sherman writes that Yehoshua’s novel marked something new in Israeli mainstream fiction: an effort to include Palestinian voices and perceptions alongside Israeli ones.19 Its endeavor is familiar to us from Dracula and The Dybbuk in that it attempts to place itself between two worlds. Like these earlier texts but more compellingly, The Liberated Bride destabilizes the firm boundary between incompatible worlds—­here the Israeli and the Palestinian, the host culture of the writer and that of the Other he confronts. My association here is not random; about two-­thirds of the way through, the novel pauses to describe the performance of a scene from An-­Sky’s play at a Palestinian cultural festival in Ramallah to which Rivlin, his wife, his (dying) mentor’s wife, and other Israelis are invited as honored guests, conveyed there in Rashid’s van. Discovered by a librarian and staged by none other than Samaher, the play—­performed in Hebrew, with a ghostly voice offstage repeating the lines in Arabic—­becomes a mini-­allegory of the Jewish-­Palestinian relation. In the performance, a beautiful Palestinian student plays Leah, Rashid speaks the lines of Khonen, and Samaher takes the part of the rabbi Azriel. Two things stand out: first, that the voice of Khonen is doubled by a stick figure with Khonen’s face on it, a figure that at the climax of the performed excerpt Samaher/Azriel strikes with a whip (recalling perhaps the line about the rabbi’s whip that turns into a snake early in An-­Sky’s drama). The import of this act moves in many directions, but in one of them it dramatizes the Palestinian sense of grievance at the hands of the Israelis—­being compelled by a powerful authority to leave a desired state of unity and punished for not doing so. No wonder the audience cries out at this act of symbolic violence. In sympathy? In rage? In solidarity? In fear? The novel never tells us. The performance ends here, in this moment of punishment, leaving the play’s conclusion unknown or unfulfilled: those who know the story can project its conclusion tragically, as ending in the death of  both Khonen/Palestine and Leah/Israel, or positively, in the spirit of the Oslo Accords, which while fading still pervades the world of the novel, as indicating the possible union of these two people in a spirit of mutual acceptance. Or not: it’s not clear whether anything in the novel itself admits of the possibility of a happy or stable union. This is particularly true with Samaher. She

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is one of the novel’s several liberated brides, and reading her in the context of The Dybbuk helps place her more fully, in ways Rivlin cannot. Like Leah, Samaher claims her right to define herself in her own language, or rather her own languages: the Arabic she speaks, the Hebrew into which she translates it. But also like Leah, she seems taken over by a profound malaise—­depression tropes possession and vice versa. This, to a certain extent, is Yehoshua’s point, and one can play it either way: as long as the Occupation continues, true liberation for the likes of Samaher is impossible; as long as Palestinians like Samaher are preoccupied with their (dis)possession, they will remain trapped in a state of perpetual mourning and symbolic—­or actual—­violence. The novel is open to both responses: it provides evidence by which we can read either one into the text. The crucial point for our purposes is that An-­Sky’s play provides an intertextual gloss that Yehoshua exploits to explore the between-­ two-­worldness of Israelis and Palestinians as they encounter their mutual and inextricable possession by each other. The dybbuks that possess both sides may never be exorcised, just as the performance of Samaher’s play may never reach its end. But perhaps either or both can learn to understand more about the other through efforts of translation like those of Samaher. She valiantly attempts to build a bridge between herself and the Israelis without forgetting her own national situation, cultural legacy, and artistic heritage, but her translation endeavors, like The Dybbuk performance, produce fragments, not wholes. Or perhaps understanding could come through the efforts of a better, less-­obtuse Rivlin, one capable of finishing his book, which is also left in a fragmentary, incomplete state, with its central question—­where does violence come from?—­ resolutely unanswered. Is this hypothetical less-­obtuse Rivlin perhaps Yehoshua himself ? Like An-­Sky and his successors, he finds in the dybbuk narrative and its ancillary thematics a language for dealing with the complexities of his own situation and those of his state, as well as a way of reaching out, imaginatively, to the experience of his Palestinian confrères and consoeurs from whom, like his protagonist Rivlin, he is alienated. Whatever else we may say about it, Yehoshua’s use of An-­Sky’s Dybbuk as intertext delineates the complicated interactions of Israeli/Palestinian two-­worldness and its gendered dimensions in ways that enrich the text considerably. This is not, as we shall see, the only example of the uses to which this tradition is put at our own moment: not only Yehoshua but a score of contemporaries reanimate it as they confront its core issues and are taken with its representational contrivances. Taken together, they, like Yehoshua, make the undead dybbuk of the Jewish decadence speak.


The Deca-­danse; or, The Afterlife of the Jewish Decadent

This book began with a dance, and it shall end with one too. Recall that I opened the introduction with the Lower East Side di yunge poets gleefully rejecting “tradition’s dance,” asserting in its place “our two-­ step . . . the modern / Decadence!” Now project yourselves seventy years further and to a different continent, to Franco-­Jewish chanteur Serge Gainsbourg singing alongside his companion, lover, and muse (the penultimate in a line of many, including Brigitte Bardot) Jane Birkin, his voice, as grizzled as his face, posing the sharpest of contrasts with her tremulous and untrained sweet warbling: lui: Tourne-­toi elle: Non lui: Contre moi elle: Non, pas comme ça lui: Et danse La décadanse Bouge tes reins Lentement Devant les miens

him: Turn her: No him: Against me her: No, not like that him: And dance The deca-­dance Move your hips [“kidneys”] Slowly Against mine

elle: Reste là Derrière moi Balance La décadanse

her: Stay right there Behind me Balance The deca-­dance

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Que tes mains Frôlent mes sein Et mon coeur Qui est le tien . . . elle: Dieux Pardonnez nos Offenses La décadanse A bercé Nos corps blasés Et nos âmes égarées . . . ensemble: La décadanse A bercé Nos corps blasés Et nos âmes égarées.

How your hands Graze mine And my heart Which is yours . . . her: Gods Pardon our Offenses The deca-­dance Has rocked Our blasé bodies And our lost souls . . . together: The deca-­dance Has rocked Our blasé bodies And our lost souls.

Sung over a liturgical-­sounding organ ground oddly reminiscent of Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of  Pale” (1967), the song, “La décadanse,” was an odd performance for Gainsbourg, a Jew who was both proud of and shadowed by his Jewishness. Born Lucien Ginsburg, he was the child of Ukrainian émigrés; his father was a classically trained musician who made a living playing Parisian cabarets and jazz clubs, especially ones that catered to transvestites. The Ginsburgs escaped from Paris to Limoges in 1940 and lived there under Vichy. Although he never wore the Yellow Star, Gainsbourg always retained a sense of  Jewishness as stigma, with its ancillary implications of weakness and demasculinization. He changed his name from Lucien to Serge because he thought Lucien sounded like the name of a hairdresser; he changed his last name from Ginsburg to Gainsbourg because he admired the English painter Thomas Gainsborough, surely one of the most purely English in the English painterly tradition. And he responded to the trials of Jewish masculinity by presenting himself as a stud supreme, carrying on an af fair with sex bomb Brigitte Bardot when she was at her height of fame; engaging himself with hyper-­goy Jane Birkin, with whom he raised their daughter, Charlotte; sleeping with countless hangers-­on, groupies, and fans, one of whom, Bambou, became his long-­term partner after Birkin gave up on his alcoholic foibles and left him.1 But for all that hyperactivity, the pains—­or joys—­of Jewishness never left him. Director Joann Sfar captured this sense beautifully in his film Gainsbourg

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F i g u r e 8 . 1 . A puppet reminds Serge of his Jewishness. Screenshot, Gainsbourg (Vie héroï­ que), directed by Joann Sfar, 2010.

(Vie héroïque) (2010), when he built a papier-­mâché puppet with a huge nose to follow Gainsbourg around, reminding him of his origins (see fig. 8.1). But did he need reminding? The name Gainsbourg, after all, still echoed his birth name; for all of his putative studliness, he presented himself as a quintessential Jewish pervert, famously and shockingly posing for a picture in bed with his prepubescent daughter Charlotte for their recording of “Lemon Incest”—­a proud confirmation of Nazi stereotypes of Jews as child molesters—­and recording songs with Birkin like “69 année erotique” as well as the famous “Je t’aime . . . moi non plus,” in which Birkin simulates an orgasm. (It was originally recorded with Bardot, but Gainsbourg held onto it, in a rare gesture of discretion, when Bardot ended their affair to return to her husband.) There is an attitude of defiant assertiveness too in his 1975 theme-­recording “Rock around the Bunker,” in which he sets to Elvis Presley–­like rockabilly songs about Nazis (e.g., “Nazi Rock,” a tribute to the Night of the Long Knives, or the title track, which needs no commentary except to note that it too limns Nazi disaster, not Nazi triumph). Tellingly, in the middle of the album, he includes a version of  Jerome Kern’s “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” a characteristic bit of black humor, embedding a joke about crematoria in a rock-­and-­roll version of a Jewish songwriter’s magnum opus—­a piece, one might say, of Ausch-­ witz. But perhaps the origins of the song are as important as the uses to which it’s put: even as he’s referencing the Nazi attempt to wipe the Jewish people off the face of the earth, Gainsbourg is celebrating Jewish creativity and musical

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genius—­the putative lack of which, as Ruth HaCohen has exquisitely demonstrated, was a key tenet of Western anti-­Semitic belief.2 As the song with which I began suggests, however, Gainsbourg had no such mixed emotions about la décadence. A rambling, shambolic wreck, an alcoholic who reveled in his split personality—­his “straight” self he called Gainsbourg, his drunken, out-­of-­control avatar he named Ginsbarre—­Gainsbourg incarnated and was celebrated as the very image of the poète maudit, in the tradition of whore-­mad Charles Baudelaire, alcoholic Paul Verlaine, and hashish-­ experimenting Arthur Rimbaud and Théophile Gautier. (In his calculated outrageousness and genius for publicity, he is also akin to Gérard de Nerval, who famously put a lobster on a leash and took it for walks on the Left Bank.) He affiliated himself quite directly with these poets: putting Baudelaire’s poem “Le serpent qui danse” to song; quoting from and alluding directly to Verlaine in “Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais”; quoting Guillaume Apollinaire’s Alcools (appropriately); adapting lines from José-­Maria de Heredia, a Cuban-­ French aesthete and a major influence on Marcel Proust. Not for nothing did President François Mitterrand eulogize Gainsbourg as “our Baudelaire, our Apollinaire. He took song and made it art.”3 So Gainsbourg may be thought of as one telos of this book—­the Jewish decadent par excellence, one who puts Jewishness and decadence in dialogue as wholly (and as complexly) as did Proust or Walter Benjamin. He thus suggests the persistence of the Jewish/decadence complex from the nineteenth century to the first half of the twentieth and beyond, even after the Holocaust. But how did we get from one place to the other—­from Simeon Solomon or Reggie Turner or Sigmund Freud or Marcel Proust or S. An-­Sky or Walter Benjamin to Serge Gainsbourg and his contemporaries? How can we briefly tell the story of Jewish decadence from where we left off to roughly the current moment? Here are a few stops along the way, preceded by a reflection. We began with the idea of aestheticism and decadence as a West-­wide cultural movement extending from the declining Russian Empire to the ascending American one and of the Jewish decadence as impelled by large-­scale population flows in that arena—­of Jews from Russia to the New World or London, of Jews from Alsace to Paris—­all shaped by the desire for legitimation in the dominant terms of the cultural milieu they were entering and/or sheer aesthetic excitement. There are so many local variations that it would be impossible to tote them all up, to offer a theory of Jewish encounters with the aestheticist/decadent/ fin-­de-­siècle tradition that would make full sense of its appropriations, transformations, and reworkings on its way to a new synthesis or series of syntheses. But one thing is clear: as I stressed in my reading of Benjamin, the manifold

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F i g u r e 8 . 2 . Decadence as high camp: Marlene Dietrich surrounded by furs and monsters. Screenshot, The Scarlet Empress, directed by Josef von Sternberg, 1934.

chemical reactions and the detonations they cause became increasingly concentrated in France and continue there well after their decline elsewhere. This is not to say that there aren’t interesting and important variations, which I haven’t discussed, in 1930s and 1940s America and Italy. In addition to the Yiddishists I have adduced, one might focus on Bernard Berenson, aesthete extraordinaire, or, to cite another tradition that this already example-­drunk book hasn’t pursued, on the director Joseph von Sternberg (né Jonas Sternberg), who brought a sublime decadent aesthetic and thematics to the screen in representations of Marlene Dietrich, as a classic femme fatale in The Blue Angel (1930) and as Catherine the Great in The Scarlet Empress (1934), with its shots through gauzy fabrics and visual obsession with furs and monsters (see fig. 8.2). Although there are other, later figures to be discussed, from other national traditions—­like the Jewish Canadian chanteur Leonard Cohen (here the poetic influence goes largely through Federico García Lorca, who is affiliated with much of the writing I have dealt with but at a slight distance) or the British soulstress cum poète maudite Amy Winehouse—­France remains the most

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significant locus for the Jewish decadence, a place where assimilated and assimilating  Jews continued to look at the tradition of decadent/aestheticist writing as a source of inspiration, contestation, and transformation, through World War II and thereafter. Partly this imaginative habit follows from the extraordinary efflorescence of aestheticism and decadence in belle époque France; partly from the insider/outsider position of Jews in a country that was the first in Europe to emancipate its Jews but where anti-­Semitism of the most appalling variety remained a virulent infection of the body politic, flaring into full-­scale sepsis during the Dreyfus affair, in the response to Léon Blum in the 1930s, and finally in actions of collaborators during World War II. (It was, after all, the Parisian police and not the Nazis who rounded up what was left of the Jewish community in 1943 for transportation to and murder in Auschwitz—­an act that right-­wing politician Marine Le Pen continues to deny.) Put these elements together and you get much of the cultural formation I have been describing here. No surprise, then, that in the next generations, artists, writers, poets, and visionaries carried on the tradition, building on its experimental, convention-­ challenging dimensions in ways that proved to be enormously fruitful—­if enormously vexed in the face of the Nazis, whether experienced directly or processed as historical memory. I offer briefly two examples, one positive, one more problematic. The first of these is Claude Cahun (née Lucie Schwob). Cahun takes the pattern I’ve been describing here—­the combination of Jewishness and fin-­de-­siècle creative modalities to create a new synthesis—­in radical directions. Lesbian in her affiliation—­she met at the age of fifteen her life companion (also her stepsister) Suzanne Malherbe, who renamed herself  Marcel Moore—­her vision ultimately pushes beyond gender and sex alike. Born into the culture of high decadence, she was exposed to both its French and English incarnations. Lucie Schwob was the niece of Marcel Schwob, Oscar Wilde’s friend and one of the translators of Salomé (in defense of which Claude Cahun wrote a polemic in 1918); Marcel was also, as we saw in chapter 7, author of an influential set of proto-­ Symbolist narratives including the Livre de Monelle (1894), a set of fairytales told to a prostitute/waif. “Cahun’s early career,” writes Kristine von Oehsen, “was deeply rooted in the family tradition, making Symbolism the main influence. While this may have helped her in her early stages, it also attracted mild scorn.”4 Cahun was subsequently mocked for her family connections to the likes of Alfred Jarry, André Gide, Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Valéry, and Paul Claudel. Linking her further to the fin-­de-­siècle, she was educated for two years in England at the height of the aestheticism/decadence vogue. Perhaps more to

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the point, Moore, a graphic artist, was strongly influenced by Aubrey Beards­ ley and Art Nouveau and in her intellectual life impelled by the writing of William Morris. The standard line on Cahun and Moore, who was as much of a collaborator as a life partner, is that they shucked off their early engagement with Schwob-­inflected Symbolism as they entered into surrealist circles. But it’s crucial to note that they took many of the fin-­de-­siècle’s characteristic obsessions with them, combining the practices of aestheticism and decadence with surrealism’s project of creating dreamlike images, admixtures of the real and unreal.5 Thus in Claude Cahun: A Sensual Politics of Photography, Gen Doy argues that major elements of Cahun’s art involve repeated images or imagistic obsessions with such icons as hair, veils, masks, and mirrors.6 Although Doy properly takes this analysis into gender critique, we are in a position to see these images as characteristic clusters derived from those of the fin-­de-­siècle, transported, transformed, and transumed by Cahun. Long, extravagant hair was for the Pre-­R aphaelites, for example, a metonym for female genitalia and thus sexuality (hence Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s horror at finding when the corpse of his wife, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Siddal, was exhumed that her hair had continued to grow after her death). There are a number of self-­portraits in which Cahun dresses her hair and adorns it in neo–­ Pre-­Raphaelite fashion (see fig. 8.3, from 1913). She also plays with it, creating a neo-­Medusa look (fig. 8.4), an appearance also in line with decadent obsessions (Walter Pater, Algernon Charles Swinburne, more generally the femme fatale/Belle Dame Sans Merci complex—­and Belgian artist Fernand Khnopff ’s Ligeia; fig. 8.5). When, later in her career, she shares pictures of herself with a shaved head, the image resonates not just as the projection of an androgynous identity, but as a rejection of the aestheticist/decadent hair iconography and the fetishistic obsessions that accompany it: sexuality, celebrated and feared; femininity, ditto. (Two other references come to mind: the tradition of Jewish women cutting off their hair after marriage and replacing it with a wig, a sheytl—­this self-­proclaimed  Jewish woman is going sheytl-­less—­and its unwitting prolepsis of concentration-­camp inmates, denuded of their individuality through the shaving of heads.) Similar revisionary work is done by means of her use of the mask. Masks come in two varieties for Cahun: a small black one that covers the eyes (the domino mask, derived perhaps from the figure of Pierrot in commedia dell’arte) and a full white one that covers the entire face. Both are icons of the fin-­de-­siècle. The first is ubiquitous in the work of Beardsley (a figure who shares, Lizzie Thynne argues, remarkable affinities with Cahun as well as Moore).7 Indeed, masked figures of both of these varieties appear in

F i g u r e 8 . 3 . Claude Cahun, self-­portrait, 1913. Photograph. © Musée d’arts de Nantes. Photo: C. Clos.

F i g u r e 8 . 4 . Claude Cahun, self-­portrait (as young girl), 1914. Photograph. Courtesy Jersey Heritage Collections.

F i g u r e 8 . 5 . Fernand Khnopff, Ligeia, ca. 1902. Photograph, 35 × 44 cm. Courtesy Patrick Derom Gallery, Brussels.

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F i g u r e 8 . 6 . Aubrey Beardsley, cover for The Yellow Book: An Illustrated Quarterly, volume 1 (London: Elkin Mathews and John Lane, 1894). Courtesy private collection/Bridgeman Images.

Beardsley’s illustration for the very first edition of The Yellow Book, of 1894 (fig. 8.6; the figure on the right is double-­masked), whence they become iconic for the art and the culture of the era. There are distinct analogues in Beardsley, but perhaps the clearest expression can be found in The Sacred Fount (1900), Henry James’s satire playing out the pattern of decadence, in which guests at a country weekend, all of whom are (or are not) sleeping with each other, gaze at

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the picture, of all pictures, that most needs an interpreter. “Don’t we want,” I asked of Mrs. Server, “to know what it means?” The figure represented is a young man in black—­a quaint, tight black dress, fashioned in years long past; with a pale, lean, livid face and a stare, from eyes without eyebrows, like that of some whitened old-­world clown. In his hand he holds an object that strikes the spectator at first simply as some obscure, some ambiguous work of art, but that on a second view becomes a representation of a human face, modelled and coloured, in wax, in enamelled metal, in some substance not human. The object thus appears a complete mask, such as might have been fantastically fitted and worn. “Yes, what in the world does it mean?” Mrs. Server replied. “One could call it—­though that doesn’t get one much further—­the Mask of Death.” “Why so?” I demanded while we all again looked at the picture. “Isn’t it much rather the Mask of Life? It’s the man’s own face that’s Death. The other one, blooming and beautiful—­” “Ah, but with an awful grimace!” Mrs. Server broke in. “The other one, blooming and beautiful,” I repeated, “is Life, and he’s going to put it on; unless indeed he has just taken it off.”8

James and Cahun alike insist on what Oscar Wilde called “the truth of masks,” but they also underline the discovery, as their Pierrots contemplate their masks, that there is no truth, neither the performing mime’s face nor the mask he/she holds. There is nothing but mask. “Beneath this mask another mask. I will never be done taking off all these faces,” Cahun famously wrote.9 Henry James could not have put it better. Neither could Oscar Wilde. The same is true of mirrors, a fin-­de-­siècle icon from Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott through Rossetti’s paintings to Uncle Marcel’s Livre de Monelle, in which one tale, “Morgane,” is chockablock with mirrors. Its protagonist, a beautiful innocent with long, flowing hair (yes, yet more hair), leaves her home to travel in quest of a mysterious black mirror, only to turn from Snow White into another Salomé. Here is how the story begins: “Princess Morgane loved no one. She practiced a cold forthrightness, and lived among flowers and mirrors. She wove red roses into her hair and gazed at her reflection. . . . Her black hair fell around her face like slow waves.”10 Cahun tropes the Pre-­ Raphaelite/Symbolist image in a striking self-­portrait of ca. 1928 (fig. 8.7). Her eyes turning toward and away from the spectator, her hair closely cropped and perhaps flecked with gray, Cahun in this image is the polar opposite of the gauzy, flowing-­haired, mirror-­gazing princesses that proliferated in aestheticist/Symbolist art and writing. Yet at the same time she gestures toward the

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F i g u r e 8 . 7 . Claude Cahun, Self-­Portrait with Mirror, 1928. Photograph. Courtesy Jersey Heritage Trust, UK/Bridgeman Images.

artifice of that tradition, not only by including a painting in the background—­a common trick of the era, as we have seen in my reading of Vuillard’s Misia Natanson and Félix Vallotton in chapter 1—­but also by wearing a checkered top, a reference to the Harlequin’s costume (again, a staple of Beardsley’s art). Raising questions about what is real and what is false via mirror images is a gesture

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long familiar in Western art—­think of Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas—­but the specific means by which Cahun poses this mise en abîme come right out of the image repertory of the fin-­de-­siècle and go shooting well beyond it. In these and many more ways, Cahun pays tribute to the tradition into which she was born, and to both its French and British incarnations. Her use of these fin-­de-­siècle motifs and allusions fits in with her own project, which is to deconstruct the notion of gendered and sexed identity in ways that anticipate the trans/cis framework of our moment but are grounded in her own historical context and circumstance, celebrating Wilde or Schwob or the Pre-­ Raphaelites as precursors whose own relations to sex and gender anticipate, even as they are superseded by, her own. She radicalizes these predecessors, it might be said, in the sense of making them politically empowered, but also in the sense of digging at their roots, of seeing what is truly at stake in them and making it visible. At the same time she pays tribute to her origins, which she never forgot. Born of a gentile mother but raised by a Jewish one, partnered with another Jewish woman, she never renounced this identity even in the midst of the name-­and-­gender play in which they both participated. (She did not list her­­ self as Jewish during the war, but to have done so would have been suicidal. Neither, it should be observed, did Moore.) Indeed she embraced it: Cahun’s last name referenced her great-­uncle, historian David Léon Cahun, and more importantly his sister, her grandmother Mathilde Cahun, but it also gestures toward the Cohenim, the priestly caste from whom they (and hence Lucie) were descended. (Her partner, who was born of a Jewish woman, took as her own the first name of Marcel Proust, another proclamation of  Jewishness tied up with gender play.) The masquerade of Cahun’s work reinforces this Jewishness, since the Jew was frequently defined in French culture as a shape-­shifter. Jews are “camouflaged, disguised, chameleon-­like,” writes Louis-­Ferdinand Céline in Baga­ t­elles pour un massacre (1937), “they change names like they cross frontiers, now they pass themselves off for Bretons, Auvergnats, Corsicans, now for Turandots, Durandards, Cassoulets.”11 Name-­changing, identity-­reshaping Claude Cahun is never more Jewish than when she presents herself as now a man, now a woman, now beyond sex entirely; now a Pre-­R aphaelite icon, now a Pierrot, now a bathing beauty. She takes the topos of the Jewish chameleon, this half-­Jew, and makes it into the organizing principle of both her art and her life. Her chameleonism had its greatest impact, perhaps, in her extraordinary

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activities during World War II. Known on the island of   Jersey, where they lived peaceably for many years as a pair of inoffensive spinsters, she and Moore acted as a kind of two-­woman fifth column, attempting to subvert the will of the German occupation force by circulating subversive pamphlets and other propaganda, often stuffing them into officers’ overcoats or leaving them on car windshields. Caught, they were both imprisoned. They still managed to communicate with each other using methods that included smuggled notes. (These provide written evidence of the nature of their relationship.) Despite suicide attempts and death sentences, both survived, but Cahun’s health had been compromised. She died ten years after her liberation. She gives us a portrait of her middle-­aged self the month of her liberation, holding a Nazi-­eagle badge in her mouth (fig. 8.8). Chameleonism here gives way to mimicry, then slides into mockery. Self-­made, self-­named, and self-­identified as a Jew, a product and deployer of decadent and aestheticist high culture, Cahun asserts her triumph over the people who would wipe out both. Her very next gesture, one feels—­the future of the pose she takes in the photograph—­is to spit the emblem of their power out of her mouth. Jewish chameleonism of an entirely different sort, with entirely antithetical ends, was put on more perverse display by my second exemplary figure, minor littérateur, celebrity, aesthete, con man, and thief Maurice Sachs. Born into a complicated Jewish family—­his father, a Jewish jeweler, abandoned him in his youth; his grandmother was the second wife of the son of composer Georges Bizet and his wife Geneviève, née Halévy, subsequently Geneviève Straus, who was Jewish and whose notable salon was attended by Proust. Sachs’s mother was openly Jewish. Sachs was as open about his homosexuality12 as he was conflicted about his Jewishness. A hanger-­on in the circle of Jean Cocteau, he was also a scoundrel—­at best, a version of Thomas Mann’s Felix Krull; at worst, a prototype Jean Genet, but without the genius and with all the neediness Genet famously lacked. (As his biographer Henri Raczymow writes: “Sachs est l’anti-­ Genet. Une bonne raison à cela: il a besoin d’ etre aimé. Partout, toujours, du prèmier venu.” [Sachs is the anti-­Genet. A good reason for this: he needed to be loved. Everywhere, always, from the first glance.])13 If Cahun was quite literally born into the world of Oscar Wilde, Sachs sought to place himself there, through his fervent embrace of boy-­love, his career choices—­like Wilde he undertook an American lecture tour, worked as a journalist, tried to become a man of the theater—­and above all his quest for celebrity. Here is his friend Violette Leduc’s account of their first meeting, in which Sachs points to a photograph of Wilde and Alfred Douglas on his living-­room wall. “I thought he

F i g u r e 8 . 8 . Claude Cahun, self-­portrait, May 1945. Courtesy Jersey Heritage Collections.

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looked rather like Oscar Wilde,” she notes, then finds Wilde cropping up in their conversation: “You must take The Ballad of Reading Gaol as well. Have you read it? But of course you’ve read all of Wilde’s things . . .” “No, I haven’t read it. I’ve read hardly any Wilde. It’s his life I find so moving. People say it’s his best work.” . . . I went back to his table. I was not looking at the Wilde standing so sure of himself beside the seated Douglas. I was gazing at Wilde completely alone, sanctified by his scandal. Maurice Sachs walked on tiptoe. I was unable to distinguish the two figures, and I would have liked to clasp Maurice Sachs in my arms. He was glancing through the Wilde, rereading passages, then glancing over at me. A string orchestra sang of deep wretchedness and the sweetness of life when he looked at me. . . . “How he suffered,” I said, “and how he redeemed himself.” Maurice Sachs’s face changed. His mouth frightened me. “You talk of redemption! Women have such impudence. . . . He was famous, he is famous,” he resumed after a pause. “To be famous, to become famous in Paris . . .”14

The making of self into celebrity was Wilde’s great contribution to his culture. He was one of the first performance artists to be famous for being famous, as the saying goes, since his notoriety began during his undergraduate years at Oxford, well before he produced any of the work for which he became renowned. But Wilde was a literary genius; Sachs, a wannabe at best. And Sachs’s efforts at becoming a celebrity often backfired, due to another way he modeled himself on Wilde: his criminality. As the reference to The Ballad of Reading Gaol suggests, Sachs was drawn to Wilde’s conflation of criminality and aestheticism. For Wilde, the criminal was not only a sex rebel or transgressor—­the roles for which he was punished, the roles for which he was turned into a criminal—­but also a fulfillment of the potential of the aesthete, beyond good and evil, to be sure, but deeply, profoundly fascinating. Wilde devoted a long and perverse essay, “Pen, Pencil and Poison,” to celebrating the aesthete/murderer Thomas Griffiths Wainewright.15 And sensation-­mad Wilde makes clear elsewhere why he preferred the real spy, Major Esterhazy, to Alfred Dreyfus: “Esterhazy is considerably more interesting than Dreyfus who is innocent. It’s always a mistake to be innocent. To be a criminal takes imagination and courage.”16

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Sachs aimed at precisely this air of Wildean nonchalance: “Once you have a foot in the swamp of crime,” he writes in his autobiographical The Hunt, “you may as well plunge in whole-­heartedly.”17 But his criminality was always of a tacky, pathological sort. He began stealing at the age of eleven with petty thefts from his mother, herself a massive kiter of checks, which forced her to leave France for England. He was widely believed to have stolen jewelry from Coco Chanel, who paid him a huge stipend to acquire books for her library, and the contents of an entire room from Cocteau, and thereafter, or so it was rumored, to have forged a letter from Cocteau’s mother allowing him to appropriate them. During the war, he made a fine living buying and selling gold, jewels, food, and apartments on the black market, as he details in almost excruciating self-­glorifying detail in his autobiographical writings. At once a lover of fine things and of beautiful boys, Sachs experienced his career as a black marketeer continually shading over from calculation to jouissance—­pleasure in the deal, the deal as a means of pleasure. Leduc described him in this phase with her usual vividness: “Come with me,” he said. . . . He gestured with his hand to guide my eyes. “Gold, diamonds, precious stones,” he said with exuberance. His face was unrecognizable: soulless. Those eyes, too gentle for this world, were suddenly sparkling with a cruel fire. An eagle’s eye, an eagle’s beak, saying to the money spread before it: Just the two of us. “I sell, and I buy. What?” he said with a laugh. Wily old Maurice Sachs! He had wormed his way into the behind-­the-­ scenes activities of the big jewel dealers; he gave me a lucid and very funny account of how he had managed it. He weighed his gold on a little pair of apothecary’s scales, and meanwhile he told me about the boy he was in love with and who wasn’t in love with him. He numbed us both with his spate of words. Patiently, willingly, I listened to the schemes of a diamond dealer mad with love who wanted to give all the most beautiful things that Paris could offer to the most beautiful boy in Paris. (La Bâtarde, 320)

Aestheticism, homosexuality, and criminality—­three decadent topoi in one! And to this one might add the invocation of decadence itself. The decadence of everything surrounding him, decadence understood as a world-­historical phenomenon, was an oft-­repeated tenet of Sachs’s belief system—­as it was of contemporary anti-­Semites like Pierre Drieu La Rochelle or Charles Maurras18—­but he took it one step further by arguing hyperbolically, almost

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saucily, as they most certainly did not, that the decadence of France began in the eighteenth century and had continued apace ever since.19 Sachs annealed these qualities together through not only his Wildean insouciance but also his Jewishness. Note how even Leduc, who to the best of my knowledge never had much truck with anti-­Semitism, comes close to Toussenel’s evocation of the Jew as a bird of prey in describing the Gothic scene, Sachs’s “eagle eye, eagle’s beak” transfixed by and speaking of the gold. Or one could turn to an essay published in the house organ of the Action française, by Marcel Jouhandeau, a minor novelist and major anti-­Semite, who was first condemned, then rehabilitated after World War II, by the Parisian literary establishment. The essay “How I Became an Anti-­Semite” was originally published as a stand-­alone and later gathered into a book with other essays with the sparkling and original title Le péril juif (1937). Full of spite and bile—­ Jouhandeau, incidentally, never repudiated his uglier sentiments and indeed reinforced them in a 1972 reissue of Le péril juif—­the essay offered as its cynosure of offensive Jewishness no less a figure than Maurice Sachs, who seemed to drive Jouhandeau into frenzies of contempt. Sachs’s sin: at a party in 1926, he denigrated, in a not atypical piece of contrarian blather, French pride and French national identity. He had just returned from America, where he had spent several years making and losing a fortune (at least by his own account), with the news that for Americans la France est au ban des nations. Mais M. Sachs ne contentait pas de rapporter l’opinion des l’autrui; il l’approuvait et il l’ajoutait, a son habitude, cette surranchère que, pour lui, il avait beau lire et relire l’historire de notre pays, c’était en vain, à son grand regret, qu’il cherchait une personnage sympathique, le moindre désinterréssement, un seul acte de la générosité, l’ombre seulement de la grandeur, et que sans doute il y avait Napoléon qu’il admirait seul, mais que, par malheur, Napoléon n’etait pas Français.20 France was the outcast of nations. But M. Sachs was not content to report the opinion of others; he approved of it and added, as was his fashion, this insight: that he had read and reread the history of our country and found, in looking for a single act of generosity, the slightest shade of grandeur, and that without a doubt it was only Napoleon he was able to admire but that, sadly, Napoleon wasn’t French.

Offering calculated outrage in the tradition of Wilde, Sachs’s barbed witticisms at the expense of French national honor seemed intended quite precisely

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to produce an anti-­Semitic response. But they also resonate beyond Wildean witticism, for they make their deepest sense as the response of the Jew Sachs was, at that point in his life, pretending not to be. As far as Jews in France were concerned, it would be safe to say that they were not treated with an abundance of generosity other than by Napoleon Bonaparte, who maintained and extended the emancipatory efforts of the Revolution by granting Jews full citizenship, albeit as individuals with a relation to the State, not as members of a collective entity. And as Sachs subversively observed, Napoleon was of Corsican, not pure French, descent—­and until his twenties, a fierce Corsican nationalist. Despite his own youthful irreverence, in 1936 Sachs wrote a letter defending himself and the patriotism of his fellow Jews, who had fought loyally and died in large numbers during World War I. (Sachs had been discharged from the army for engaging in immoral activities in basic training.) The matter turned into a kerfuffle, with the estimable Jean Paulhan, editor of the Nouvelle revue française before and after World War I and in the war a committed partisan—­a position he used to rehabilitate Jouhandeau after the war—­weighing in to defend Jewish soldiers while sneering, not too indirectly, at Sachs. But Sachs’s encounter with Jouhandeau did not end there. Sachs sought his approval for years thereafter, climaxing in a set of truly weird exchanges in which Sachs, having grown a beard, assumed that Jouhandeau didn’t recognize him (he did) and that he could fully disclose his identity to Jouhandeau’s wife—­he even offered her a gift from his black-­market jewel deals. Jouhandeau and Sachs were doing more than engaging in a typical French intellectual feud, albeit one with anti-­Semitic dimensions.21 They were playing out the quintessential drama of Franco-­Jewish relations in its full complexity. The Jew offers the gentile an image of that which the gentile fears and desires—­ libidinal freedom, either in Wildean conversational excess or sexual excesses—­ and the gentile resolves the resultant conflict by tormenting the Jew with his lack of generosity, a polite way of saying “hatred.” The obloquy of the gentile is matched by the supineness of the Jew—­his demonstrations of patriotism, his desire for approval, even his gift-­giving. (Think how many wealthy, art-­loving Jews donated their collections to French museums, even when the museums demurred at their generosity, as was the case with Isaac de Camondo’s bequest of the finest Impressionist works France had to offer, as discussed in chapter 1). But there remains underneath a desire for, as well as fear of, self-­exposure: Sachs’s need for Jouhandeau and his wife to recognize his “real” face behind the beard is a sign of just how powerful this desire was. But as Cahun might put it, what’s the mask behind the mask?—­the Jew’s original visage or the

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stereotypical beard he wears to disguise it? Sachs flaunted his Jewishness in the very act of veiling it. At a certain point in Sachs’s life this performance mattered both intensely, and then in the end not at all. With typical nonchalance, more or less on a whim, Sachs departed France in 1943 for Germany, where he set himself up in Hamburg, thinking to sit out the war there and then spend the rest of his days traveling the Orient. (Raczymow: “Avançons d’abord ce qu’une telle décision, pour lui, a d’absurde. (1) Il est juif. (2) Il ne parle pas l’allemande.”22 To which we might add: (3) Il est homosexuel.) He adopted his father’s name, Ettinghausen, in the hope that it would be perceived as that of a German gentile. (Spoiler: it wasn’t.) He offered his services to the Gestapo and served as an informer until his handlers became disenchanted with his judgments (among other things, he found a priest under suspicion of espionage a charming conversation companion and cleared him; the priest turned out indeed to be a spy) and he was tossed into the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp. It was rumored that his fellow inmates, wary of him as an informant and fed up with his scheming, killed him. More likely, he was dispatched by a bullet to the head while on a death march at the end of the war. Sachs and Cahun represent two different paths taken by the Jewish/decadent complex, paths indicated by the powerful if opposite afterlives of their examples and reputations. (Indeed, it might be said that Cahun led to Gainsbourg, the creative transgressor of bourgeois pieties, and Sachs to Ginsbarre, the dissolute, self-­indulgent avatar of self-­destruction.) Cahun’s work was marginalized for many years after her death, then revived under the impetus of a new dispensation in criticism that was more attuned to her feminist, queer vision. Following a series of exhibitions, beginning in 1995 with a retrospective at the Musée de l’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and continuing with major shows at the Guggenheim and the San Francisco Museum of  Modern Art, she is now perceived as a major talent, indeed a pathbreaking one, as evidenced as well by an abundance of scholarship devoted to her work and the translation and reissuing of her two volumes of prose. Cahun has become an avatar of a new post-­gendered, post-­sexed identity, a prophet of trans perspectives and opportunities. She is, in other words, a perfect example of the larger argument of this book: that out of the crucible of decadent culture and Jewishness emerged new, experimental, fecund forms of imaginative creation. The afterlife of Sachs is just as rich, but the lessons we can draw from it perhaps not so tidy. Sachs continues to haunt French letters, all the more strikingly so given his slim and resolutely minor literary production—­posthumously produced memoirs; a few plays (largely unproduced because, Sachs claimed, the

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German censor wouldn’t allow works by a Jew to mount the stage); a gossipy account of his time with Cocteau and Max Jacob that amounts to a codification of the stories he had spent two decades dining out on. No fewer than three major biographies have been issued since his death, including the encyclopedic and excellent one by Henri Raczymow. Violette Leduc’s autobiography, La bâtarde, as obsessed with Sachs as was its author, has emerged as a classic of French writing; Sachs plays a not unimportant role in the film version of Leduc’s life, Violette (2013). One might contrast this posthumous fame with the reception of his friend/antagonist Jouhandeau, who was far more productive (he published twenty-­nine volumes, no fewer than six of which constituted his autobiography) and received more accolades during his life but remains buried in relative obscurity. That Sachs lives on imaginatively is also due in no small measure to the works of Patrick Modiano, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. In one of those coincidences that make one suspect that the world is a more coherent place than perhaps it is, Modiano inhabited as a child the apartment at 15 quai de Conti where Sachs had done some of his dirtiest gold dealings, a fact Modiano repeatedly references in his writing. (Ironically, or perhaps not, 11 quai de Conti, across and down the street, is a home of the French mint.) Modiano’s ( Jewish) father, Albert, was himself a Sachs-­like figure, a failed businessman turned petty criminal who abandoned his son (Sachs adopted a Jewish child in the 1930s and then dispensed him to a Jewish welfare organization, which transported the child to England, inadvertently saving his life.) Albert, even more Sachs-­like, also operated on the black market during the war and collaborated with the Gestapo. It’s not surprising, then, that Sachs should play an important role as a surrogate father in Modiano’s first novel, the Raymond Queneau–­like, surrealism-­ influenced romp La Place de l’Étoile (1968), where he appears as “a fat old man, gesticulating wildly at the memory of Hispano-­Suiza automobiles and Le Bouef sur le Toit.”23 After Sachs’s supposed death and subsequent (fantasized) adventures (“he was, successively, a Gestapo officer, a GI, a cattle trader in Bavaria, a broker in Anvers, a brothel-­keeper in Barcelona, a clown in a Milan circus under the stage name Lola Montès” [La Place de l’Étoile, 19]), he is discovered running a bookstore in Geneva chockablock with anti-­Semitic lore. (Modiano knows a lot about Sachs: Sachs worked in a bookstore during a youthful year in London and haunted bookstores for the rest of his life.) There, Raphäel Schlemilovitch and his best friend, Jean-­François Des Essarts (a clear reference to Joris-­Karl Huysmans’s self-­enclosing aesthete Des Esseintes in À

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rebours), imbibe the rich stew of French anti-­Semitic writing, with Schlemilovitch himself producing a comparative study of the relations between Sachs and Drieu La Rochelle (collaborator and wartime editor of the prestigious Nouvelle revue française), one in which his sympathies for the latter’s free-­ acting ways is clear. Schlemilovitch/Modiano writes, again quite accurately, that Paris under occupation is an “Eden where he [Sachs] can lose himself in wild abandon. . . . Here it is possible to traffic in gold, rent apartments and sell off the furniture [as Sachs tried to do with Leduc], trade ten kilos of butter for a sapphire, convert the sapphire into scrap metal, etc.” (14). A Jewish alchemist of criminal enterprise (the power to transform material objects being a classic charge against Jews, from their identification with alchemy in the Middle Ages through Marx on capital), he is also a Jewish shape-­shifter when it comes to identity. Sachs urges Schlemilovitch to imitate his slippery ways: You keep harping on at old stories . . . it’s not 1942 anymore, old man! If it were, I would be strongly advising you to follow my example and join the Gestapo, that would change your perspective! People quickly forget their origins, you know! A little flexibility and you can change your skin at will! Change your colour! Long live the chameleon! (21)

Modiano here correctly sees Sachs as being at his most Jewish in precisely his multiple identities and identifications, and he uses this dynamic to deconstruct the most fraught of boundaries. If Jews are indeed chameleons, Modiano’s Sachs justly asks, can’t they also be Nazis? As indeed Schlemilovitch himself turns out to be, among his many other metamorphoses throughout the text, where he appears as student, slaver, pimp, capitalist, lover of Nazis, Nazi, even a patient on Freud’s couch. If Sachs is the prophet of the expedient transformation of identity, he is also the patron saint of the consequence of that chameleonism in Occupied France: the morphing between Jews and the people who would kill them. Modiano uses Sachs as part of a larger strategy to blur the lines between the Jews and their antagonists, so much so that even when he disappears, as he does about a quarter of the way through the novel, it’s only to become its genius loci: the redirection of the logic of chameleonism into the hard facts of collaborationism. But this chameleonism goes both ways. The book is obsessed with French as well as Franco-­Jewish collaboration. Where, it asks, is the place de l’étoile, the place of the (yellow) star that Jews were obliged to wear? And its answer is: not only just above the Jew’s vulnerable heart but also

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in the center of Paris, as the road that circles the Arc de Triomphe. Modiano explores these complexities throughout the novel, most particularly in the literary realm, where he sees the yellow star extending throughout the French cultural tradition, as rife with anti-­Semitism as is the society at large. The spirit of Sachs, and the energies he released in the likes of  Jouhandeau, are, for Modiano, scattered throughout French letters: in Voltaire, in Apollinaire, in Léon Daudet, and of course in Céline, who haunts the novel—­it begins with a parody of his work, down to the famous ellipses that mark his style, and Bagatelles pour un massacre recurs as a kind of bitter refrain (“Arm and arm we crossed the Place Vendôme. My father sang snatches of Bagatelles pour un massacre in a fine bass voice”; La Place de l’Étoile, 31) At the same time, Jews are ev­erywhere, so much a part of the French literary tradition as to be crucial to it. “As for me,” boasts Schlemilovitch, “I have decided to be the greatest Jewish-­French writer after Montaigne, Marcel Proust and Louis-­Ferdinand Céline” (19). There’s a bitter joke here since none of these writers self-­identified as Jews and Céline was the tradition’s archetypal anti-­Semite. But all are tied in with Jews and Jewishness: Montaigne as the product of a Marrano family; Proust as a half-­Jew passing (however problematically) as a Catholic; Céline as a bitterly anti-­Semitic blatherer, in thrall to the figures that obsess him. Textually Jews are everywhere, and so is Jew-­hatred, with the two locked in a fatal embrace in the literary realm as elsewhere. No wonder Schlemilovitch ends up on Freud’s couch at the conclusion of the novel: the world he comes from is inherently mad. La Place de l’Étoile is very much an exception in Modiano’s career, and he moves on in later work to develop its themes—­the aporias of memory, the mysteries of identity, the failure of fathers, the collusions of history—­into a style, a style focused on loss, the quest for identity, the reconstructions afforded by memory, and their inevitable failure. Moody, evocative, elliptical, this writing has everyday acts take on enormous and often ominous significance; history—­especially the history of the Occupation in France—­is omnipresent yet occluded; a precision with geography and especially the geography of Paris emerges to ground the narratives in a spatial specificity that is always slipping away into dream or oblivion. As Modiano’s work evolves, it moves closer to the tradition of discourse we have been focusing on here, that of a fin-­de-­siècle giving way to an anxious modernity. Brigitta Coenen-­Mennemeier has offered the best analysis of Modiano’s style that I know: Le style de Modiano a en effet quelque chose qui apparente à la musique. C’est moins le rythme parfait, sans prolifération à la Sarraute ni l’ellipse à la Duras,

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c’est la “transparence” irréalisante qui produit cet effet. Le halo dans lequel baigne son univers est celui du “nevermore” des poètes symbolistes. C’est le ton de Nerval, de Verlaine, de Toulet, d’Apollinaire. Tout . . . concourt à ce résultat: la superposition des strates temporelles qui s’accentuent et s’anéantissent mutuellement, les chansons de l’amour qui s’en va, l’isotope des accidents . . . les fugitives sensations et impressions de choc, les associations qui parlent à l’âme comme des tableaux magiques.24 In effect, Modiano’s style is somewhat akin to music. It’s less the perfect rhythm, which avoids the excesses of Sarraute and the ellipses of Duras, than its estranging “transparency” that produces this effect. The light suffusing his universe is that of the “nevermore” of the Symbolist poets. It’s the mood of Nerval, Verlaine, [Paul-­Jean] Toulet, Apollinaire. Everything . . . leads to this result: the overlaying of temporal states which reinforce and destroy one another; the songs of a love that evanesces, the isotope of accidents . . . the fleeting sensations and impressions of shock, the analogies that speak to the soul like magic screens.

At this point we are so attuned to the tonalities of the fin-­de-­siècle as to hear them ringing throughout this description: to recognize allusions to Pater (for whom prose aspired to the status of music), to the French Symbolists/decadents like Nerval and Verlaine; to Benjaminian shock. To these Modiano adds his distinctively Jewish concerns with secrecy and revelation, transgression and punishment, identity and passing, cultural memory and individual forgetting, which ramify throughout his work in ways that chime with, and accentuate, these stylistics. Indeed, in his best work they often go hand in hand. I would cite here the finest of his early novels, Les boulevards de ceinture (1972) (translated into English as Ring Roads), although my remarks are also relevant to his novel/creative nonfiction masterpiece Dora Bruder (1997). Ring Roads is built around what Wordsworth would have called a spot of time, a memory keyed to a specific spot, the George V station on the Paris Métro, and to an event that takes place there that couldn’t be more Jewish in nature or meaning. The narrative centers on a vaguely crooked writer, Serge, who searches out and finds his father after a ten-­year absence. That absence is explained by the fact that the father, an Egyptian-­born Jew named Chalva, may have attempted to kill Serge at this Métro stop by pushing him onto the tracks. The Abrahamic dimensions of this utterly mysterious, completely unmotivated act ramify as the narrator, who represses the event, only informs the reader about it halfway

250  Conclusion

through the volume. Serge returns again and again to a primal, fixating moment, interpreting and reinterpreting it from different perspectives, working it through or repressing it further or perhaps both. In thus repeatedly returning to and revising a primal scene, Modiano’s model is Proust; but what’s remarkable here is that he achieves this Proustian effect in roughly a hundred pages, not the thousands of À la recherche du temps perdu. It’s crucial, moreover, that the Proustian topoi of the mistiness of memory and the ambiguity of Chalva’s motives provide the narrator with the impetus to action, to search his father out not only to forgive but also to identify with him, ultimately to affirm his oneness with him. At the novel’s end, son and father attempt to escape Occupied France and reach Belgium but are captured: united as Jews, united as criminals, the son cries out, as they are carried away, “he’s my father,” then is separated from his father for good.25 Serge learns he must go through his life alone, as he has already done, with the only trace of Chalva’s life a photograph, an image that now bears the face of his absence: The fat one? [the bar man who betrayed them to the police asks him, years later] He disappeared one day. He has seen dozens like them, propped at the bar, dreaming, who vanished later. Impossible to remember all the faces. After all . . . sure . . . if I want the photo, I can have it. But I’m so young, he says, I’d be better off thinking about the future. (Ring Roads, 324)

The point isn’t to suggest that the work’s transformation of a traumatic event into a kind of symbol, an event to be read and reread from multiple perspectives before it crystalizes into a visual image, is profoundly Proustian, or that Nerval or Verlaine anticipated the methodology of Modiano’s work, or that the novel ends with an ekphrasis, a description of a work of visual art, that suggests absence rather than evokes presence, a classic topos of Pre-­R aphaelite and Postimpressionist art alike, although all of these things are true. The point is that Modiano finds a way of revitalizing that which both his Jewishness and his literary heritage have given him, merging and transforming them in the service of creating a language of, to quote Serge’s words, “memories and secrets,” memories that obliviate secrets, secrets that are preserved by memory (Ring Roads, 224). Modiano, himself the son of a Sephardic scoundrel, unites these Jewish concerns with the experimental art of the fin-­de-­siècle to produce a new and distinct synthesis—­and to offer proof of the continuing power of the tradition of the Jewish decadence to stir new forms of artistic creation. I noted earlier, in chapter 4, Walter Pater’s description of aesthetic poetry as a

The Deca-danse  251

strange second flowering, and this is no less true of the Jewish decadence tout court. Patrick Modiano, like all the writers and artists and musicians I have discussed here, from Simeon Solomon or Reggie Turner or Alla Nazimova and the American Salomaniacs to Sigmund Freud and Italo Svevo and Saul Bellow and Isaac Bashevis Singer to Marcel Proust and Walter Benjamin and Serge Gainsbourg, offers powerful testimony of this tradition’s ever-­dying, ever-­reviving vivacity.


Introduction 1. Ruth R. Wisse, A Little Love in Big Manhattan: Two Yiddish Poets (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1988), 18–­19. 2. Frank Kermode, Romantic Image (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957), 59–­110. 3. Charles Bernheimer, Decadent Subjects: The Idea of Decadence in Art, Literature, and Culture of the Fin de Siècle in Europe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2003), esp. 56–­103. 4. Matthew Potolsky, The Decadent Republic of Letters: Taste, Politics and Cosmopolitan Community from Baudelaire to Beardsley (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2013). 5. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1986). 6. Michael Stanislawski, Zionism and the Fin de Siècle: Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism from Nordau to Jabotinsky (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 2001). 7. For the quotation, Hamutal Bar-­Yosef, “Neo-­Decadence in Israeli Poetry 1955–­1965,” Prooftexts 10, no 1 (1990): 109. See also Hamutal Bar-­Yosef, “Romanticism and Decadence in the Literature of the Hebrew Revival,” Comparative Literature 46, no. 2 (1994): 146–­81. 8. Pascale Casanova, The World Republic of Letters, trans. Malcolm DeBevoise (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2004). 9. Henry James, “The Comédie Française in London,” Nation, July 31, 1879, 73. 10. Maurice Samuels, Inventing the Israelite: Jewish Fiction in Nineteenth-­Century France (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 2010); Jonathan M. Hess, Middlebrow Literature and the Making of German-­Jewish Identity (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 2010); Jonathan M. Hess, Maurice Samuels, and Nadia Vaiman, Nineteenth-­Century Jewish Literature: A Reader (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 2013). 11. “Un cygne qui s’était évadé de sa cage,” from Charles Baudelaire, “Le Cygne,” in Les Fleurs du mal, 2nd ed. (Paris: Poulet-­Malassis et de Broise, 1861), 203. 12. Richard Terdiman, Discourse/Counter-­discourse: The Theory and Practice of Symbolic Resistance in Nineteenth-­Century France (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1985), 25–­81; Terdiman,

254  Notes to Pages 10–12 Present Past: Modernity and the Memory Crisis (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1993), vii–­32 (for “semiotic disquiet,” 130). 13. Maurice Samuels, “Metaphors of Modernity: Prostitutes, Bankers, and Other Jews in Balzac’s Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes,” Romanic Review 92, no. 2 (2006): 169–­84. 14. Marie Lathers, “Posing the ‘Belle Juive’: Jewish Models in Nineteenth-­Century Paris,” Women’s Art Journal 21, no. 1 (2000): 27–­32; Dorian Bell, “The Jew as Model: Anti-­Semitism, Aesthetics, and Epistemology in the Goncourt Brothers’ Manette Salomon,” MLN 124, no. 4 (2009): 825–­47. 15. See, for example, Samuels’s discussion of Ben-­Lévi’s essay “Les complices d’un adjectif,” in Samuels, Inventing the Israelite, 81. 16. Nicole Savvy, Les Juifs des romantiques: Le discours de la littérature sur les Juifs de Chateaubriand à Hugo (Paris: Éditions Belin, 2000); Sheila A. Spector, ed., British Romanticism and the Jews: History, Culture, Literature (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002); Spector, ed., The Jews and British Romanticism: Politics, Religion, Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); Hannah Arendt, Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess (1957), ed. Liliane Weissberg, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1997). 17. Diana R. Hallman, Opera, Liberalism, and Antisemitism in Nineteenth-­Century France: The Politics of Halévy’s “La Juive” (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002). 18. Siegfried Kracauer, Jacques Offenbach and the Paris of His Time, trans. Gwenda David and Eric Mosbacher (New York: Zone Books, 2002); Maurice Samuels, “2000: Trauma on the Boulevard,” Romanic Review 101, nos. 1–­2 (2010): 115–­22. 19. Maurice Samuels, The Right to Difference: French Universalism and the Jews (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2016), 50–­72. 20. See Jonathan Freedman, The Temple of Culture: Assimilation and Anti-­Semitism in Literary Anglo-­America (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2000). 21. On emigration of Eastern European Jews and its political-­cultural aftereffects, see Jack Wertheimer, Unwelcome Strangers: East European Jews in Imperial Germany (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987); David Feldman, Englishmen and Jews: Social Relations and Political Culture, 1840–­1914 (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1994), 139–­84; and Susan Suleiman, “Irène Némirovsky and the ‘Jewish Question’ in Interwar France,” Yale French Studies 121 (2012): 8–­33. On anti-­Semitism, see Peter Pulzer, The Rise of Political Antisemitism in Germany and Austria (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1964); and Zeev Sternhell, “Roots of Popular Antisemitism in the Third Republic,” in The Jews in Modern France, ed Frances Malino and Bernard Wasserstein (Hanover, NH: Univ. Press of New England, 1985), 103–­34. 22. See Priscilla Ferguson, Paris as Revolution: Writing the Nineteenth-­Century City (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1994), 80–­114. 23. First published in Archives israélites de France in 1841; see Maurice Samuels, ed., Les grands auteurs juifs de la littérature française au XIXème siècle: Nouvelles, une anthologie (Paris: Éditions Hermann, 2015), 43–­45. 24. In Samuels, Les grands auteurs juifs, the text reads “afin de ne pas dissimuler entièrement son origine israélite” (p. 44), but the microfilm of the original, available online, confirms that the correct wording is “afin de dissimuler entièrement son origine israélite,” as Samuels

Notes to Pages 13–28  255 cites in “Jews, Modernity, and the Fiction of Ben-­Lévi,” Nineteenth-­Century French Studies 34, nos. 3–­4 (2006): 290. 25. Albert Cohen, Belle du Seigneur, trans. David Coward (New York: Viking, 1995), 973. Citations in text refer to this edition.

Chapter One 1. David Nirenberg, Anti-­Judaism: The Western Tradition (New York: Norton, 2013), esp. 1–­12. 2. See Jonathan Boyarin’s classic essay “The Other Within and the Other Without,” in The Other in Jewish Thought and History, ed. Laurence Silberstein (New York: NYU Press, 1994), 424–­52. 3. The Merchant of Venice, ed. John Drakakis, Arden Shakespeare, 3rd series (New York: Arden Shakespeare, 2011), 2.8.15. 4. Cesare Lombroso, “Atavism and Evolution,” Contemporary Review 68 (July–­Dec. 1895): 42–­43. Citations in text refer to this edition. 5. Paul Knepper, “Lombroso’s Jewish Identity and Its Implications for Criminology,” Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology 44, no. 3 (2011): 355–­69. 6. Jonathan Freedman, The Temple of Culture: Assimilation and Anti-­Semitism in Literary Anglo-­America (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2000), 125–­28. 7. Hamutal Bar-­Yosef, “Recreating Jewish Identity in Haim Nahman Bialik’s Poems: The Russian Context,” in Culture Front: Representing Jews in Eastern Europe, ed. Benjamin Nathans and Gabriella Safran (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 188. 8. Cited in George Prochnik, Stranger in a Strange Land: Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem (New York: Other Press, 2017), 30, 32. 9. Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality, vol. 1, An Introduction, 5th ed., trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1990), 140. 10. Foucault’s comments about his own inattention to the Jewish context are revealing by their completely confusing nature: “It’s true that I haven’t talked about anti-­Semitism. I intended to say a bit about it last time, when I was discussing this theme of the race struggle in very general terms, but I did not have time. What I think we can say—­but I will come back to this later—­is this: Insofar as it is a religious and racial attitude, anti-­Semitism had so little influence on the history I am trying to trace for you that it does not have to be taken into account until we reach the nineteenth century. The old religious-­type anti-­Semitism was reutilized by State racism only in the nineteenth century, or at the point when the State had to look like, function, and present itself as the guarantor of the integrity and purity of the race, and had to defend it against the race of races that were infiltrating it, introducing harmful elements into its body, and which therefore had to be driven out for both political and biological reasons. It is at this point that anti-­Semitism develops, picking up, using, and taking from the old form of anti-­Semitism all the energy—­and a whole mythology—­which had until then been devoted solely to the political analysis of the internal war, or the social war. At this point the Jews came to be seen as—­and were described as—­a race that was present within all races, and whose biologically dangerous character necessitated a certain number of mechanisms of rejection and exclusion on the part

256  Notes to Pages 28–31 of the State. It is therefore, I think, the reutilization within State racism of an anti-­Semitism which had developed for other reasons that generated the nineteenth-­century phenomena of superimposing the old mechanisms of anti-­Semitism on this critical and political analysis of the struggle between races within a single society. That is why I did not raise either the problem of religious racism or the problem of anti-­Semitism in the Middle Ages. I will, on the other hand, try to talk about them when I come to the nineteenth century.” Which sadly, he never does. See Michel Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the Collège de France 1975–­76, trans. David Macey (New York: Picador, 2003), 88–­89. 11. See especially Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-­Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 1998). 12. Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, 251–­52. 13. Sander L. Gilman, Freud, Race and Gender (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1993), 42. 14. Jay Geller, On Freud’s Jewish Body: Mitigating Circumcisions (New York: Fordham Univ. Press, 2007). 15. For Adams, see, among an abundance of references, this from his letters: “I plunge into the horde of  Jews; the most terrible since the middle-­ages. They are secret and banded together; they lie; they cheat the Christian; they are gutter-­Jews at that, the new lot, and they own us all.” The Letters of Henry Adams, vol. 4, 1892–­1899, ed. J. C. Levenson, Ernest Samuels, Charles Vandersee, and Viola Hopkins Winner (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1988). 333. For political elites in the United States, see, as one example of many, William Dean Owen, Report of the Select Committee on Immigration and Naturalization (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1891), 963: “Immigration into the United States is somewhat like the tides; it has its flood and its ebb, but as a rule the new flood is higher than the preceding one.” For Drumont, again, one example out of many: “The great reservoir of Semitism . . . pours forth incessantly from their stinking hordes . . . [they] let fall vermin wherever they pass,” La France juive: Essai d’histoire contemporaine (Paris, n.d. [1885?]), 362. For Lazare, see “La solidarité Juive,” Entretiens politiques et littèraire 1, no. 7 (1890): 222–­32, citation 231–­32. Impressively, Lazare was to change his views of Ostjuden under the impact of the Dreyfus affair, recognizing that anti-­Semitism was directed at all French Jews; see Nelly Jussem-­Wilson, “Bernard Lazare’s Jewish Journey: From Being an Israelite to Being a Jew,” Jewish Social Studies 26, no. 3 (1964): 146–­88. 16. Jits van Straten and Harmen Snel argue that the change in Jewish population is a result of improved reporting methods and underestimations of the population in earlier periods rather than of an explosive growth. Pace their convincing case, what matters here is perception, not reality, and as they suggest at the beginning of their essay, such perceptions dominated the field until, well, the publication of their essay. See Van Straten and Snel, “The Jewish ‘Demographic Miracle’ in Nineteenth-­Century Europe: Fact or Fiction?” Historical Methods: A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History 39, no. 3 (2006): 123–­31. 17. Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor: A Cyclopaedia of the Condition and Earnings of Those that Will Work, Those that Cannot Work, and Those that Will Not Work, extra volume (vol. 4), Those that Will Not Work (London: Griffin, Bohn & Company, 1862), 38. 18. See Miriam King and Steven Ruggles, “American Immigration, Fertility, and Race Suicide at the Turn of the Century,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 20, no. 3 (1990): 347–­69.

Notes to Pages 31–39  257 19. See, among others, Judith Rosenbaum, “The Call to Action: Margaret Sanger, the Brownsville Jewish Women, and Political Activism,” in Gender and Jewish History, ed. Marion A. Kaplan and Deborah Dash Moore (Bloomington: Univ. of Indiana Press, 2011), 251–­66. 20. See Peter C. Engelman, A History of the Birth Control Movement in America (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2011), 87. 21. Technically speaking, the term aesthetic, in the modern sense of the word, originates in the writing of Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten (1714–­1762), who appropriated and transformed an Aristotelean term for sense-­experience (aesthesis) and used it to designate the special perceptual experience appertaining to art. 22. George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2009), 206. 23. Adrien Bertrand, Catulle Mendès (Paris: E. Sansot, 1908), 9. 24. Jacques de Biez, La question juive: La France ne peut pas être leurs terre promesse (Paris: C. Marpon and E. Flammarion, 1886), 221. 25. It’s not clear whether Mendès’s Jewishness or his rakishness offended Gautier père more; scholars are split. But the father’s anti-­Semitism might clear up one of the mysteries of Mendès’s wedding: Mendès disappeared for a while because he claimed not to be able to find his birth certificate—­a certificate that would have demonstrated his Jewish origins. That the wedding proceeded without it is testimony to how dangerous it might have been. 26. Edmond de Goncourt, Journal des Goncourts: Mémoires de la vie littéraire, vol. 4 (Paris: Fasquelle & Flammarion, 1956), 627, quoted in Ruth Iskin, “Identity and Interpretation: Reception of Toulouse-­Lautrec’s Reine de joie Poster in the 1890s,” in Jewish Dimensions in Modern Visual Culture: Antisemitism, Assimilation, Affirmation, ed. Rose-­Carol Washton Long, Matthew Baigell, and Milly Heydl (Lebanon, NH: Brandeis Univ. Press/Univ. Press of  New England, 2010), 157. 27. Jacqueline Rose, Proust among the Nations: From Dreyfus to the Middle East (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2011), 48. 28. Elana Shapira, “Jewish Patronage and the Avant-­Garde in Vienna,” and Veronica Grodzinski, “Wilhelm II, Hugo von Tschudi and Jewish Patronage of French Modern Art,” both in Jüdische Sammler und ihr Beitrag zur Kultur der Moderne/Jewish Collectors and Their Contribution to Modern Culture, ed. Annette Weber and Jihan Radjai-­Ordoubadi (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag, 2011), 219–­35 and 119–­32, respectively. 29. Richard I. Cohen, Jewish Icons: Art and Society in Modern Europe (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1998), 191. 30. The general view among art historians is that it was the marginalization of the Jews that caused the persistent rejection of Camondo’s legacy. I won’t comment except to note that with a few notable exceptions, anti-­Semitism is conspicuous by its analytic absence, and the extension of the signifier “Jewish” to avant-­garde culture and art is one of the (admittedly polemical) arguments of this chapter. So, for example, as Veronica Grodzinski argues, “Judging from his insistent offer to the state, there can be little doubt that Camondo saw himself as a leader of the avant-­garde and wanted to be known as such.” Grodzinski, “Longing and Belonging: French Impressionism and Jewish Patronage,” in Longing, Belonging, and the Making of Jewish Consumer Culture, ed. Gideon Reuveni and Nils Roemer (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 96. For the State to accept the gift would be to accept the legitimacy of both his race and his taste. For the view that

258  Notes to Pages 40–49 stresses merely aesthetic resistance, see Fae Brauer, “ ‘One Friday at the French Artists’ Salon’: Pompiers and Official Artists at the Coupe de Cubisme,” in Academics, Pompiers, Official Artists and the Arrière-­Garde: Defining Modern and Traditional in France, 1900–­1960, ed. Natalie Adamson and Toby Norris (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009), 72. 31. See Pierre Bourdieu, “Manet and the Institutionalization of Anomie,” in The Field of Cultural Production, trans. Randal Johnson (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1993), 238–­53. For the canonical history of the system of French art, its disruption at the moment of Impressionism, and the emergence of a new system involving dealers and gallery owners, see Harrison C. White and Cynthia A. White, Canvases and Careers: Institutional Change in the French Painting World (1965; Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1993). 32. As such, I might add, these patrons were somewhat different from figures like Camondo or the Pereire brothers, who, like the Rothschilds, were of long-­established banking families looking for respectability; these speculators, like today’s hedge-­fund vulgarians, were flashier and more suspect. 33. Robert L. Herbert, From Millet to Léger: Essays in Social Art History (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 2002), 92. 34. Linda Nochlin, The Politics of Vision: Essays on Nineteenth-­Century Art and Society (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), chap. 8, “Degas and the Dreyfus Affair: A Portrait of the Artist as an Anti-­Semite.” 35. Clive Wainwright, “ ‘A gatherer and disposer of other men’s stuffe’: Murray Marks, Connoisseur and Curiosity Dealer,” Journal of the History of Collections 14, no. 1 (2002): 161–­76. My thanks to Todd Endelman for directing me to this article. 36. I am thinking here of Alfred Flechtheim, perhaps the preeminent dealer of modernist German art, the provenance of whose (perhaps, stolen) collection seems to have been expunged by the Museum of Modern Art. The case of three etchings by George Grosz thought to have been stolen from Flechtheim went all the way to the Supreme Court, which declined to review the case of the Grosz family, who had sued for their return. For the manifold issues here, see a great article by Michael Sontheimer, “The Flechtheim Paintings: Inside Germany’s Most Complicated Art Restitution Battle,” Spiegel Online, May 5, 2012; for the case against MoMA, see Patricia Cohen, “Family’s Claim against MoMA Hinges on Dates,” New York Times, Aug. 23, 2011. 37. And sometimes they did even more than pay a stipend, increasingly so as the century wore on. As Michael FitzGerald has shown, Picasso’s rise to prominence was wrought in collaboration with two dealers, Paul Rosenberg and George Wildenstein, both of whom pushed him to expand his artistic horizons while they helped publicize his art in the burgeoning public sphere. See FitzGerald, Making Modernism: Picasso and the Creation of the Market for Twentieth-­Century Art (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1995). 38. Robert Jensen, Marketing Modernism in Fin-­de-­Siècle Europe (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1994), 54. 39. Cited in Jensen, Marketing Modernism, 54–­55. 40. Marcel Proust, The Captive, trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, rev. D. J. Enright (New York: Modern Library, 1999), 314. 41. Doreen Caravajal and Carol Vogel, “Venerable Art Dealer Is Enmeshed in Lawsuits,” New York Times, Apr. 19, 2011.

Notes to Pages 49–53  259 42. Edouard Vuillard: A Painter and His Muses, exhibition,  Jewish Museum, New York, May 4–­Sept. 23, 2012; Stephen Brown, with an essay by Richard Brettell, Edouard Vuillard: A Painter and His Muses, 1890–­1940 (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 2012).

Chapter Two 1. See John Tagliabue, “Walling Off Oscar Wilde’s Tomb from Admirers’ Kisses,” New York Times, Dec. 15, 2011. 2. There’s an implicit turn away from the queer tonalities to ethno-­racial ones in the movement from Narcissus to “The Sphinx.” In a provocative argument, Ellen Crowell wonders what would have happened had a sculptor other than Epstein, say the (homosexual) Christopher Ricketts, taken on the assignment, which then would have become a “queer monument.” With all due respect, it’s to contest the dichotomy between queer and Jewish identities (Epstein, after all, suffered as a Jew much the same prejudice as Wilde as a gay man) that this chapter is dedicated. See Ellen Crowell, “Oscar Wilde’s Tomb: Silence and the Aesthetics of Queer Memorial,” BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-­Century History, Nov. 2012, www 3. Regenia Gagnier, Idylls of the Marketplace: Oscar Wilde and the Victorian Public (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 1986), 45; Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde (New York: Knopf, 1988), 346. 4. The full letter suggests just how fully imbricated Wilde’s experience was with that of  Jews at this stage in his life: Robert Sherard is here. On Wednesday he created a horrible scene in Campbell’s Bar by bawling out “À bas les juifs,” and insulting and assaulting someone whom he said was a Jew. The fight continued in the street, and Robert tried to create an Anti-­Semite, Anti-­Dreyfusard demonstration. He succeeded, and was ultimately felled to the ground by the  Jew! . . .  Yesterday he turned up again, and had to receive a rather insolent lecture from Campbell, who told him he preferred Jews to drunkards in his bar. He was much depressed, so of course I gave him drinks and cigarettes and all he wanted. . . . Poor Robert, he really is quite insane, and unbearable, except to very old friends who bear much. He begged me to lunch with him and to bring Maurice [Schwob], but I declined, feigning temporary good health as my excuse! His asking me to bring Maurice was astounding, as when he was last in Paris he refused to call on me because M. was staying with me, and generally was offensive about a lovely and loveable friendship. He has gone to the country today; I hope he will get better. Years ago he was a very good and dear fellow. I dined last night with Robert d’Humières, a very charming young Frenchman, whom I first met, years ago, at Frank Schuster’s [the home of the brother of his Jewish benefactor Adela Schuster]. Letter to Robert Ross, ca. May 28, 1898, in The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, ed. Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-­Davis (London: Fourth Estate, 2000), 1076–­77. 5. The letters to Claude and Charlotte (from September 1879) and Wilde’s response to Charlotte (which exists as a report from Charlotte to her son-­in-­law—­she destroyed all but one letter

260  Notes to Pages 54–61 Wilde wrote to her, the lovely expression of his grief at her brother’s death) can be found in Holland and Hart-­Davis, Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, 82–­83. 6. Leonard A. Montefiore, Essays and Letters Contributed to Various Periodicals between September, 1877, and August, 1879, together with Some Unpublished Fragments (London: privately printed, 1881), xviii. Citations in text refer to this edition. 7. See Todd M. Endelman, The Jews of Britain, 1656 to 2000 (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 2002), esp. 97–­99. 8. Michael Galchinsky, The Origin of the Modern Jewish Woman Writer: Romance and Reform in Victorian England (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 2006), 175–­76. 9. One could do worse in writing the history of aestheticist thought than by tracing the line from Ruskin’s botanical observation to the sunflowers and orchids and lilies that Wilde affected and wrote about to the (utterly artificial) green carnation that homosexual men in Wilde’s circle wore to the theater on the night of premieres as a sign of their affectional preference. This act of self-­branding was memorialized by the novel The Green Carnation (1894), by Robert Hitchens, which parodied Wilde and his friend Reggie Turner. 10. Richard I. Cohen, Jewish Icons: Art and Society in Modern Europe (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1998), 161. 11. An account of Solomon’s late career as the inventor of camouflage (!) includes a story I believe but have not been able to corroborate, that a wealthy English patron, Sir Samuel Montagu, urged Solomon to sign his letters “Solomon J. Solomon” to avoid confusion with the dissolute Simeon Solomon. See Nicholas Rankin, A Genius for Deception: How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2008), 29. 12. Theodore Child, “A Pre-­R aphaelite Mansion,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 82 (1890/91): 82. 13. G. G. Williamson, Murray Marks and His Friends (London: Bodley Head, 1919), 15. 14. “Mr Holman Hunt on the Restoration of the Jews,” Spectator, Feb. 29, 1896, 298–­300. 15. Edouard Roditi, Oscar Wilde (New York: New Directions, 1947), 188. 16. Letter of Reginald Turner to Robert Ross, Nov. 28, 1900, cited in Holland and Hart-­ Davis, Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, 1218. 17. Oscar Wilde, “A Bevy of Poets,” Pall Mall Gazette, Mar. 27, 1885. Reprinted in Oscar Wilde: Complete Works, vol. 4, Reviews (New York: National Library Company, 1909), 13. 18. A similar dynamic is at work in Wilde’s best-­known epigram about Raffalovich, also dating to this era: he came to London with the intention of opening a salon, and he has succeeded in opening a saloon. Here too Wilde turns Raffalovich into a version of an Irishman—­that group classically associated with saloons rather than salons, thereby distancing himself from his own brood, or at least déclassé members of it. Wilde’s play with Raffalovich’s Jewishness is thus a complex game in which he both adopts the stance of the drawling anti-­Semitic and anti-­Irish British twit and parodies that stance by exaggerating it, dis-­identifying himself as doubly othered queer Irishman by sneering at a trebly othered queer, European-­born Jew, and identifying himself, however compulsively, with that latter figure at one and the same time. 19. For Raffalovich’s response to Wilde and Wilde’s response in return, see Oscar Wilde: Complete Works, 4:14–­16. Neither wasted any time: Wilde’s review appeared on March 27, Raffalovich’s response on March 30, and Wilde’s reply on April 1.

Notes to Pages 61–72  261 20. Frederick S. Roden, “Marc-­Andre Raffalovich: A Russian-­French-­Jewish-­Catholic Ho­ mosexual in Oscar Wilde’s London,” in Jewish/Christian/Queer: Crossroads and Identities, ed. Frederick Roden (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009), 128–­39. 21. Uranisme et unisexualité: Étude sur différentes manifestations de l’instinct sexuel (Lyon: Storck, 1896), 243–­44, as quoted and translated by Frederick S. Roden in “Marc-­Andre Raffalovich,” 133. 22. “Mr. Lawson and his predecessors and associates in the conduct of the Daily Telegraph afford the most striking English illustration of a phenomenon common enough in Europe, and probably in America, too, of Jewish ascendency in all the arts in which success depends upon the skilful management of men and manipulation of opinion,” sniffed the Nation, Sept. 16, 1880, 198. The Jewish origins of press “barons” like the Ochses and Sulzbergers or Robert Maxwell has been a source of obloquy ever since. It was not only a major component of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion fantasy but a constant in the anti-­Semitic Henry Ford–­controlled Dearborn Independent in the 1920s up to the present day. 23. N. John Hall, Max Beerbohm: Caricatures (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1997), 26. 24. David Cecil, Max: A Biography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1964), 53. 25. Stanley Weintraub, Reggie: A Portrait of Reginald Turner (New York: Braziller, 1965), 36. 26. From a letter to William Rothenstein in early 1934, cited in Weintraub, Reggie, 239. 27. Bernard Berenson, Count Florio and Phyllis K. (London: Chapman & Hall, 1910), 416. 28. Hall, Beerbohm Caricatures, 127. 29. See Todd M. Endelman, Radical Assimilation in English Jewish History, 1656–­1945 (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1990). 30. Men and Memories: A History of the Arts 1872 to 1922, Being the Recollections of William Rothenstein, Part Two (New York: Coward McGann, 1935), 35. Citation in text refers to this edition. 31. See Steven Nadler, Rembrandt’s Jews (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2003). 32. Samuel Shaw, “ ‘Equivocal Positions’: The Influence of William Rothenstein, c. 1890–­ 1910” (PhD thesis, Univ. of York, 2010), esp. 216–­23. 33. Gilbert Cannan, Mendel: A Story of Youth (London: Fischer Unwin, 1916), 78–­79. 34. Ruth Padel, “Unstill Lives: Tate Britain’s Migrations Exhibition,” Guardian, Jan. 26, 2012. 35. Shaw, “Equivocal Positions,” 292. 36. Gary Schmidgall, The Stranger Wilde: Interpreting Oscar (New York: Dutton, 1994), 292. 37. Mrs. Aria [Eliza Davis], My Sentimental Self (London: Chapman & Hall, 1922). See also Margaret D. Stetz, “ ‘To Defend the Undefendable’: Oscar Wilde and the Davis Family,” Oscholars, special issue (“Oscar Wilde, Jews and the Fin-­de-­Siècle,” ed. Shelley Salamensky), Summer 2010. 38. Julie Speedie, Wonderful Sphinx: The Biography of Ada Leverson (London: Virago, 1994). The contemporary biography of Julia Frankau has yet to be written, but Todd Endel­ man offers a fine study of the family in “The Frankaus of London: A Study in Radical Assimilation, 1837–­1967,” Jewish History 8, nos. 1–­2 (1994): 117–­54. 39. There’s some controversy here among Levy’s biographers. Linda Hunt Beckman emphasizes the unhappy end of her relationships with women as well as the criticism launched

262  Notes to Pages 74–82 by the Jewish established press of Reuben Sachs as the cause of her worst depressions and, ultimately, her suicide. Christine Pullen has argued against the lesbian dimensions of Levy’s affectional life, suggesting, for example, that even as she was most engaged with Vernon Lee/Violet Paget, she was conducting a doomed flirtation with a man. It’s important to keep this in mind, I suppose, but the possibility of a multi-­aimed sexuality is not considered. I find Beckman’s readings of Levy’s life more thorough and thoughtful throughout her analysis, not just on this one subject, so I’m inclined to endorse her position. See Beckman, Amy Levy: Her Life and Letters (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 2000); Pullen, The Woman Who Dared: A Biography of Amy Levy (London: Kingston Univ. Press, 2010). 40. [Oscar Wilde], “Amy Levy,” Woman’s World 3 (1890): 52. 41. Shachar M. Pinsker, Literary Passports: The Making of Modernist Hebrew Fiction in Europe (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 2011), 149. 42. Robert Harborough Sherard, The Life of Oscar Wilde (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1906), 131–­32. 43. Bernard Fehr, “Oskar vayld un zayn tsayt” [Oscar Wilde and His Time]. Literarishe bleter [Warsaw], no. 2/81 (Nov. 20, 1925), 245–­47. My thanks to Alisa Braun for this translation. 44. Ruth R. Wisse, A Little Love in Big Manhattan: Two Yiddish Poets (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1988), 30–­31. 45. Yoel Slonim, “Oscar Wilde,” Literatur 1 (1910): 113, 119. My thanks to Alisa Braun for this translation. 46. Pinsker covers these admirably in Literary Passports, 147–­50. 47. Robert Ross, “A Note on ‘Salome,’ ” in Salome: A Tragedy in One Act Translated from the French of Oscar Wilde with Sixteen Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley (London: John Lane, 1912), xxi. 48. Slonim, “Oscar Wilde,” 11. Translation by Alisa Braun. 49. Fradl Shtok, “Sonnet,” trans. Kathryn Hellerstein, in Jewish American Literature: A Norton Anthology, ed. Jules Chametsky, John Felstiner, Hilene Flanzbaum, and Kathryn Hellerstein (New York: Norton, 2007), 294. 50. Oscar Wilde, Salomé, in Wilde: The Complete Plays, ed. H. Montgomery Hyde (London: Methuen, 1998), 412. 51. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (Paris: Charles Carrington, 1908), 1. 52. “A Decadent Play by Sholem Asch,” American Hebrew, Oct. 18, 1907, 598, quoted in Warren Hoffman, The Passing Game: Queering Jewish American Culture (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press, 2009), 35. 53. Pinsker, Literary Passports, 150.

Chapter Three 1. Brice spelled her name at this period Fannie, shifting later, during her years of greatest fame, to Fanny. I use the latter here, with the reminder that the alternation between these spellings instantiates a process of self-­remaking that defined not just her career but those of most of the figures I write about here.

Notes to Pages 83–92  263 2. “Sadie Salome (Go Home),” words and music by Edgar Leslie and Irving Berlin (New York: Ted Snyder, 1909), Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection, Sheridan Libraries and University Museums,  Johns Hopkins University, 3. Larry Hamberlin, Tin Pan Opera: Operatic Novelty Songs in the Ragtime Era (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2011), 114–­15. 4. Toni Bentley, Sisters of Salomé (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 2002), 39, 40. 5. Susan Glenn reminds us not only that Salome rapidly became a subject of blackface performance, but that the stage was graced with a spectacular African American Salome, Aida Overton Walker, who began in the popular theater as “Queen of the Cakewalk” and performed a sultry Salome in 1908 but whose innate talent as a choreographer and dignity as a performer soon shone through her performances. See Glenn, Female Spectacle: The Theatrical Roots of Modern Feminism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 200), esp. 110–­15. 6. Cited in Hamberlin, Tin Pan Opera, 133. 7. For the development of this idealized image, see Linda Mizejewski, Ziegfeld Girl: Image and Icon in Culture and Cinema (Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 1998). Anna Held, Ziegfeld’s mistress and the originator of the idea of the Follies, was half-­Jewish, on her mother’s side, dark-­haired, and buxom. Her replacement as Ziegfeld’s mistress by the blonde Lillian Lorraine signified Ziegfeld’s discovery of the archetype in his chorus line as well. 8. Peter Wollen, “Out of the Past: Fashion/Orientalism/the Body,” in Raiding the Icebox: Reflections on Twentieth Century Culture (London: Verso, 2008), 1–­35, esp. 8–­10. 9. Sander L. Gilman, Inscribing the Other (Lincoln: Univ. of  Nebraska Press, 1991), 180. Gil­ man quotes here from Karl Kraus’s review of the 1903 production. 10. Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde (New York: Knopf, 1988), 253, 340, 342. 11. As quoted in Edmund De Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011), 85. De Waal gives no citation for the quotation, and I have not been able to find it elsewhere. But the facts it represents—­Renoir was an open anti-­Semite, Ephrussi a collector of Moreau—­are not in dispute. 12. Marc Gotlieb, “How Canons Disappear: The Case of Henri Regnault,” in Art History and Its Institutions: Foundations of a Discipline, ed. Elizabeth Mansfield (London: Routledge, 2002), 167. By contrast, note the way that in Ingres’s Grande Odalisque the serpentine line allows the artist to portray a woman as both offering and withholding herself from the (male) beholder, her face in profile inviting the gaze—­and even enjoyment—­of that which her pose withholds (even the buttocks are presented to but concealed from the spectator). 13. For this analysis, see Julius Kaplan, Gustave Moreau (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1974), 34. 14. Henry James, Parisian Sketches: Letters to the New York Tribune, 1875–­76, ed. Leon Edel and Ilse Dusoir Lind (London: Rupert Hart-­Davis, 1958), 148–­49. I am indebted to Carol Ockman and Kenneth E. Silver, Sarah Bernhardt: The Art of High Drama (New York: Jewish Museum/New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 2005), for this reference and many of those that follow. 15. Émile Zola, “Deux exposition d’art au mois de mai: Salon de 1876 et 2e Exposition Impressioniste,” Le messager de l’Europe,  June 1876, quoted in Carol Ockman, “Was She Magnificent? Sarah Bernhardt’s Reach,” in Ockman and Silver, Sarah Bernhardt, 29.

264  Notes to Pages 98–111 16. Jules Lemaître, “Madame Sarah Bernhardt,” in Literary Impressions, trans. A. W. Evans (London: D. O’Connor, 1921), as quoted in Karen Levitov, “The Divine Sarah and the Infernal Sally: Bernhardt in the Words of Her Contemporaries,” in Ockman and Silver, Sarah Bernhardt, 138. 17. Sander L. Gilman, “Salome, Syphilis, Sarah Bernhardt and the Modern Jewish Woman,” in The Jew in the Text: Modernity and the Construction of Identity, ed. Linda Nochlin and Tamar Garb. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1966), 97–­120. 18. Ellen Terry, The Story of My Life: Recollections and Reflections (New York: McClure, 1908), 217–­18; italics in original. 19. Carol Ockman, “When Is a Jewish Star Just a Star? Interpreting Images of Sarah Bernhardt,” in Nochlin and Garb, Jew in the Text, 139. 20. Sarah Bernhardt, Memories of My Life, Being My Personal, Professional, and Social Recollections as Woman and Artist [no translator given] (New York: Appleton, 1907), 132. Citations in text refer to this edition. 21. Quoted in Lynn Garafola, “Ida Rubinstein, 1883–­1960,” Jewish Women’s Archive: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Women, 22. Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1990), 497. 23. Petra Dierkes-­Thrun, Salomé’s Modernity: Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetics of Transgression (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 2014), 145. Dierkes-­Thrun is quoting here from Michael Morris, Madame Valentino: The Many Lives of Natacha Rambova (New York: Abbeville, 1991), 87. 24. Patricia White, “Nazimova’s Veils: ‘Salome’ at the Intersection of Film Histories,” in A Feminist Reader in Early Cinema, ed. Jennifer M. Bean and Diane Negra (Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 2002), 79. 25. Marion A. Kaplan, The Making of the Jewish Middle Class: Women, Family, and Identity in Imperial Germany (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1994), 31–­32; Jenna Weissman Joselit, A Perfect Fit: Clothes, Character, and the Promise of America (New York: Metropolitan Books/ Henry Holt, 2001), 183–­85; Marion Golde, “The Modern Ghetto Girl: Does She Lack Refinement? Discussed by Mrs. Asch, Mme. Nazimova and Mr. Foshko,” American Jewish Weekly News, Mar. 29, 1918, 10–­11. 26. Stephanie Nicole Robinson, History of Immigrant Female Students in Chicago Public Schools, 1900–­1950 (New York: Peter Lang, 2004), 40. 27. Hasia R. Diner, The Jews of the United States, 1654–­2000 (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 2006), 224. 28. Anzia Yezierska, Bread Givers (1925; New York: Persea Books, 2003), 18, 49. 29. Anzia Yezierska, Salome of the Tenements (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1923), 141. 30. Stefanie Teri Greenberg, “An Investigation of Body Image Dissatisfaction among Jewish American Females: An Application of the Tripartite Influence Model” (PhD diss., Univ. of Iowa, 2009). 31. See Ray Pointer, The Art and Inventions of Max Fleischer, American Animation Pioneer ( Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co, 2017).

Notes to Pages 113–119  265

Chapter Four 1. There is a Proustian joke here: Rachel, the great Jewish-­born actress of the 1840s and 1850s, was Sarah Bernhardt’s predecessor and role model, whom Bernhardt vowed to supersede. So Proust’s fictional Rachel does to Berma what the historical Bernhardt vowed to do to the historical Rachel. In this chapter citations of the Recherche in translation will be to the C. K. Scott Moncrieff/Terence Kilmartin translation (revised by D. J. Enright) of the Recherche (New York: Modern Library, 2003), by volume and page number, here 6:462. Citations in text refer to this edition. 2. For a detailed reading of Rachel’s Jewishness in light of the intertextual reference to Halévy, see Lawrence R. Schehr, Figures of Alterity: French Realism and Its Others (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 2004), 180–­90, and Schehr, “Rachel, quand du Seigneur,” L’Esprit Créateur 37, no. 4 (1997): 82–­93. 3. Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, new ed. (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966), 80–­92; Julia Kristeva, Time and Sense: Proust and the Experience of Literature, trans. Ross Guberman (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1996), in which Kristeva addresses Arendt directly: “Vice is not an accident of  history, my dear Hannah. Vice is latent within us; it is the other, infinite side of society. Proust seems to have discovered this Freudian truth without Freud’s help” (p. 158). 4. For this concept in Pater, see “The School of Giorgione,” in The Works of Walter Pater, vol. 1, The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry (London: MacMillan, 1900), 134. On Pater as a possible source for Bergotte, see Emily Eells, Proust’s Cup of Tea: Homoeroticism and Victorian Culture (Burlington: Ashgate, 2002), 175–­77, although, as Proust himself wrote, there is no clé for any character precisely because there are eight or ten for each; on other possible avenues for Bergotte’s genesis, see Jo Yoshida, “Genèse de la ‘relecture de Bergotte’ dans À la recherche du temps perdu,” Études de langue et littérature françaises 36 (1980): 114–­31. 5. Henry James, The Ambassadors (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1909), 86. After writing these pages, I discovered a fine study by Sabine Doran, The Culture of Yellow; or, The Visual Politics of Late Modernity (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), which covers much of the same material in greater depth than I can here. On La revue blanche and its relationship to the exoticizing aesthetics of the 1890s, see Gayle Zachmann, “Postcards from Japan: Asian Dissonance in Mallarmé, Zola, and Proust,” L’Esprit Créatur 56, no. 3 (2016): 76–­89. 6. On Proust and chinoiserie, with reference to the death of Bergotte, see Christine Froula, “Proust’s China,” Modernism/Modernity 19, no. 2 (2012): 227–­54. Proust’s relationship to the work of Vermeer is also discussed in Luzius Keller, “ ‘C’est ainsi que j’aurais dû écrire . . .’: Proust devant Vermeer,” Marcel Proust aujourd’hui 7 (2009): 9–­29. 7. Allan Pasco provides a helpful sketch of Proust’s relationship to decadent predecessors in “From Decadence in Huysmans and Barbey to Regeneration in Gide and Proust,” Dix-­Neuf 21, nos. 2–­3 (2017): 192–­203, but he makes no mention of Jewishness. 8. Ramon Fernandez, “Notes sur l’esthétique de Proust,” La nouvelle revue française 31 (1928): 274, as translated in Emily Eells, “ ‘Influence occulte’: The Reception of Pater’s Works in France before 1922,” in The Reception of Walter Pater in Europe, ed. Stephen Bann (New

266  Notes to Pages 120–122 York: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004), 105. Eells’s article (87–­112) contains a meticulous reading of Proust’s reading of Pater. 9. “I forget who the man of taste was who, when he was asked what event in his life had grieved him most, replied: ‘The death of Lucien de Rubempré in [Balzac’s] Splendeurs et Misères’ ” (2:1084). For a masterful reading of this passage’s queer itinerary, see Michael Lucey, Never Say I: Sexuality and the First Person in Colette, Gide, and Proust (Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 2006), 193–­214. 10. For a Bourdieu-­inspired reading of the semiotic relationships between the declining aristocracy, Jews, and homosexuals, see Duncan McColl Chesey, “Aristocracy and Modernism: Signs of Aristocracy in Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu,” MLN 120, no. 4 (2005): 871–­95. 11. For Proust’s contemporaries, the author’s own homosexuality and its thematization in the Recherche had sparked controversy, with André Gide resenting what he saw as Proust’s stigmatization of “uranisme” and Colette approving of the novel’s representation of male homosexuality but dissatisfied with how it deals with lesbians. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s landmark reading of Sodom and Gomorrah in Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1990) shifted the focus of criticism from the accuracy or positivity of Proust’s representation of sexual identity to the structural tensions constitutive of sexuality itself as a domain of  knowledge. Elisabeth Ladenson, correcting more than five decades of scholarship that read the lesbians of the Recherche as “transpositions” of the Narrator’s male objects of desire, showed that Proust’s lesbians in fact abide by an entirely different logic than male homosexuality, figuring a mysteriously opaque femininity rather than a sexual inversion; see Ladenson, Proust’s Lesbianism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1999). On the relationship between sexuality and the novel’s narrative style, see Colleen Lamos, Deviant Modernism: Sexual and Textual Errancy in T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, and Marcel Proust (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1998), 170–­216; Lawrence R. Schehr, French Gay Modernism (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 2004); Lucey, Never Say I; and Adeline Soldin, “Proustian Temptation: Narrative, Sexual, and Readerly Transgressions in la Recherche,” MLN 133, no. 4 (2018): 809–­30. On Proust’s relationship to contemporary medical discourse on sexual deviance and its cultural ramifications, see Michael Finn, “Proust and Ambient Medico-­Literary Homosexualities 1885–­1922,” French Forum 37, no. 3 (2012): 49–­64, and Anna Katharina Schaffner, Modernism and Perversion: Sexual Deviance in Sexology and Literature, 1850–­1930 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 198–­217. 12. The importance of this passage was driven home to me by Richard Davenport-­Hines, Proust at the Majestic: The Last Days of the Author Whose Book Changed Paris (New York: Bloomsbury, 2006), 156. 13. Indeed, the latter is far gentler—­almost comic—­in its enactment than any of the forms of psychological violence that precede it, since Marcel overhears the working-­class men grumbling about their labors and registers Charlus’s disappointment that the man who is to beat him is a good family man who sends money to his aged mother, not, as Charlus had hoped, a murderer. The complexity of the scene is heightened when Marcel speaks to Jupien, Charlus’s long-­time lover and faithful friend, who has been brought in by Charlus to run the brothel that he himself owns; Jupien here, as for the rest of the novel, is motivated not so much by desire or avarice as by the ethic of care, the role he plays with Charlus for the rest of Charlus’s life, again to comic as

Notes to Pages 122–126  267 well as serious effect. (Jupien’s efforts are required to keep Charlus, who has gone blind, from propositioning underage boys whose voices have prematurely deepened—­this is as crucial as it is comic, for while homosexuality was legal, sex with underage children was not, and many gay men found themselves in jeopardy for having sex with adolescents.) 14. Arthur Symons, “The Later Huysmans,” in The Symbolist Movement in Literature (New York: Dutton, 1908), 139. 15. For the classic discussions of metaphor and metonymy in Proust, see Gérard Genette, “Métonymie chez Proust,” in Figures III (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1972), 41–­63, and Paul de Man, Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1979), 57–­78. 16. See Adeline Soldin, “Seeing Feeling: Queer Voyeurism in À la recherche du temps perdu,” French Studies 69, no. 3 (2015): 318–­32. 17. Kristeva, Time and Sense, 152. Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities (or perhaps villages) on a Palestinian plain traversed by Abraham and his family, bore roughly the same relation to these wandering Jews as Edom. Both the Hebrew Bible and the traditions of Talmudic commentary that supplemented it, however, make a point of dividing the proto-­Hebrews from the laws, culture, and practices of the Sodomites and Gomorrahites. In the Hebrew Bible the problem in these cities seems to have to do as much with violations of codes of  hospitality as with sexuality: Lot offers his daughters to the Sodomites to keep them from harming (probably sexually) his guests, who are, unbeknownst to him, emissaries from God. But, as many commentaries suggest, this action taints Lot with much the same malevolence as the actions of the Sodomites, from whose fate he is spared. And Lot never becomes a Hebrew, a fact of which much is made in the Talmudic tradition. For the most complete reading of this moment, see Robert Alter, “Sodom as Nexus: The Web of Design in Biblical Narrative,” in The Book and the Text: The Bible and Literary Theory, ed. Regina Schwartz (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), 145–­60, reprinted in Reclaiming Sodom, ed. Jonathan Goldberg (New York: Routledge, 1994), 28–­42. Throughout Goldberg’s volume a connection between Jews and the Sodomites under the sign of transgressive sexuality is suggested, despite the clear disinclination of more theologically minded Jews to draw such a connection. Rocky O’Donovan writes, “Let Sodom be the symbol of what heterosexism and homophobia do to us, like the holocaust has become for the Jewish people. It’s an interesting coincidence that ‘Sodom’ and ‘holocaust’ are literally synonym—­they both mean ‘burnt’ in Hebrew and Greek, respectively.” From O’Donovan, “Reclaiming Sodom,” reprinted in Goldberg, Reclaiming Sodom, 248). 18. Like homosexuality,  Jewishness in Proust has been discussed extensively. For a thoroughgoing look at the history of scholarship, see the introduction to L. Scott Lerner, “Proust and the Profanation of the Jewish Mother” (PhD. diss., Harvard Univ., 1997), 1–­20. The Recherche, here as ever giving rise to multiple contradictory readings, has been described by anti-­Semites as a “Talmudic task” reeking of “Semitism” (in the words of Louis-­Ferdinand Céline), while other critics have read it as a document of  Jewish self-­hatred that is itself anti-­Semitic. On Proust and anti-­Semitism, as well as a reading of Proust as both analyst and culmination of the nineteenth-­ century French-­Jewish quest for acculturation, see Maurice Samuels, Inventing the Israelite: Jewish Fiction in Nineteenth-­Century France (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 2010), 239–­ 62, and Samuels, “Proust et le philosémitisme,” in “Du côté de chez Swann” ou le cosmopolitisme

268  Notes to Pages 126–128 d’un roman français, ed. Antoine Compagnon and Nathalie Mauriac Dyer (Paris: Honoré Champion Éditeur, 2016), 203–­16. On the relationship between Jew and queer as figures in the Recherche, see Naomi Diamant, “Judaism, Homosexuality, and Other Sign Systems in A la recherche du temps perdu,” Romanic Review 82, no. 2 (1991): 179–­92, and Patrick Mimouni, Les mémoires maudites: Juifs et homosexuels dans l’oeuvre et la vie de Marcel Proust (Paris: Éditions Grasset, 2018). 19. For a lucid and concise reading of the history of  “Jew” as a name for the other, see Cynthia M. Baker, Jew (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 2017), esp. 47–­96. For an equally lucid but considerably less concise reading of the history of “Jew” as a name for the other, see David Nirenberg, Anti-­Judaism: The Western Tradition (New York: Norton, 2013). In the French context, the early history of  Jews as “good to think” for gentiles has been expertly traced by Ronald Schechter, Obstinate Hebrews: Representations of Jews in France, 1715–­1815 (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 2003). Maurice Samuels shows the importance of Jewishness as a figure of alterity in debates about French universalism from the Revolution to Charlie Hebdo in Samuels, The Right to Difference: Universalism and the Jews (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2016). 20. Gilles Deleuze, Proust and Signs, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Braziller, 1972), 76. 21. For a biography that focuses on Proust’s Jewishness, see Benjamin Taylor, Proust: The Search (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 2015). 22. Proust’s biographer Jean-­Yves Tadié suggests both of the standard positions: first, that an advocacy of Dreyfus by the “son of Jeanne Weil” has little to do with Proust’s own recognition of his “Jewish roots” (Tadié invokes no less authoritative a figure than Léon Blum to oppose this “facile and wooly explanation” of Proust’s Dreyfusism), for “it was in spite of his background that a Jewish intellectual took the side of Dreyfus,” and hence Proust’s Dreyfusard tendencies demonstrate conclusively that he did not think of himself as a Jew. And at the same time, that Proust “became a Dreyfusard unhesitatingly, as soon as he learned about the case, emotionally and rationally, but also out of an awakening sense of solidarity with a community brought together by what amounted to mental persecution at the very least.” See Tadié, Marcel Proust: A Life, trans. Euan Cameron (New York: Viking, 2000), 300–­302. Tadié’s syntax, no less tortuous in French than in English, suggests his discomfort with the entire matter of Proust’s relation to his Jewishness, a discomfort that unerringly mimics, I think, that of his subject. But this is still a far cry from Edmund White’s blanket claim that “Tadié rejects the vulgar notion that Proust defended Dreyfus because he was half-­Jewish and argues that Proust did not think of  himself as a Jew.” White, “Every Last Morsel of Marcel,” Guardian, July 9, 2000. Obviously, both claims are partially what Tadié (and Proust) would assert, but only partially. For a great account of the Dreyfus case and Proust’s understanding of it, see Erin G. Carlston, Double Agents: Espionage, Literature, and Liminal Citizens (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2013). 23. Jean Recanati, Profils juifs de Marcel Proust (Paris: Buchet/Chastel, 1979), 15–­16. 24. Recanati, Profils juifs, 16. 25. For a history of the “Jewish” nose (a.k.a., with different associations, the Levantine or Roman nose), see Sander Gilman, The Jew’s Body (New York: Routledge, 1991). In Proust’s text the Jewish nose (which emerges most explicitly in the context of Swann’s cancer-­ravaged face) signifies corruption, often metonymically Jewifying people for whom his feelings are less than positive. When he is suspicious of Albertine, for example, the Narrator notices “a certain aspect

Notes to Pages 129–130  269 to her face (so sweet and so beautiful from in front) which I could not endure, hook-­nosed as in one of Leonardo’s caricatures, seeming to betray the malice, the greed for gain, the deceitfulness of a spy whose presence in my house would have filled me with horror and whom that profile seemed to unmask” (3:74). It is unnecessary to dwell on the collection of anti-­Semitic commonplaces, only partially concealed by the reference to Leonardo, in this sentence, but given Proust’s response to the Dreyfus affair, the recycling of the discourse of a subversive spy worming her way into hearth and home seems particularly overdetermined. The Narrator’s anti-­Semitic snobbery, in other words, seems to be linked to his psychosexual possessiveness—­a deeply fraught conjunction, given his sexual experiences with “Rachel-­when-­from-­the-­Lord.” Sexual desire, mastery, and the failure of women to fit into the Narrator’s sexual desire path (he is jealous of Albertine’s desire for women) all get conflated with the Jewishness, especially the Jew’s ability to transcend cultural and sexual categories. 26. Tadié, Marcel Proust, 302. 27. On Proust’s treatment of Jewishness in the context of fin-­de-­siècle French racialism, see Pauline Moret-­Jankus, Race et imaginaire biologique chez Proust (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2016), and Marion Schmid, “The Jewish Question in A la Recherche du temps perdu in the Light of Nineteenth-­Century Discourses on Race,” Neophilologus 83, no. 1 (1999): 33–­49. 28. The original French reads, “Je n’ai pas répondu hier à ce que vous m’avez demandé des Juifs. C’est pour cette raison très simple: si je suis catholique comme mon père et mon frère, par contre, ma mère est juive. Vous comprenez que c’est une raison absolument forte pour que je m’abstienne de ce genre de discussions. J’ai pensé qu’il était plus respectueux de vous l’écrire que de vous répondre de vive voix devant un second interlocuteur. Mais je suis bien heureux de cette occasion qui me permet de vous dire ceci que je n’aurais peut-­être jamais songé à vous dire. Car si nos idées diff  èrent, ou plutôt si je n’ai pas indépendance pour avoir là-­dessus celles que j’aurais peut-­être, vous auriez pu me blesser involuntairement dans une discussion. Je ne parle pas bien entendu pour celles qui pourraient avoir lieu entre nous deux et où je serai toujours si intéressé par vos idées de politique sociale, si vous me les exposez, même si une raison de suprême convenance m’empêche d’y adhérer.” The letter was written in May 1896. This translation is by Ralph Manheim, from Marcel Proust: Selected Letters, 1880–­1903, ed. Philip Kolb (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), 121. 29. Mac Pigman has suggested to me that the passage carefully distinguishes between religious and racial vectors of identity: I am a Catholic, Proust seems to say, because I was raised a Catholic, I attend Mass, I subscribe to Catholic beliefs, and so on, and so this is a valid way of classifying me despite the Jewish birth of my mother, her continuing subscription to Jewish religious practices, and the evidence of my own face. The utility of this definition in a racializing climate such as that of late nineteenth-­and early twentieth-­century France goes without saying. What might be added is that it works only in writing: Proust’s own Jewish appearance implicated him in a continuity with his mother’s Jewishness as a matter of race or heredity, in either the older language of “blood” or the newer one of genes. Tellingly, when Proust used the same tactic in conversation, it was a dismal failure. According to George Painter, Proust took the opportunity at a dinner party to clear himself (along with his anti-­Dreyfusard friend Maurice Barrès) with regard to an anti-­Semitic article in La libre parole in which “his name was maliciously included in ‘a list of young Jews who abominate Barrès.’ ‘As I couldn’t contradict

270  Notes to Pages 130–131 it publicly without saying I wasn’t a Jew, which although true would have upset my mother, I thought it useless to say anything,’ he [Proust] explained, but it was clear from the expression on Barrès’s face that it would have been far from useless.” Painter, Proust, vol. 2, The Later Years (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1965), 21. 30. See Eugen Weber, France: Fin de Siècle (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1986), esp. 36–­40. France was one of the first Western societies explicitly to decriminalize so-­called sodomy, by simply not naming it in the Napoleonic Code of 1804, one reason Wilde thought of escaping there during his trial and lived there after it. Nevertheless, individual gay men continued to feel harassment, often on charges of pederasty or molestation. Graham Robb notes that Benjamin Ball, first chaired professor of psychology in France, wrote as early as 1888 that “sexual perversion can coexist with a perfectly normal mental state and even with the most brilliant intellectual faculties,” the implication of this, along with other European thinking, being, Robb adds, “that a cure might be the mental equivalent of amputating a healthy limb.” See Robb, Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth-­Century (New York: Picador, 2003), 72. Homosexuality per se was not explicitly represented in poetry or prose, Proust’s novel in fact being pathbreaking in this respect (as his editor and friend André Gide noted with both approbation and asperity at what he saw as Proust’s limited courage in his representations of gay men and lesbians). 31. See Robb, Strangers, 31. One particularly charged instance is instructive. In 1908 Proust befriended a young man at the resort town of Cabourg named Marcel Plantevignes, only to send him an angry letter and challenge the boy’s father to a duel. It emerged, after some toing and froing, that the boy’s offense had been that he had not vigorously contradicted a woman who had advised him to avoid Proust lest the author make a pass at him. This was the year, it should be added, when the homosexual scandals known as the Eulenberg affair reached their climax in Germany, and when Proust’s novel turned for the first time to the subject of homosexuality. 32. For the context of European anti-­Semitism at large, see George Mosse, Nationalism and Sexuality: Respectability and Abnormal Sexuality in Modern Europe (New York: Fertig, 1985). For French anti-­Semitism, see Pierre Birnbaum, Anti-­Semitism in France: A Political History from Léon Blum to the Present, trans. Miriam Kochan (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992). 33. My account here is drawn from a number of sources. The most helpful have been Birnbaum, Anti-­Semitism in France; Pierre Birnbaum, Jewish Destinies: Citizenship, State, and Community in Modern France, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (New York: Hill and Wang, 2000); Eugen Weber, The Nationalist Revival in France, 1905–­1914 (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1959); and Theodore Zeldin, France, 1848–­1945 (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1980). For an accessible account of the battles between Right and Left staged on the front of francité, see Frederick Brown, For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus (New York: Knopf, 2010). 34. Léon Daudet was the brother of one of Proust’s dearest friends, Lucien Daudet. Both brothers were arch-­snobs, but Léon was far more active politically, ultimately joining Charles Maurras’s Action française. His political opinions, however, did not stop Proust from consis­ tently flattering him. In 1904, for example, Proust also dedicated La Bible d’Amiens to Léon Daudet. At roughly the same time, according to Birnbaum, “Daudet called upon his audience

Notes to Pages 132–144  271 [at an Action française rally] to defend the Catholic faith and make war on the Jews; the crowd responded with shouts of ‘Vive le roi! Vive l’empereur! Death to the Jews!’ ” ( Jewish Destinies, 128–­29). 35. Elaine Marks points out that the “tent” (tente) from within which Bloch’s voice thunders creates a homophonous connection between the Jew and the tante, a slur for homosexuality. See Marks, Marrano as Metaphor: The Jewish Presence in French Writing (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1996), 83. 36. I owe this point to Seth L. Wolitz, The Proustian Community (New York: NYU Press, 1971), 205. 37. An interest in faces in their signifying/concealing power runs throughout the Recherche; see André Benhaïm, Panim: Visages de Proust (Villeneuve d’Ascq: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2006). 38. Maurice Samuels suggests something of this anxiety of proximity in Marcel’s relationship to Bloch (and other Jews of seeming superficial aesthetic taste: Swann, Rachel), arguing, however, that the novel ultimately embraces the possibility of  Jews producing original and tran­ s­cendent art; see Samuels, “Proust, Jews, and the Arts,” in Proust and the Arts, ed. Christie McDonald and François Proulx (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2015), 223–­31. 39. On the fluctuations of Swann’s Jewishness in the avant-­textes (which ultimately led to the creation of Bloch as a character), see L. Scott Lerner, “The Genesis of  Jewish Swann,” Romanic Review 89, no. 3 (1998): 345–­65. 40. Hughes is quoting from the Pléiade edition (Paris: Gallimard, 1987–­89), 2:902; see Edward J. Hughes, Proust, Class and Nation (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2011), 92. 41. Caroline Weber vividly reconstructs this aristocratic milieu, and especially its anti-­ Semitism, in Proust’s Duchess: How Three Celebrated Women Captured the Imagination of Fin-­ de-­Siècle Paris (New York: Knopf, 2018). See especially her discussion of Charles Haas, the likely model for Proust’s Swann, who was known to this mondaine society as “the Jockey Club Jew.” It is also worth noting that one of  Weber’s subjects, Geneviève Halévy Bizet Straus, was the daughter of Fromental Halévy, one more instance of this family’s recurring proximity to Proust. 42. See Jay Geller, The Other Jewish Question: Identifying the Jew and Making Sense of Modernity (New York: Fordham Univ. Press, 2011), 88–­131. 43. Translated from the citation of Marcel Proust: Écrits de jeunesse, 1887–­1895 (Illiers-­ Combray: Institut Marcel Proust International, 1991), 56–­57, in Marion Schmid, Proust dans la décadence (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2008), 28–­29. I’ve found Schmid’s book to be very help­ ful in my enterprise, even though I part company from her analysis at a number of points. 44. Kristeva, Time and Sense, 190. 45. Or is she? Zipporah is the daughter of Jethro the Midianite, an Egyptian priest. Although she marries Moses and performs the circumcision (to avoid God’s wrath?), it’s not clear the extent to which she becomes part of the Jewish people: she complains to Moses’s sister, Miriam, at any rate, that Moses has stopped having sex with her despite her great beauty, which has persisted well into old age. Other biblical texts suggest that she is a “Cushite,” that is, an Ethiopian, although these could also reflect the possibility that Moses was a polygamist. At any event, the invocation of Zipporah here gestures to a long history of intersections between Jews and non-­ Jews making up the very texture of  Jewishness itself.

272  Notes to Pages 144–152 46. Édouard Drumont, La France juive: Essai d’histoire contemporaine (Paris: Librarie Blériot, [1885?]), 39 (Drumont in turn is citing Johann Caspar Lavater). Elaine Marks uses this description to gloss the passage in which Bloch appears as a walking anti-­Semitic stereotype; see Marks, Marrano as Metaphor, 78. For the description of Svengali’s “bold, brilliant black eyes, with long heavy lids,” see George Du Maurier, Trilby (Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1984), 1:19. 47. Joshua Landy has disputed this reading, claiming that the book Marcel sets out to write can’t be the book we have just read since there are inconsistencies in that text which render the coincidence between Marcel as he has unfolded himself and the narrative he spins (has spun?) unsupportable; see Landy, Philosophy as Fiction: Self, Deception, and Knowledge in Proust (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2004), 46. I do admire the tenacity and lucidity with which Landy traces these inconsistencies, but I must confess that at times they seem to me to instantiate the Higher Nitpicking. For one thing, a few inconsistencies in a four-­thousand-­plus-­page novel doesn’t strike me as so high a ratio of error as to be a cause for undue concern. Secondly, the non-­coincidence between iteration and repetition is one of the great themes of the Recherche itself, and to see it reflected in this non-­coincidence is not all that disturbing: after all, Marcel suggests that every rereading is different, so that in some sense there are as many versions of the Recherche itself as there are readers of it. 48. Leo Bersani, Marcel Proust: The Fictions of Life and of Art, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2013), 38.

Chapter Five 1. G. G. Williamson, Murray Marks and His Friends (London: Bodley Head, 1919), 20. 2. Williamson, Murray Marks, 21. 3. Schopenhauer published these essays in 1852 as part of the collection with the title Parerga and Paralipomena; Parerga and Paralipomena: Short Philosophical Essays, 2 vols., trans. E. F. G. Payne (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974). 4. Bryan Magee, The Philosophy of Schopenhauer (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997), 286. 5. Richard Wagner, My Life, trans. Andrew Gray, ed. Mary Whittall (New York: Da Capo, 1992), 510. 6. Marcel Proust, Time Regained, trans. Andreas Mayor and Terence Kilmartin, rev. D. J. En­ right (New York: Modern Library, 2003), 444–­45. 7. Samuel Beckett, Proust (New York: Grove Press, 1931), 70–­72. 8. Georg Simmel, Schopenhauer und Nietzsche: Ein Vortragszykus (Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1907). 9. Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, trans. C. J. M. Hubback (London: International Psycho-­Analytical Press, 1922), 63. Citations in text refer to this edition. 10. Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-­Century Europe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1973), 237. 11. Paul Mendes-­Flohr, Divided Passions: Jewish Intellectuals and the Experience of Modernity (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1991), 79. 12. A. L. [Amy Levy], London Society: An Illustrated Magazine of Amusing and Light Literature for the Hours of Relaxation, ed. James Hogg and Florence Marryat, 49 (1886), 447.

Notes to Pages 152–158  273 13. Zachary Leander, The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915–­1964 (New York: Knopf, 2015), 141, see also 88. 14. Quoted in William I. Brustein and Louisa Roberts, Socialism of Fools? Leftist Origins of Modern Anti-­Semitism (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press 2015), 89. 15. Arthur Schopenhauer, Urwille und Welterlösung, ausgewählte Schriften (Wiesbaden: Fourier, 1982), 131, cited in Michael Mack, German Idealism and the Jew: The Inner Anti-­ Semitism of Philosophy and German Jewish Responses (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2003), 9. 16. Thomas Mann, “Freud and the Future” (1936), in Essays of Three Decades, trans. H. T. Lowe-­Porter (New York: Knopf, 1948), 415–­17; Joshua Foa Dienstag, Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2006). 17. Dienstag, Pessimism, 36, 95. The quotations are from Arthur Schopenhauer, World as Will and Representation, trans. F. J. Payne, 2 vols. (New York: Dover, 1966), 2:634–­35, 209–­ 10, 637; Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. James Strachey (New York: Norton, 1990), 24–­25; Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 47. Citations in text refer to these editions. 18. Sigmund Freud, The History of the Psychoanalytic Movement, trans. A. A. Brill (New York: Nervous and Mental Disease Publishing Company, 1917), 8–­9. 19. Sigmund Freud, “A Difficulty in the Path of Psycho-­Analysis,” Complete Works, vol. 17, trans. James Strachey (New York: Vintage Classics, 2001), 143–­44. 20. Sigmund Freud to Lou Andreas, Aug. 1, 1919, in Sigmund Freud and Lou Andreas-­ Salomé, Letters, trans. William Robson-­Scott and Elaine Robson-­Scott (New York: Norton, 1985), 99. 21. Sigmund Freud, An Autobiographical Study, trans. James Strachey, 2nd ed. (London: Hogarth Press/Institute of Psycho-­Analysis, 1946) 109–­10. Citations in text refer to this edition. 22. Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms, 56. 23. Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena: Short Philosophical Essays, vol. 2, trans. E. F. G. Payne (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974), 272. 24. Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms, 72. 25. Arthur Schopenhauer, “On Suicide,” in Studies in Pessimism: The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer, trans. T. Bailey Saunders (New York: Modern Library, n.d.), 61. 26. There’s a structural similarity to the basic principle of Lurianic kabbalah, the tsimtsum, the belief that God creates the universe by contracting his limitlessness or withdrawing from it. Freud did possess a copy of the pre-­Lurianic Zohar and may have consulted with a writer who was versed in Luria—­but who withdrew from further contact when, with typical subversive wit, Freud gave him a copy of Moses and Monotheism. Freud and tsimtsum—­great minds thinking alike? See Joseph H. Berke, The Hidden Freud: His Hassidic Roots (London: Karnac, 2015), and take with a grain of salt. 27. From Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-­Analysis (1933), as quoted in Richard Askay and Jensen Farquhar, Apprehending the Inaccessible: Freudian Psychoanalysis and Existential Phenomenology (Evanston, IL: Northwestern Univ. Press, 2006), 99. Askay and Farquhar go on to make the point that Freud here is “protesting too much.” 28. As quoted in Askay and Farquhar, Apprehending the Inaccessible, 101.

274  Notes to Pages 160–173 29. Livia Veneziani Svevo, Memoir of Italo Svevo, trans. Isabel Quigly (Evanston, IL: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1990), 19. 30. Compare Zeno’s addiction to cigarettes to Oscar Wilde’s famous praise of smoking: “A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatis­ fied. What more can one want?” Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (Paris: Charles Carring­ ton, 1908), 126. 31. Italo Svevo, Zeno’s Conscience, trans. William Weaver (New York: Vintage, 2003), 162. Citations in text refer to this edition. 32. Brian Moloney, “Svevo as a Jewish Writer,” Italian Studies: An Annual Review 28 (1973): 51–­63, esp. 59–­63; Moloney, Italo Svevo: A Critical Introduction (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 1974), 83–­85; Ruth R. Wisse, The Schlemiel as Modern Hero (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971); Menachem Feuer, Schlemiel Theory blog, 33. Daniel Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1997). 34. Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-­Analysis (New York: Carlton House, 1933), 147. 35. Cited in Isaac Bashevis Singer and Richard Burgin, Conversations with Isaac Bashevis Singer (New York: Doubleday, 1985), 164. 36. From a conversation with Grace Farrell in 1976; see Singer and Burgin, Conversations, 144. 37. Isaac Bashevis Singer, Love and Exile: An Autobiographical Trilogy (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1984), 109. 38. Isaac Bashevis Singer, “The Shadow of a Crib,” trans. Shulamith Charney and Cecil Hemley, in The Spinoza of Market Street (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1979), 82. Citations in text refer to this edition. 39. Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Family Moskat: A Novel, trans. A. H. Gross (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007). Citations in text refer to this edition. 40. Isaac Bashevis Singer, “The Cafeteria,” trans. by the author and Dorothea Straus, in A Friend of Kafka and Other Stories (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1970), 95. 41. Arthur Schopenhauer, “The Foundation of Ethics,” in On the Basis of Morality, trans. E. F. J. Payne (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1995), 171 [adapted]. 42. Lilian R. Furst, “ ‘A Bizarre Double Game’: Isaac Bashevis Singer, ‘Shadows on the Hudson,’ 1998,” in Random Destinations: Escaping the Holocaust and Starting Life Anew (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 119–­34. 43. Or is he? The English-­language version of the novel ends with these resounding words, to be sure. But the original Yiddish version continues for many pages, which take the plot in different directions. We follow Asa Heshel as he continues to obsess about philosophy and faith in the face of heinousness, including a horrific scene where he witnesses the toll taken by the bombing of Warsaw—­and he is no closer than before to resolving these contradictions. We also witness the tremulous gathering of Jews in the synagogue, celebrating the high holidays while the war rages beyond them; one can’t read this passage, or indeed most of the conclusion, without realizing that just about everyone we encounter is about to die, whether in Warsaw, in the ghetto rebellion, or in the camps. There then follows an evocation, which very much reads

Notes to Pages 174–186  275 as tacked on, in which Jews tremulously make their way to Palestine; the tone, imagery, and address here are completely at odds with the rest of the book, and for that matter his career. Also adding credence to the end of the English translation as authoritative for Singer is the fact that he closely monitored the translation of all his books. 44. Mendes-­Flohr, Divided Passions, 182. 45. Saul Bellow, Mr. Sammler’s Planet (New York: Penguin, 2005), 172. Citations in text refer to this edition. 46. Adam Kirsch, “The Wound,” New Republic, Mar. 19, 2012. 47. Arthur Schopenhauer, Senilia no. 83, in Manuscript Remains in Four Volumes, vol. 4, The Manuscript Books of 1830–­1852 and Last Manuscripts, ed. Arthur Hübscher, trans. E. F. J. Payne (Oxford: Berg, 1990), 387.

Chapter Six 1. For an astonishingly detailed account of the spread of decadent writing, see George C. Schoolfield, A Baedecker of Decadence: Charting a Literary Fashion, 1884–­1927 (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 2003). For American aesthetes and decadents—­Trumbull Stickney, George Cabot Lodge, et al.—­see Edward Foster, ed., Symbolists, Decadents, and Aesthetes in America: Fin-­de-­Siècle American Poetry: An Anthology (Northfield, MA: Talisman House, 2001), and Joanna Levin, Bohemia in America, 1858–­1920 (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 2001). Jews were not in abundance in American aesthete and bohemian circles until the Junge group created their own circle on the Lower East Side. But there were educated cosmopolitan Jews in the United States when the United States was by and large a cultural backwater: in Abraham Cahan’s The Rise of David Levinsky, the daughter of a “Hebrew poet,” Miss Tevkin, with whom David is in love, “often used the word ‘decadent,’ which she pronounced in the French way and which I did not then understand” (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1917), 412, 416. 2. Esther Benbassa, The Jews of France: A History from Antiquity to the Present, trans. M. B. DeBevoise (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2001), 103, quotation 104. 3. Pascale Casanova, The World Republic of Letters, trans. Malcolm DeBevoise (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2007). 4. The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin, 1910–­1940, ed. Gershom Scholem and Theodor W. Adorno, trans. Manfred R. Jacobson and Evelyn M. Jacobson (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1994), 482. Citations in text refer to this edition. 5. Susan Buck-­Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989). 6. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2014), 321. 7. Walter Benjamin, “Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia,” in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, vol. 2, 1927–­1934, ed. Michael Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1999), 207. Citations in text refer to this edition. 8. Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2019), 221–­22.

276  Notes to Pages 187–198 9. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1999), 83. Citations in text refer to this edition. 10. David Harvey, Paris, Capital of Modernity (New York: Routledge, 2006), 23. 11. Maurice Samuels, “Metaphors of Modernity: Prostitutes, Bankers, and Other Jews in Balzac’s Splendeurs et Misères des Courtisanes,” Romanic Review 97, no. 2 (2006): 169–­84. 12. Jonathan Beecher, Charles Fourier: The Visionary and His World (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1990), 245. 13. Jay Geller, “The Aromatics of Jewish Difference; or, Benjamin’s Allegory of Aura,” in Jews and Other Differences: The New Jewish Cultural Studies, ed. Jonathan Boyarin and Daniel Boyarin (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1997), 210. 14. Joris-­K arl Huysmans, The Damned [Là-­Bas], trans. Terry Hale (London: Penguin, 2000), 25. 15. Louis-­Ferdinand Céline, Death on the Installment Plan, trans. Ralph Manheim (New York: New Directions, 1971), 70–­71. 16. “Reflections of a Small Trader of Caen,” quoted in Stephen Wilson, Ideology and Experience: Antisemitism in France at the Time of the Dreyfus Affair (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 1982), 281; italics in source. 17. Philip G. Nord, The Politics of Resentment: Shopkeeper Protest in Nineteenth-­Century Paris (New York: Transaction, 2009), 382. 18. Édouard Drumont, Mon vieux Paris, 2 vols. (sèrie 2, Paris: Flammarion, 1893–­1897). Citations in text refer to this edition. 19. Geller, “Aromatics of  Jewish Difference,” 216–­17. 20. Benjamin, “The Image of Proust,” in Illuminations, 250. 21. “The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire,” in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, vol. 4, 1938–­1934, trans. Edmund Jephcott et al., ed. Howard Eliand and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2003), 5. 22. Zeev Sternhell, Neither Right nor Left: Fascist Ideology in France (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1986), 58, with reference to Georges Sorel, “Aux temps dreyfusiens,” L’Indépendance, Oct. 10, 1912, 51–­56. 23. Julien Benda, Un régulier dans le siècle (Paris: Gallimard, 1937), 39. 24. Jean-­Paul Sartre, Anti-­Semite and Jew, trans. George J. Becker (New York: Schocken, 1995), 13. 25. Alice Y. Kaplan, “Sources and Quotations in Céline’s Bagatelles pour un massacre,” in Céline and the Politics of Difference, ed. Rosemary Scullion, Philip H. Solomon, and Thomas C. Spear (Hanover, NH: Univ. Press of New England, 1995), 29–­46. 26. Louis-­Ferdinand Céline, “Trifles for a Massacre,” unpublished English first translation, trans. anon., online. 27. “ ‘In politics [Baudelaire writes], the true saint is the man who uses his whip and kills the people for their own good.’ . . . That is why Baudelaire declared that he was anti-­Semitic. The machine was ready and Baudelaire in the place reserved for him,” Jean-­Paul Sartre, Baudelaire, trans. Martin Turnell (New York: New Directions, 1950), 66–­67. 28. Brett Bowles, “Poetic Practice and Historical Paradigm: Charles Baudelaire’s Anti-­ Semitism,” PMLA 115, no. 2 (2000): 195–­208.

Notes to Pages 198–211  277 29. Samuels, “Metaphors of Modernity,” 169. 30. Benjamin, “Paris of the Second Empire,” 17. 31. Baudelaire as cited in Benjamin, “Paris of the Second Empire,” 5. 32. Benjamin, Arcades Project, 300. 33. My thanks to Prof. Nelly Valtat, University of Tours. 34. Translated from citation in Loïc Rignol, “Alphonse Toussenel et l’éclair analogique de la science de races,” Romanticisme 130, no. 4 (2005): 45. 35. Rignol, “Alphonse Toussenel,” 48 [translated]. 36. To Alphonse Toussenel, Jan. 21, 1856, Selected Letters of Charles Baudelaire: The Conquest of Solitude, trans. and ed. Rosemary Lloyd (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986), 80. 37. Walter Benjamin, “Doctrine of the Similar” (1933), trans. Knut Tarnowski, New German Critique 17, special Walter Benjamin issue (Spring 1979), 65. Citations in text refer to this edition.

Chapter Seven 1. Leopold von Sacher-­Masoch, “The Jewish Sects in Galicia,” in A Light for Others and Other Jewish Tales from Galicia, trans. Michael T. O’Pecko (Riverside, CA: Ariadne, 1994), 10–­ 11. For a fine critical reading of Sacher-­Masoch’s Jewish writings, see David Biale, “Masochism and Philosemitism: The Strange Case of Leopold von Sacher-­Masoch,” Journal of Contemporary History 17, no. 2 (1982): 305–­23. Biale suggests that the prominence given to the power of Jewish women in Sacher-­Masoch’s tales reflects his peccadilloes elsewhere. 2. Seth L. Wolitz, “Inscribing An-­Sky’s Dybbuk in Russian and Jewish Letters,” in The Worlds of S. An-­sky: A Russian Jewish Intellectual at the Turn of the Century, ed. Gabriella Safran and Steven J. Zipperstein (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 1980), 177. 3. Nathaniel Knight, “Science, Empire, and Nationality: Ethnography in the Russian Geographical Society, 1845–­1855,” in Imperial Russia: New Histories for the Empire, ed. Jane Burbank and David L. Ransel (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1998), 127. 4. Much of the material summarized here is derived from Nathaniel Deutsch, The Jewish Dark Continent: Life and Death in the Russian Pale of Settlement (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2011), to which I am especially indebted. 5. David G. Roskies, preface to S. Ansky, The Dybbuk and Other Writings, trans. Golda Werman (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 2002), xix. 6. Quoted in Deutsch, Jewish Dark Continent, 60. 7. Gabriella Safran, Wandering Soul: The Dybbuk’s Creator, S. An-­Sky (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2010), 76. 8. Technically speaking, it sounds like he went to a cabaret; cafés associated with the Decadence, like the Café Flore where Huysmans hung out or the Café Harcourt, where Paul Verlaine did the same, were famous for literary conversation, not boisterous singing. For an example of how intertwined this culture was with aestheticism/decadence and its acolytes: on May 18, 1896, a dinner held at the Café Harcourt to celebrate the publication of the first issue of the journal Le centaure was attended by Paul Valéry, Colette and Willy, Marcel Schwob, Debussy, Alfred and Vallette and Rachilde, Lord Alfred Douglas, and Léon-­Paul Fargue. See “Avec Verlaine,

278  Notes to Pages 211–232 Rimbaud, les Parnassiens et les symbolistes à Paris: de la rue Saint-­Jacques au Palais Bourbon,” Dec. 19, 2005,­verlaine-­rimbaud-­les. 9. Christine D. Worobec, Possessed: Women, Witches, and Demons in Imperial Russia (DeKalb: Northern Illinois Univ. Press, 2001). 10. Judith Halberstam, Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 1995), 86–­106. 11. Édouard Drumont, La France juive: Essai d’histoire contemporaine (Paris: Librarie Blériot, [1885?]), 39; see also above, chapter 4. 12. Daniel Pick, Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder, c. 1848–­c. 1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989), 155–­75. 13. Bram Stoker, Dracula (London: Penguin, 2003), 8. Citations in text refer to this edition. 14. S. Ansky, The Dybbuk; or, Between Two Worlds (A Dramatic Legend in Four Acts), in The Dybbuk and the Yiddish Imagination: A Haunted Reader, ed. and trans. Joachim Neugroschel (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press, 2000), 25, 26. Citations in text refer to this edition. A translation by Tony Kushner is available in A Dybbuk and Other Tales of the Supernatural, trans. and adapted by Tony Kushner and Joachim Neugroschel (New York: Theater Communications Group, 1998). 15. Yohanan Petrovsky-­Shtern, The Golden Age Shtetl: A New History of Jewish Life in Eastern Europe (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2014), 240. 16. Wolitz, “Inscribing An-­Sky’s Dybbuk,” 199–­200. 17. A. B. Yehoshua, The Liberated Bride, trans. Hillel Halkin (Orlando: Harcourt, 2003), 384. 18. On Gershwin, Robbins, and Bernstein, see Jonathan Freedman, Klezmer America: Jewishness, Ethnicity, Modernity (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2008), 66–­71. 19. Ranen Omer-­Sherman, “Guests and Hosts in A. B. Yehoshua’s The Liberated Bride,” Shofar: An Interdiscipinary Journal of Jewish Studies 31, no. 3 (2013): 25–­63.

Conclusion 1. My knowledge of Serge Gainsbourg is shaped by two biographies: Sylvie Simmons, Serge Gainsbourg: A Fistful of Gitanes (New York: Da Capo, 2001), and Gilles Verlant, Serge Gainsbourg: The Biography, trans. Paul Knobloch (New York: TamTam Books, 2012). 2. Ruth HaCohen, The Music Libel against Jews (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 2011). 3. Simmons, Serge Gainsbourg, 2. 4. Kristine von Oehsen, “The Lives of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore,” in Don’t Kiss Me: The Art of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, ed. Louise Downie (New York: Aperture/Jersey Heritage Trust, 2006), 13. 5. Poetic influences from the earlier period came along too. In a manifesto she published in 1934, Les paris sont ouverts, Cahun argued that the art that engaged poetry and politics was spontaneous art, and gave as her examples André Breton, Arthur Rimbaud, and Comte de Lautréamont, the latter of whom out-­Baudelaired Baudelaire in his invocation of evil as an aesthetic subject. See von Oehsen, “Lives of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore,” 15. 6. Gen Doy, Claude Cahun: A Sensual Politics of Photography (London: Tauris, 2007).

Notes to Pages 232–243  279 7. See Lizzie Thynne, “ ‘Surely You Are Not Claiming to Be More Homosexual than I?’: Claude Cahun and Oscar Wilde,” in Oscar Wilde and Modern Culture: The Making of a Legend, ed. Joseph Bristow (Athens: Ohio Univ. Press, 2008), 180–­208. 8. Henry James, The Sacred Fount (London: Methuen, 1901), 54–­55. 9. “Sous ce masque un autre masque. Je n’en finirai pas de soulever tous ces visages.” The words appear within the photomontage at the start of section IX of Aveux non avenus (1930); see Claude Cahun, Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions (London: Tate, 2007), 183. 10. Marcel Schwob, “The Numb,” in The Book of Monelle, trans. Kit Schluter (Cambridge, MA: Wakefield, 2012), 59. 11. Quoted in Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon Roudiez (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1981), 181. 12. Actually bisexuality: although Sachs had sex with women (more men, and many of them adolescents), he claimed never to have enjoyed heterosexuality, in part because the female body is connected to reproduction: “everything [about it] suggests maternity, that pelvis I cannot consider without thinking of the powerful mystery of which it is the artisan, those breasts I think of as always being full of milk, and that sacred opening, the strait gate through which all humanity passes. . . . For me, woman is a hearth; it is man, that continual adventure, who represents pleasure for me.” Which is not to say that desire for the worship of an adoring female was not a powerful motivating force in his life, as Violette Leduc found to her ultimate chagrin; Sachs reflected, “how I longed for those absolute and concrete devotions one meets only in women, that submission of the mind which is a kind of slavery freely consented to.” Maurice Sachs, Witches’ Sabbath, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Stein and Day, 1964), 165, 164. Such sentiments, it should be noted, were not unknown among straight members of Sachs’s world; Jean Paulhan, editor of the Nouvelle revue française, about whom more below, was the original of René, the sadistic lover in Pauline Réage’s (Anne Desclos’s) pornographic magnum opus, Histoire d’O (1954), which dramatized similar sentiments. 13. Henri Raczymow, Maurice Sachs; ou, Les travaux forcés de la frivolité (Paris: Gallimard, 1988), 29. 14. Violette Leduc, La Bâtarde: An Autobiography, trans. Derek Coltman (Champaign, IL: Virago, 1985), 262, 266. Citations in text refer to this edition. 15. Oscar Wilde, “Pen, Pencil and Poison: A Study in Green,” in The Artist as Critic: Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde, ed. Richard Elmann (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1968), 320–­40. 16. Cited in Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde (New York: Knopf, 1988), 563–­64. 17. Maurice Sachs, The Hunt, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Stein and Day, 1965), 109. 18. See Juliette Rennes, “L’argument de la décadence dans les pamphlets d’extrême droite des années 1930,” Mots: Les Langages du politique 58 (1999): 152–­64. 19. “The collapse of a nation is a spectacle which can be either revolting or painful. If I had still believed in the possible greatness of France. . . . I think I could have been driven to suicide by the shameful sight of this debacle. . . . But in fact I no longer believed in the greatness of France, a nation exhausted since the end of the eighteenth century (though the death spasm of the Empire took people in), and crumbling away inside for two hundred years, so that by 1940 it was nothing but a tiny country to be added to those other three examples of major empires in the past: Rome, Athens, and Spain. . . . I did not deceive myself into thinking that we were simply

280  Notes to Pages 243–250 watching the defeat of France: this was the death agony of the Mediterranean world yielding to the supremacy of the Nordic and Atlantic nations. Yes, it was all over with the Paris of Voltaire and the Versailles of Saint-­Simon, as it had been all over for so many centuries with the Athens of Socrates and Phidias, with the Rome of Caesar, with the Spain of Charles V.” Sachs, Hunt, 27–­28. As in his dialogue with Jouhandeau, Sachs is also reveling, I can’t help but think, in its decline and fall for ethnic reasons. 20. Marcel Jouhandeau, Le péril juif (1937). 21. And sexual dimensions as well: Jouhandeau, himself a gay man attempting to convince himself of his heterosexuality, would no doubt have been shocked by tales of Sachs’s conversion to Catholicism by Jacques Maritain, his attempt to take monastic orders, and his departure from that spiritual life when filled with lust for an adolescent boy, which led him to leave his cell and show up at a beach at Juan-­les-­Pins in monk’s robes, which he took off to reveal a pink bathing suit. For Sachs’s description of these events, see Sachs, Witches’ Sabbath, 98–­142. 22. Raczymow, Maurice Sachs, 408. 23. Patrick Modiano, La Place de l’Étoile, in The Occupation Trilogy, trans. Caroline Hillier, Patricia Wolf, and Frank Wynne (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), 13. Citations in text refer to this edition. 24. Brigitta Coenen-­Mennemeier, “Le philtre magique,” in Patrick Modiano, Etudes réunies par Jules Bedner (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1993), 68. 25. Patrick Modiano, Ring Roads, in The Occupation Trilogy, 322. Citations in text refer to this edition.


Page numbers in italics refer to images. absinthe, 20 Acmeism, 4, 20–­21, 33 Action française, 192, 194, 243, 270–­71n34 Adams, Henry, 30 Adorno, Theodor, 171, 183, 189, 200 aesthetic, as term, 257n21 aestheticism, 2, 4, 7, 14, 15, 20–­21, 25–­27, 32, 41–­42, 45, 49, 53, 56, 59, 74, 77, 115–­16, 118–­19, 151, 231; art for art’s sake, 180; criminality, conflation with, 241–­42; as cultural movement, 229; and decadence, 181, 232, 242; and homosexuality, 242; and Jewishness, 182 aesthetic movement, 4, 33, 119 Agamben, Giorgio, 28 agency, 49; female, 220 Aguilar, Grace, 11–­12, 55 À la recherche du temps perdu (Proust), 32, 127, 130, 150, 184, 250; and decadence, 113–­ 14, 121, 123–­24; Jewishness, as indispens­ able, 123; Jewishness and perversion, 126; and Jews, 122; reality, texture of, 115; Time Regained, 113, 122; topoi, as central to, 120 Alcools (Apollinaire), 229

Algeria, 222 Allan, Maud, 83–­84 Alma-­Tadema, Laurence, 56–­57 Alsace-­Lorraine, 35–­36 Ambassadors, The ( James), 118 ancien régime, 120–­21 Andreas-­Salomé, Lou, 154–­55, 159 An-­Sky, S., 3, 18, 21, 35–­36, 212–­13, 219–­21, 223, 229; and decadence, 210–­11; The Dybbuk, 8, 181, 209, 211, 214, 224–­25; fin-­ de-­siècle, fascination with, 211; folkloristic approach of, 208–­9; as mediator, between Jewish and European culture, 209, 211 anti-­Semitism, 15, 17–­18, 25, 29–­30, 36, 41, 43, 50, 52, 60, 65, 84–­85, 105–­6, 125, 131, 134–­37, 139–­40, 144, 152–­53, 170–­71, 188, 193–­94, 201, 231, 243–­44, 248, 255–­56n10, 257n25, 261n22, 263n11, 276n27; and blague, 198–­99; department stores as targets of, 191–­92; Dreyfus affair, 130; in France, 208; genocidal hatred, 199–­200; Jewish race, ex­ termination of, 199; jokiness, use of, 195–­96; Left thought, conflation with, 195; as mass political movement, 192; rise of, 11

282  Index Apollinaire, Guillaume, 231, 248–­49; Alcools, 229 Apparition, The (Moreau), 85–­87 Arcades Project, The (Benjamin), 182, 186–­87, 189–­90, 192, 194, 199, 201, 204–­5, 229–­30 À rebours (Huysmans), 39–­40, 87, 122, 206, 246–­47 Arendt, Hannah, 27, 114, 265n3 Armstrong, Louis, 111 Arnold, Matthew, 55; Culture and Anarchy, 27 art for art’s sake, 15, 20, 32, 77; and deca­ dence, 21; origin of, 180 Art Nouveau, 21, 143, 182, 232 Asch, Scholem, El Neckomos, 80 assimilated Jews, 2, 16, 22, 32, 62, 66, 69, 74, 104, 134, 137, 171–­72, 181; decadence, 86; and modernity, 86 Auerbach, Berthold, 10 Auschwitz, 228, 231 Austro-­Hungarian Empire, 207 Baal-­Makhshoves, 75, 76, 78 Bader, Théophile, 190–­91 Bagatelles pour un massacre (Céline), 238, 248; blague-­ness of, 196–­98 Bakst, Léon, 45, 181 Ball, Benjamin, 270n30 Ballad of Reading Gaol, The (Wilde), 77, 241 Ballets Russes, 102, 115, 181 Balzac, Honoré de, 10–­11, 21, 186–­88, 193 Bara, Theda, 9, 16, 85, 106; vamp persona of, 105 Bardot, Brigitte, 226–­28 Bar Kokhba revolt, 37 Barrès, Maurice, 38, 131, 269–­70n29 Barthes, Roland, 160 Bar-­Yosef, Hamutal, 7, 26 Barzilai, Maya, 210 bâtarde, La (Leduc), 242, 246 Baudelaire, Charles, 2, 4, 11, 13, 16–­18, 21, 33, 77, 115, 180–­81, 184, 199, 201, 204–­5, 278n5; affreuse juive, 10; anti-­Semitism of, 188,

194–­95, 198, 276n27; “Correspondances,” 188, 200, 202–­3; “Le serpent qui danse,” 229 Baumgarten, Alexander Gottlieb, 257n21 Bayreuth (Germany), 8, 209 Beardsley, Aubrey, 9, 14, 33, 66, 99, 101, 102, 106, 143, 231–­32, 235, 235, 237 Beckett, Samuel, 150 Beckman, Linda Hunt, 261–­62n39 Beecher,  Jonathan, 189 Beerbohm, Max, 62–­63, 64, 66 Belle du Seigneur (Cohen), 13–­14 belle juive, 10 Bellini, Giovanni, 90 Bellow, Saul, 3, 152, 251; Mr. Sammler’s Planet, 17, 174–­79; and Schopenhauer, 173–­78 Benbassa, Esther, 180 Benda, Julien, 195 Benjamin, Dora, 184 Benjamin, Emil, 183 Benjamin, Walter, 17–­18, 21, 47, 181, 191, 196–­ 98, 209, 229, 249, 251; The Arcades Project, 182, 186–­87, 189–­90, 192, 194, 199, 201, 229–­30; Baudelaire, adoration of, 194; cor­ respondences and analogies, importance of to, 203; correspondence theory, 203–­5; culte de la blague (cult of the joke), 195; dialectical images, 192–­93; “Doctrine of the Similar,” 203; Drumont, affinities with, 193; as eternal wanderer, 184; and flâneur, 183; French Jews, 187–­88; Jewish mysticism, 204–­5; and Jewishness, 205; language, as onomatopoeic, 204; “On the Mimetic Faculty,” 203; suicide of, 183; “Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intel­ ligentsia,” 185; Theses on the Philosophy of History, 200; “The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” 185–­86; writing of, as Judeocentric, 205 Ben-­Lévi, “Rise and Fall of a Polish Prayer Shawl,” 12 Benner, David, 26 Bentley, Toni, 84

Index  283 Berenson, Bernard, 230; Count Florio and Phyllis K., 65 Bergson, Henri, 182 Berkeley, George, 152–­53, 171 Berlin (Germany), 3, 8–­9, 14, 21, 39, 184 Berlin, Irving, 9; “Sadie Salome (Go Home),” 82–­84 Bernhardt, Sarah, 9, 16, 32, 72, 86, 100, 103, 113, 143, 181, 265n1; as assimilated, 104; caricatures of, 95; Jewishness of, 93, 99, 108; thinness, association with, 85, 91–­94, 98–­99 Bernheimer, Charles, 4 Bernheim-­Jeune (gallery), 42–­43, 49 Bernstein, Leonard, 220–­21 Betty Boop, 16, 111, 111, 112 Beyond the Pleasure Principle (Freud), 17, 150 Bialik, Hayim Nahman, 7, 26, 209 Biez, Jacques de, 36–­37 Bing, Siegfried, 41 biopower, 28–­29, 31 Birkin, Jane, 226–­28 birth control, 31–­32 Bizet, Geneviève, 239 Bizet, Georges, 44, 239 blackness, 111 Blessed Damozel, The (Rossetti), 142–­43 Bloch, Ernest, 183 Bloom, Harold, 159 Blue Angel, The (film), 230 Blum, Léon, 38, 231, 268n22 Bomberg, David, 69–­70 Bonnard, Pierre, 38, 43, 45 Botticelli, Sandro, 143–­44 Boucicaut, Aristide, 191 boulevards de ceinture, Les (Modiano). See Ring Roads (Modiano) Bourdieu, Pierre, 28, 40, 120; bodily hexis, 109, 112 Bow, Clara, 111 Bowles, Brett, 198 Boyarin, Daniel, 163 Boyarin, Jonathan, 22

Brandes, Georg, 21 Bread Givers, The (Yezierska), 109–­10 Brenner, Yosef Chaim, 78 Breton, André, 278n5 Bréval, Lucienne, 6 Brice, Fanny, 82–­84, 105, 108; appearance of, 85; name, spelling of, 262n1 British Medical Association Building, 50 Brooks, Romaine, 102–­3; Rubenstein, 104; La Venus triste (The Weeping Venus), 105 Buber, Martin, 26, 174 Buck-­Morss, Susan, The Dialectics of Seeing, 182–­83 Caesar, Julius, 279–­80n19 Café Flore, 277–­78n8 Café Harcourt, 277–­78n8 “Cafeteria, The” (Singer), 171 Cahan, Abraham, The Rise of David Levinsky, 151 Cahun, Claude, 3, 19, 231, 233, 234, 240, 244; fin-­de-­siècle motifs, use of, 238; as Jewish chameleon, 238–­39; and Jewishness of, 238, 245; masks, use of, 232, 236; mirrors, use of, 236–­37, 237; Les paris sont ouverts, 278n5; revival of interest in, 245 Cahun, David Léon, 238 Cahun, Mathilde, 238 Calloway, Cab, 111 Camondo, Isaac de, 39–­40, 43, 244, 257–­ 58n30, 258n32 Cannan, Gilbert, Mendel, 69 Caravaggio, 87 Carew, Lady Helen, 50 Carmilla (LeFanu), 211 Casanova, Pascale, 8; The World Republic of Letters, 180–­81 Castelli, Leo, 43–­44 Catholicism, 66 Cecil, David, 63 Celan, Paul, 14–­15 Céline, Louis-­Ferdinand, 18, 190, 194–­95, 199, 267–­68n18; anti-­Semitism of, 196,

284  Index Céline, Louis-­Ferdinand (cont.) 198; Bagatelles pour un massacre, 196–­97, 238, 248 Celtic Twilight, The (Yeats), 206 centaure, Le (journal), 277–­78n8 Cervantes, Miguel de, 160 Cézanne, Paul, 182 Chabon, Michael, 210 Chagall, Marc, 43 Chanel, Coco, 45, 242 Charcot, Jean-­Martin, 30, 125, 181–­82 Charles V, 279–­80n19 Charlie Hebdo, 268n19 Cheap Jewish Library, 55 Cherry Orchard, The (Chekhov), 106 Chicago (Illinois), 152 chinoiseriemania, 115, 118 Chopin, Frédéric, 4; and Chopinphilia, 115 Chosen People, The (play), 106 Christianity, 24, 53, 149, 172, 183 Cicero, 192 Clairin, Georges, Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt, 91 Claude Cahun (Doy), 232 Claudel, Paul, 231 Cocteau, Jean, 102–­3, 239, 242, 245–­46 Coen brothers, 221 Coenen-­Mennemeier, Brigitta, 248–­49 Cohan, George M., 82 Cohen, Albert, 15; Belle du Seigneur, 13–­14; Kibitser poem, 14 Cohen, Leonard, 230 Cohen, Richard, 39–­40, 56 Coit, Emily, 45 Colette, 266n11; and Willy (Henry Gauthier-­ Villars), 277–­78n8 College Girls, The (variety show), 82–­83 commedia dell’arte, 232 Confessions of Zeno (Svevo), 17, 178; mimetic desire in, 165; schlemiel in, 160, 162–­64, 166 Contes juifs (Kahn), 34–­36 Corneille, 184, 192

“Correspondances” (Baudelaire), 188, 200, 202–­3 correspondence theory, 203–­5 cosmopolitanism, 7 Cousin, Victor, 32–­33, 180 Cousinhood, 55 criminal anthropology, 27 Crowell, Ellen, 259n2 Cubism, 43 culte de la blague (cult of the joke), 195 cult of progress, 6 Culture and Anarchy (Arnold), 27 Dance of Death, The (Strindberg), 13 dandyism, 130 Daniel Deronda (Eliot), 72; Klesmer, charac­ ter of, 33–­34 D’Annunzio, Gabriele, 103 danse macabre, 13 Das Rheingold (Wagner), 14 Daudet, Léon, 131, 135–­36, 194, 248, 270–­71n34 Daudet, Lucien, 270–­71n34 Davis, Eliza, 71 Debussy, Claude, 44–­45, 277–­78n8 “décadanse, La” (song), 227 decadence, 6, 11, 14–­15, 18, 25, 49, 60, 102, 115, 118–­22, 141, 143, 148, 151, 180, 210, 226, 231, 235; and aestheticism, 181, 232, 242; art for art’s sake, 21; and cafés, 277–­78n8; cultural decline, 21; as cultural move­ ment, 229; fin-­de-­siècle, 2, 112, 114; as global, 21–­22; and homosexuality, 242; and Jewishness, 114, 123, 140, 147, 182; and Jews, 20–­22, 26, 114, 123; as local, 21–­22; mass-­cultural fascination, object of, 9; and modernity, 86; non-­normative sexuality, privileging of, 21; as term, 3–­4, 20; topoi of, 21. See also Jewishness; modernity decadent art, 4, 9; and Jews, 2 decadent movement, 8, 20, 59, 203 Degas, Edgar, 66; anti-­Semitism of, 41, 43; Portraits at the Stock Exchange, 41, 42

Index  285 degeneracy, 5; and self-­hatred, 125 degeneration, 21, 27, 139 Degeneration (Nordau), 5, 25, 115 Dehodencq, Alfred, Mariée juive au Maroc, 92 Delacroix, Eugène, 91 Deleuze, Gilles, 7 Demon (film), 221 Denmark, 21 Derrida, Jacques, 174 Des Essarts, Jean-­François, 246–­47 Deutsch, Nathaniel, 208 De Waal, Edmund, 263n11 Diaghilev, Sergei, 102 Dialectics of Seeing, The (Buck-­Morss), 182–­83 Dienstag, Joshua Foa, 153, 155 Dietrich, Marlene, 230 Die Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst (magazine), 44 Diner, Hasia, 109 di yunge, 1, 77, 79, 226, 275n1 doctrine of correspondences, 200, 202 “Doctrine of the Similar” (Benjamin), 203 Doll’s House, A (film), 106 Doll’s House, A (Ibsen), 219 Dora Bruder (Modiano), 249 Douglas, Alfred, 64–­66, 239, 277–­78n8 Dowson, Ernest, 2, 33 Doy, Gen, Claude Cahun, 232 Dracula (Stoker), 213–­14, 217, 219–­20; appearance of, 211; Jonathan Harker, as focalizing figure in, 212; undead, 218 Dreyfus, Alfred, 3, 17–­18, 52, 65, 99, 128–­29, 181, 208, 241; Dreyfus affair, 125–­27, 130, 137, 191–­92, 195, 231, 268–­69n25; and Dreyfusards, 38, 125; Dreyfusism, 131 Drieu La Rochelle, Pierre, 242, 247 Dr. Phillips (Frankau), 71–­72 Drumont, Édouard, 30, 36–­37, 125, 130, 144, 199, 211, 272n46; anti-­Semitism of, 192–­93; Benjamin, affinities between, 193; Mon vieux Paris, 192; politics of nostalgia, 193

Du Maurier, George, 15, 144; Trilby, 33–­34 Durand-­Ruel, Paul, 43–­44 Durlacher, Alfred, 41–­42, 57 Durlacher, George, 41–­42, 57 dybbuk, 215, 225; fin-­de-­siècle and Jewish cul­ tures, fusion of, 221; Jewish life, as central narrative of, 210, 220 Dybbuk, The (An-­Sky), 8, 18, 181, 211, 214–­15, 218–­19, 221, 224–­25; European modernity, invested in, 209; as negotiation between two worlds, 209; text of, as iconic, 220; translations of, 210 Eckhart, Meister, 178 École des Beaux-­Arts, 40 Edwards, Alfred, 45, 47, 49 Eiland, Howard, 183 Eilberg-­Schwartz, Howard, 108 Eliot, George, Daniel Deronda, 33–­34, 72 Eliot, T. S., 21 Ellmann, Richard, 52 El Neckomos (Asch), 80 Endelman, Todd, 66 Enemies: A Love Story (Singer), 167, 170 England, 4, 9, 15, 21, 27, 30, 41, 49, 52–­53, 61, 77–­78, 119, 130, 206, 209, 211, 231; Jews in, 56–­57; Pre-­Raphaelite Brotherhood in, 33; Yellow Nineties, 118. See also Great Britain Enlightenment, 2, 6, 28 Entin, Yoel, 78 Ephrussi, Charles, 38, 87, 263n11 Epstein, Jacob, 50, 51, 52, 70, 259n2 Erlanger, Camille, Zo’har, 37 Esterhazy, Ferdinand Walsin, 191, 241 ethnology, 18, 206, 208–­9 eugenics, 5–­6, 27–­28, 31 Eurocentrism, 7 Europe, 4–­5, 7, 21–­22, 24, 30, 32, 91, 114, 126, 130, 151, 153, 162–­63, 180, 183, 206–­7, 210–­ 11, 216, 220, 261n22; anti-­Semitism in, 11, 128–­29, 231; and modernity, 209 Expressionism, 43, 49, 221

286  Index Fargue, Léon-­Paul, 277–­78n8 Félix, Elisa, 11 Fénéon, Félix, 151 Fernandez, Ramon, 119 fetishism, 4, 20 Feuer, Menachem, 162–­63 Fichte, Johann Gottlieb, 152 Fiddler on the Roof (musical), 220 fin-­de-­siècle, 7, 10, 12, 15, 17, 20, 43, 45, 47, 52–­53, 60, 108, 127, 138, 143, 150–­51, 153, 161, 196, 206, 209–­10, 229, 249; aestheticism, 115–­16; danse macabre, 13; decadence, role of, 2, 112, 114; degeneration, 139; fiction, 21; and masks, 232; mirrors, as icon from, 236–­ 38; modernity, link between, 102–­3, 105, 118, 195, 220, 248; as term, 4; tropes of, 13–­14, 18; yellow, as color of, 117–­18 Finkel, Fyvush, 221 FitzGerald, Michael, 258n37 flâneur, 11, 182–­83, 188, 199 flappers, 107, 109, 111–­12 Flaubert, Gustave, 87, 99; Salammbô, 6 Flechtheim, Alfred, 258n36 Fleischer, Dave, 111, 111 Fleischer, Max, 110–­11 Fleischer Studios, 111 Florentine Tragedy (Wilde), 71 Foa, Eugénie, 10 folklore studies, 18, 206, 208 Fool There Was, A (film), 105 Ford, Henry: anti-­Semitism of, 261n22; The International Jew, 196 Foucault, Michel, 255–­56n10; biopower, 28–­ 29; and sexuality, 29 Fourier, Charles, 188, 194; and Arcades, 189; doctrine of analogies, 200–­201 Fourth Lateran Council, 22 France, 9–­10, 13, 21, 27, 32, 41, 49, 77, 91–­92, 107, 118, 127, 150, 183–­84, 191, 195, 229, 244–­45, 269–­70n29, 279–­80n19; as alien excrescence, on national body, 130; anti-­ Semitism in, 17–­18, 200, 208; decadence of, 242–­43; Frenchness, sense of, 131, 199;

Jewish decadence, locus for, 230–­31; Jews in, 180; modernity, home of, 182; Occupa­ tion in, 247–­48, 250; sodomy, decriminal­ ization of, 270n30 Frankau, Julia, 15, 34; Dr. Phillips, 71–­72 Fremsted, Olive, 83 French Revolution, 130, 244, 268n19 Freud, Sigmund, 3, 7, 21, 30, 151, 167, 170, 181–­82, 214, 229, 247, 251, 273n26; Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 17, 150, 154, 157; death-­drive, 5, 13, 17, 150, 155–­58; and dis­ avowal, 154–­55; drive theory, 150; nirvana principle, 13, 17, 150, 157; and psychoanaly­ sis, 155; and Schopenhauer, 153–­55, 158–­ 59, 165–­66; and Svevo, 160; Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, 32 Frishman, David, 78 Froelich, Bianca, 83 Furst, Lilian, 173 Gagnier, Regenia, 52 Gainsborough, Thomas, 227 Gainsbourg (film), 227–­28 Gainsbourg, Serge, 10, 19, 226, 245, 251; Jew­ ish creativity, 228–­29; as Jewish decadent, 229; Jewishness of, 227; split personality of, 229; studliness of, 227–­28 Galton, Francis, 206 García Lorca, Federico, 230 Garden, Mary, 83 Garnier, Charles, 39 Gautier, Théophile, 32–­33, 36, 115, 180, 229, 257n25; Mademoiselle de Maupin, 4 Gay, Peter, 27 Geist, 203 Geller, Jay, 30, 189–­90, 194 Genet, Jean, 239 George, Stefan, 33 Germany, 10, 27, 33, 44, 130, 149, 150, 160, 180, 182, 209, 245, 270n31; and German­ ness, 185; German philosophy, and anti-­ Jewish sentiments, 152; Romanticism, 186; unification of, 131

Index  287 Gershwin, George, 221; Porgy and Bess, 220 Gershwin, Ira, 149 Gertler, Mark, 69–­70 Gide, André, 45, 198, 231, 266n11, 270n30 Gilman, Sander, 30, 86, 98, 108 Giorgione (artist), 90 Girard, René, 165 Glenn, Susan, 85, 263n5 Gnessin, Uri, 26 Godebska, Misia, 45 Goldberg, Jonathan, 267n17 Goldman, Emma, 31, 75 Golem, 210 Goncourt, Edmond de, 38 Goodbye, Columbus (Roth), 112 Gotlieb, Marc, 87 Goudal, Jetta, 110 Govsky, Katya, 109 Grande Odalisque (Ingres), 263n12 Gray, John, 60 Great Britain, 22, 53, 180. See also England Greenberg, Stefanie, 110 Green Carnation, The (Hitchens), 260n9 Gregh, Fernand, 127, 138 Grieg, Edvard, 13 Grodzinski, Veronica, 39, 257–­58n30 Grosz, George, 258n36 Guattari, Félix, 7 Guermantes Way, The (Proust), 131, 150 Guggenheim Museum, 245 Guinness, Walter (Lord Moyne), 102–­3 Haas, Charles, 271n41 Habima theater company, 220 HaCohen, Ruth, 228–­29 Hagen, Jean, 82 Hahn, Reynaldo, 36 Halberstam, Judith, 211–­12 Halévy, Daniel, 36, 136, 140–­41 Halévy, Fromental, 271n41; La Juive, 11, 36, 114, 136 Hamberlin, Larry, 84 Hammerstein, Oscar, I, 83–­84

Hammerstein, Willie, 83–­84 Hardy, Thomas, 150 Harris, Frank, 59 Harris, Sidney J., 152 Harvey, David, Paris, Capital of Modernity, 187 haskalah, 24–­25 Hayem, Charles, 38–­39, 87 Hebraism, 55 Hecht, Albert, 40 Hegel, G. W. F., 152, 171 Held, Anna, 263n7 Hellenism, 27, 55 Hellerstein, Kathryn, 78–­79 Henley, W. E., 66 Herbert, Robert, 40 Herder, Johann Gottfried von, 18, 209 Heredia, José-­Maria de, 229 Herzl, Theodor, 7, 181, 208 Heshel, Asa, 274–­75n43 Hessel, Franz, 183–­84 Hessel, Lucy, 44 Hitchens, Robert, The Green Carnation, 260n9 Hitler, Adolf, 171 Hobbes, Thomas, 177 Hoffman, Gertrude, 83–­84 Hoffman, Warren, 80 Holland, Merlin, 50 Holocaust, 17, 28, 109, 171, 173, 176–­77, 221, 229 homosexuality: and aestheticism, 242; and criminality, 242; and decadence, 242; and Jewishness, 130, 132 Honegger, Arthur, 103 Hoschedé, Ernest, 40 “How I Became an Anti-­Semite” (Jouhan­ deau), 243 Hughes, Edward, 136 Hume, David, 171 Hunt, William Holman, 57 Husserl, Edmund, 171–­72 Huysmans, Joris-­Karl, 2, 198, 277–­78n8; À rebours, 39–­40, 87, 122, 180, 206, 246–­47; Là-­Bas, 190

288  Index Ibsen, Henrik, 206, 209; A Doll’s House, 219; Peer Gynt, 13 Ida Rubenstein (Brooks), 104 Ideal Husband, An (Wilde), 75 “Idea of Order at Key West, The” (Stevens), 119 identity politics, 62 Importance of Being Earnest, The (Wilde), 78, 162 Impressionism, 3–­4, 9, 38–­43, 49, 182, 244 India, 206 Ingres, Jean-­Auguste-­Dominique, 91; Grande Odalisque, 263n12 Irish, 61 Irving, Henry, 71 Islam, 172 “Isn’t It a Pity?” (Gershwin), 149 Israel, 7, 10, 210, 222–­25 Italy, 4, 180, 230 It Girl, 109, 111 Jabotinsky, Ze’ev, 7 Jacob, Max, 245, 246 Jacobs, Joseph, 206 Jaluzot, Jules, 190–­91 James, Henry, 9, 64, 91; The Ambassadors, 118; The Sacred Fount, 235–­36 Jarry, Alfred, 231 Jennings, Michael, 183 Jensen, Robert, 43 Jersey, 238, 239 Jerusalem (Israel), 200 Jewish Aid Society, 50 Jewish chameleonism, 238–­39; and collabora­ tionism, 247 Jewish masculinity, 227; and body type, 108 Jewish Museum, 49 Jewish mysticism, 204–­5 Jewishness, 11–­12, 14–­18, 27–­28, 37–­38, 44–­45, 49, 53–­54, 60, 66–­67, 84, 86, 103–­4, 125, 129, 132, 134–­37, 144, 146, 161, 205, 243–­45, 248, 250, 257n25, 260n18, 268–­69n25, 275n1; and aestheticism, 182; alienness,

association between, 126; and alterity, 268n19; and Arcades, 192; and deca­ dence, 114, 123, 140, 147, 182; department stores, linked to, 191; disease, association between, 138–­39; fin-­de-­siècle creative modalities, 231; gender play, 238; and homosexuality, 127, 130; and Marxism, 181; The Merchant of Venice, 23; and modernity, 91; queer sexuality, 123; Salome, character of, 87; sexual otherness, 140; spectacle and artifice, 10; as stigma, 227; and thinness, 93–­94, 99; and Wilde, 52. See also deca­ dence; modernity Jewish Woman from Tangiers (Landelle), 94 Jewish women, 81, 219; and Americanization, 109–­10; and assimilation, 110; body image, 110, 112; body types, 85–­86, 108; eating disorders, 110; eroticizing of, 91; fashion­ able dress of, 108–­9; feminine beauty, new model of, 102–­5; and food, 108, 110–­12; and reproduction, 108; Salome, association with, 85; and thinness, 107, 109–­11; WASP ideals, 110 Jewish Workmen’s Club, 54 Jews, 4, 15, 33, 38–­39, 52–­53, 69, 124, 131, 182, 196, 201, 205, 244, 248; and aestheticism, 26; as alien excrescence, 130; arts, ascen­ dency in, 261n22; atavism, 24–­25; and bar­ barism, 200; blood libel, 197; body politic, corruption of, 188; capital, as conflated, 31, 188, 194, 247; as chameleons, 247; as citi­ fied, 5; cosmopolitan salons, 195; cultural decline, as agents of, 22–­24; and dealers, 43; decadence, conflation of, 8, 10, 16–­18, 20–­22, 26, 32, 86, 114, 210, 225, 229–­31, 245, 250–­51; decadent art, 2; decadent imaginary, 203; degeneracy, 5–­6; depart­ ment stores, linked to, 191; doubleness of, 34; ethnic difference, as representatives of, 84–­85; Evil Eye, 144; and folklore, 206–­8; futurity, avatars of, 5; gallery owners, 41–­43, 49; Hebraism, 27; insider/ outsider position of, 231; intellectualism

Index  289 of, 25, 49; Jewish body, eroticization of, 91; Jewish humor, and schlemiel, 160; “Jewish question,” 28; The Merchant of Venice, 23; as Other, 70, 126; other within, 22; as outsiders, 44–­45, 65, 126–­27, 135–­36; perverse sexuality, conflation with, 123, 125; as primitive, 24; problematic repro­ duction, association with, 31, 34; in public sphere, 74; racialized degeneracy, charges of, 5; and Schopenhauer, 151–­52; sexual unnaturalism of, 29–­30; as shape-­shifters, 238; social deliquescence, 24; socialism, 24–­25, 31; social malaise, 31; as term, 127; transgressive sexuality of, 267n17; Wilde, defenders of, 59, 65. See also Jewishness; Jewish women Jews Mourning in a Synagogue (Rothen­ stein), 68, 68, 69–­70 Joselit, Jenna Weissman, 109 Joseph, Lilly Delissa, 56–­57; Self Portrait with Candles, 58 Jouhandeau, Marcel, 244, 246, 248, 280n21; “How I Became an Anti-­Semite,” 243; Le péril juif, 243 Jowett, Benjamin, 53 Joyce, James, 159 Judaism, 12, 18, 23–­24, 128, 149, 172–­73, 183, 217 Judith and the Head of Holofernes (Klimt), 86 Jugendstil, 143 juifs, rois de l’époque, Les (Toussenel), 194, 200–­201 Juive, La (Halévy), 11, 36, 114, 136 kabbalah, 201, 204–­5, 216–­17, 273n26 Kahn, Alphonse, 190–­91 Kahn, Gustave, 21, 27, 38, 151; Contes juifs, 34–­36; Symbolistes et décadents, 34–­35 Kahnweiler, Daniel-­Henry, 43 Kalmanowitz, Harry, Geburth Kontrol, 31 Kane, Helen, 111 Kant, Immanuel, 24, 32–­33, 152–­53, 171 Kaplan, Alice, 196

Kaplan, Marion, 108–­9 kashrut, 108 Keats, John, 77 Kennard, Coleridge, 50, 71 Kermode, Frank, 2 Kern, Jerome, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” 228 Khnopff, Fernand, Ligeia, 232, 234 Kirsch, Adam, 176 klikushestvo, 211 Klimt, Gustav, 4, 91, 182; Judith and the Head of Holofernes, 86 Knight, Nathaniel, 207–­8 Kracauer, Siegfried, 183 Krafft-­Ebing, Richard von, 30 Kristeva, Julia, 114, 125, 142, 147, 265n3 Là-­Bas (Huysmans), 190 Labouchère, Henry, 52, 63 Lacan, Jacques, 204 Lācis, Asja, 183–­84 Ladenson, Elisabeth, 266n11 Lafargue, Laura, 71 Landelle, Charles, Jewish Woman from Tangiers, 94 Landy, Joshua, 272n47 Lane, John, 66 La Touche, Rose, 144 Lautréamont, Comte de, 278n5 Lavater, Johann Caspar, 272n46 Lawson, Edward, 63. See also Levy, Edward Lazare, Bernard, 30, 36 Lecomte du Noüy, Jean Jules Antoine, Saturday in the Jewish Quarter, 93 Leduc, Violette, 239, 241, 243, 247, 279n12; La bâtarde, 246, 242 LeFanu, Sheridan, Carmilla, 211 Leibnitz, Gottfried Wilhelm, 171 Lemaître, Jules, 98; Les rois, 94 “Lemon Incest” (song), 228 Le Pen, Marine, 231 Le Petit, Alfred, 93–­94, 97 Leverson, Ada, 15, 34, 71–­72

290  Index Levinas, Emmanuel, 174 Levy, Amy, 15, 73, 151–­52, 261–­62n39; Reuben Sachs, 72, 74; The Romance of a Shop, 72, 74 Levy, Edward, 62. See also Lawson, Edward Levy, Joseph, 62 Lewis, Maison, 107 Leyland, Frederick, 57 Liberal Judaism, 53 Liberated Bride, The (Yehoshua), 8, 18, 220–­ 24; between-­two-­worldness of, 210 Ligeia (Khnopff), 232, 234 Lisle, Leconte de, 33, 37, 141 little magazines, 3 livre de Monelle, Le (Schwob), 206, 231, 236 Lodge, George Cabot, 33 Lombroso, Caesare, 3, 24–­25, 151 London (England), 3, 9, 21, 34, 41, 52, 75, 78, 109, 181, 209, 212, 220; Burlington Arcade, 189; East End, 54–­55, 60, 67; Jews in, 60, 67, 74, 229 London Labour and the London Poor (Mayhew), 30–­31 Lorraine, Lillian, 263n7 Louvre Museum, 39, 189 Mademoiselle de Maupin (Gautier), 4 Maeterlinck, Maurice, 196 Magee, Bryan, 150 Malherbe, Suzanne, 231. See also Moore, Marcel Mallarmé, Stéphane, 2, 33–­35, 38, 45, 77 Manet, Édouard, 33, 40 Mann, Thomas, 153, 239 Man Ray, 128; Marcel Proust on His Deathbed, 128 Marcel Proust on His Deathbed (Man Ray), 128 Mariée juive au Maroc (Dehodencq), 92 Maritain, Jacques, 280n21 “Mariutch (Make-­a the Hootch-­a Ma Kootch) Down at Coney Isle” (song), 84 Marks, Elaine, 271n35, 272n46 Marks, Murray, 3, 41–­42, 47, 56–­57, 149–­50

Marseilles (France), 184, 191–­92 Marx, Karl, 71, 188, 195, 247 Marxism, 183, 185; and Jewishness, 181 Matisse, Henri, 43 Maupassant, Guy de, 44, 198 Maurras, Charles, 194–­95, 242, 270–­71n34 Maxwell, Robert, 261n22 May, Ernest, 40–­41 Mayhew, Henry, London Labour and the London Poor, 30–­31 Mehlman, Jeffrey, 194 Mendel (Cannan), 69 Mendelssohn, Felix, 34, 125 Mendelssohn, Moses, 11–­12, 24 Mendès, Catulle, 14, 21, 33, 36–­37, 52; Jewish­ ness of, 257n25; Méphistophéla, 4 Mendes-­Flohr, Paul, 151 Mendès France, Pierre, 36 Mengele, Josef, 221 Meninas, Las (Velázquez), 237–­38 Menorah (magazine), 27, 35 Méphistophéla (Mendès), 4 Merchant of Venice, The (Shakespeare), 31 Metropolitan Museum of Art, 87 Metropolitan Opera, 83 Meyerbeer, Giacomo, 11 Middle Ages, 25 Migrations: Journeys into British Art (exhibi­ tion), 69 Millais, John Everett, 57 Minnie the Moocher (cartoon), 110–­11, 111, 112 Mirah, Josépha, 187 mirrors, 236–­37, 237, 238 Misia et Vallotton à Villeneuve (Vuillard), 46 Mitterrand, François, 10, 229 modernism, 2, 9–­10, 18, 45, 80, 114, 140, 181–­82 modernity, 2, 10, 17, 22, 25, 44, 47, 49, 80, 112, 122, 143, 181, 209; and decadence, 86; fin-­de-­siècle, link between, 102–­3, 105, 118, 195, 220, 248; and France, 182; and Jewishness, 91; modernist art, 21; Oriental­ ism, conflation with, 91; Paris, capital of, 186–­87; Parisian boulevards, 11; schlemiel,

Index  291 holy fool of, 163; and slimness, 110. See also decadence; Jewishness Modiano, Albert, 246 Modiano, Patrick, 3, 10, 247, 251; Dora Bruder, 249; Jewishness of, 250; La Place de l’Étoile, 19, 246, 248; Ring Roads, 249–­ 50; style of, 248–­49 Modigliani, Amedeo, 21, 43, 103, 181 Molière, 184 Moloney, Brian, 162 Monet, Claude, 33 Montagu, Samuel, 260n11 Montaigne, Michel de, 248 Montefiore, Charlotte, 53, 55 Montefiore, Leonard, 53–­57, 70, 74 Montefiore, Moses, 53 Montesquiou, Robert de, 103, 129–­31 Mon vieux Paris (Drumont), 192 Moore, George, 4 Moore, Marcel, 231–­32, 238–­39. See also Malherbe, Suzanne Moreau, Gustave, 4, 6, 9, 16, 18, 33, 38–­40, 90, 102, 107, 115, 143, 180, 206, 263n11; The Apparition, 85–­87; Salome, 85–­87, 91; Salome Dancing before Herod, 87, 89, 91, 108 Morgan, J. P., 83 Morris, William, 41, 45, 57, 77, 118, 231–­32 Moscow (Russia), 220 Moscow Art Theatre, 220 Mother Earth (journal), 75 Mr. Sammler’s Planet (Bellow), 17, 174–­79 Mrs. Carl Meyer and Her Children (Sargent), 68 Mucha, Alphonse, 99, 100 Musée de l’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 245 Musée d’Orsay, 39 Museum of Modern Art, 258n36 Musicians Only (Shtok), 80 Mussolini, Benito, 195 nabis, Les, 36, 43, 45 Nadler, Steven, 68

Nantes (France), 191–­92 Napoleon, 130, 188, 244; Napoleonic Code, 270n30 Natanson, Alexandre, 38 Natanson, Louis-­Alfred, 38 Natanson, Misia, 46, 47–­49 Natanson, Thadée, 38, 45 Natanson family, 8, 38. See also individual family members naturalism, 4 Nazimova, Alla, 9, 16, 32, 86, 105, 106, 107, 107, 109, 251; Jewishness of, 108; slender­ ness of, 85; as vamp, 106 Nazi Rock, 228 Nazis, 10, 14, 43, 49, 65, 231, 247 necrophilia, 4, 20, 106–­7 Neighborhood Playhouse, 220 Neoimpressionism, 43 Nerval, Gérard de, 229, 249–­50 New Follies Review, 82 New York, 49, 74–­75, 79, 85, 181, 200, 220; Lower East Side, 1–­2, 80, 226, 275n1 Nidetch, Jean, 110 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 17, 32, 150, 152, 154, 167, 171–­72, 174; Thus Spake Zarathustra, 151 nihilism, 17 Nirenberg, David, 22 Nochlin, Linda, 41 Nord, Philip, 191–­92 Nordau, Max, 3–­4, 7, 26, 34, 151, 181; Degeneration, 5, 25, 115; “Muscle Jew,” 25 Ockman, Carol, 98 Odessa (Ukraine), 3 O’Donovan, Rocky, 267n17 Oehsen, Kristine von, 231 Offenbach, Jacques, 11 Olcott, Sidney, 110 Oldman, Gary, 221 Omer-­Sherman, Ranen, 224 “On the Mimetic Faculty” (Benjamin), 203 Orientalism, 85–­86, 108, 221–­22; modernity, conflation with, 91

292  Index original sin, and inversion, 125–­26 Orlenev, Pavel, 105–­6 Oslo (Norway), 209 Other, 126, 208 Paget, Violet, 72 Paglia, Camille, 104 Painter, George, 269–­70n29 Palestine, 7, 25, 210, 222–­24; Occupation of, 225 Paris (France), 3, 7, 9, 18, 21, 35, 39, 41, 45, 47, 49, 114, 119–­21, 182–­83, 184, 191–­92, 208–­9, 212, 247–­48; Arcades in, 188–­90; as city of Jews, 188; Jewish immigration, effect on, 8; Jews in, 180–­81, 229; and modernity, 186–­ 87; and surrealism, 186 Paris, Capital of Modernity (Harvey), 187 Paris Salon (1869), 87 Paris Salon (1876), 85–­87 paris sont ouverts, Les (Cahun), 278n5 Parnassianism, 4, 20–­21, 33, 37–­38 Pater, Walter, 6–­7, 18, 20–­21, 116, 232, 249–­51; on Mona Lisa, 119, 142–­43, 147, 206; Studies in the History of the Renaissance, 119 Paulhan, Jean, 244, 279n12 Peer Gynt (Ibsen), 13 “Pen, Pencil and Poison” (Wilde), 241 Pereire brothers, 190–­91, 258n32 péril juif, Le (Jouhandeau), 243 Peterkin, Daisie, 84 Phidias, 279–­80n19 Picasso, Pablo, 21, 43, 258n37 Pick, Daniel, 212 Picture of Dorian Gray, The (Wilde), 4, 60, 79 Pigman, Mac, 269–­70n29 Pinsker, Shachar, 75, 80, 262n46 Place de l’Étoile, La (Modiano), 19, 246, 248 Plato, 152–­53, 204 Poe, Edgar Allan, 4, 14, 33 Poland, 47, 180, 209 Porgy and Bess (Gershwin), 220 Portrait, The (Rossetti), 142–­43

Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt (Clairin), 91 Portraits at the Stock Exchange (Degas), 41, 42 Postimpressionism, 3, 9, 21, 33, 41, 49, 182, 250 Potolsky, Matthew, 6 Pound, Ezra, 21 Pre-­Raphaelitism, 3–­4, 21, 33, 41, 49, 57, 102, 236, 238, 250; and Brotherhood, 56; long hair, 232 Presley, Elvis, 228 Primitivism, 43 Prochnik, George, 26 Procol Harum, 227 proletarianism, 27 prose poems, 34, 35 Protocols of the Elders of Zion, The, 196, 261n22 Proudhon, Pierre-­Joseph, 188 Proust, Marcel, 3, 5–­7, 12, 16–­17, 21, 36–­38, 44–­ 45, 59, 103, 115–­16, 126, 133–­34, 136, 138–­39, 142–­44, 146–­47, 151, 181–­83, 198, 229, 238–­ 39, 248, 251, 265n4; aestheticism of, 26–­27, 118–­19; À la recherche du temps perdu, 32, 150, 184, 250, 266n11, 267–­68n18, 271n37; Catholic upbringing of, 127–­29, 269–­ 70n29; and decadence, 118–­20, 122, 140–­41; Dreyfus affair, 268–­69n25; Dreyfusism of, 27, 131, 268n22; The Guermantes Way, 150; and homosexuality, 119–­21, 123, 266n11, 270n30, 270n31; and identity, 123, 129–­30; Jewish appearance of, 127–­28, 269–­70n29; as Jewish decadent, 148; and Jewishness, 129–­30, 140, 267–­68n18; Jewish nose, 268–­ 69n25; Jew-­queer metaphor, use of, 123; as partly Jewish, 122; and sexuality, 130; sexuality, as non-­normative, 122; Swann in Love, 13–­14, 135, 163; Swann’s Way, 206; Time Regained, 113–­14, 122; yellow, choice of, 117–­18 psychoanalysis, 28, 165, 182 psychology, 27 Pterovsky-­Shtern, Yohanan, 219 public sphere, 140 Pullen, Christine, 261–­62n39 Punch (magazine), 41, 72

Index  293 Queensberry, Lord, 63 queer identities, 62, 80; queerness, and racialization, 143 race suicide, 31 race war, 28 racialization, and queerness, 143 Racine, Jean, 184 racism, scientific, 28 Raczymow, Henri, 239, 245, 246 Raffalovich, Marc-­André, 15, 34, 59, 63, 72; Jewishness of, 260n18; Self Seekers, 64–­65; Tuberose and Meadowsweet, 60; Uranisme et unisexualité, 61–­62 Rambova, Natacha, 106–­7 Rang, Florens Christian, 185 Rank, Otto, 159 Rappoport, Shloyme-­Zanvl. See An-­Sky, S. rationalism, 24 Ravel, Maurice, 103 Réage, Pauline, 279n12 Recanati, Jean, Profils juifs de Marcel Proust, 127 Redon, Odilon, 4, 9, 18, 33, 39–­40, 45, 115, 180, 206 Reed, Isaac G., Jr., Too Thin, 92–­93, 96 Regnault, Henri, Salome, 87, 88, 91 Rembrandt, 67–­68 Renaissance, 6, 87 Reni, Guido, 87 Renoir, Auguste, 45, 66, 87, 90; anti-­ Semitism of, 41, 263n11 Reuben Sachs (Levy), 72, 74 revue blanche, La (magazine), 3, 8, 38, 45, 47, 48, 195 Reyer, Ernest, 6 Richelieu, Cardinal, 192 Ricketts, Christopher, 259n2 Rimbaud, Arthur, 229, 278n5 Ring Roads (Modiano), 249–­50; and ekphrasis, 250 “Rise and Fall of a Polish Prayer Shawl” (Ben-­Lévi), 12

Rise of David Levinsky, The (Cahan), 151 Robb, Graham, 130, 270n30 Robbins, Jerome, 220 “Rock around the Bunker” (song), 228 Roden, Fred, 61–­62 Roditi, Edouard, 59, 65 rois, Les (Lemaître), 94 Romance of a Shop, The (Levy), 72, 74 Romanticism, 11, 33; German, 186 Rose, Jacqueline, 38 Rosenberg, Paul, 49, 258n37 Rosenfeld, Isaac, 173 Rosenthal, Isaac, 152 Roskies, David, 208 Ross, Robbie, 63, 71, 78 Rossetti, Dante Gabriel, 41–­42, 56–­57, 77, 232, 236; The Blessed Damozel, 142–­43; The Portrait, 142–­43 Rostand, Edmond, La Samaritaine, 99 Roth, Philip, Goodbye, Columbus, 112 Rothenstein, John, 69 Rothenstein, William, 15, 50, 59–­60; Jewish­ ness of, 66–­67, 70; Jews Mourning in a Synagogue, 68, 68, 69–­70 Rouault, Georges, 43 Rousseau, Henri, 43 Rubinstein, Ida, 9, 16, 32, 109, 181; as as­ similated, 104; female beauty, as symbol of, 102; Jewishness of, 103, 108; as model, 105; slenderness of, 85–­86; thinness of, 102 Ruskin, John, 6–­7, 16, 53, 55–­56, 119, 136, 142–­44, 260n9; Zipporah, 145 Russia, 35–­36, 196, 207, 209, 229; Acmeists in, 33 Russian Empire, 4, 131, 207, 229; Pale of Set­ tlement, 7, 11, 18, 208 Sacher-­Masoch, Leopold von, 207 Sachs, Maurice, 19, 239, 241, 246, 248, 279n12, 279–­80n19, 280n21; chameleonism of, 247; Jewishness of, 243–­45 Sacred Fount, The (James), 235–­36 “Sadie Salome (Go Home)” (Berlin), 9, 82–­84

294  Index sadism, 4 Safran, Gabriella, 210 Said, Edward, 221–­22 Saint-­Saën, Camille, 13 Saint-­Simon, Henri de, 279–­80n19 Salammbô (Flaubert), 6 Salomania, 81, 85–­86, 105, 110, 251; ethnic complexities of, 84 Salome (character), 84, 103, 105, 112, 236; as adolescent, 107; blackface performance of, 263n5; body type, 85; Dance of the Seven Veils, 83, 102; as flapper, 107; Jewish women, association with, 85; paintings of, 16; popularity of, as subject, 83; and thin­ ness, 107, 111 Salome (Moreau), 85–­87, 91 Salome (Regnault), 87, 88 Salome (Strauss), 83 Salomé (Wilde), 52, 74–­75, 80–­81, 83, 87, 91, 99, 101, 103–­6, 231; Jewish enthusiasm for, 86; Yiddish translation of, 78–­79 Salome Dancing before Herod (Moreau), 87, 89, 91, 108 Salomé films: 1915 version, 105; 1923 version, 9, 16, 106, 107, 108 Salomehood, as expression of  Jewish femi­ ninity, 85 Salome of the Tenements (film), 110 Salome of the Tenements (Yezierska), 110 Samaritaine, La (Rostand), 99, 100 Samuels, Maurice, 188, 198, 268n19, 271n38 San Francisco Museum of Art, 245 Sanger, Margaret, 31–­32 Sargent, John Singer, Mrs. Carl Meyer and Her Children, 68 Sartre, Jean-­Paul, 195, 196 Saturday in the Jewish Quarter (Lecomte du Noüy), 93 Scandinavia, 180 Scarlet Empress, The (film), 230 Schiller, Friedrich, 204 schlemiel, 160, 162, 164, 166; as holy fool of modernity, 163

Schlemilovitch, Raphäel, 246–­48 Schmid, Marion, 271n43 Schmidgall, Gary, 71 Schmidt, Eugen, 44 Schmitz, Ettore. See Svevo, Italo Schnitzler, Arthur, 182 Schoen, Ernst, 184 Scholem, Gershom, 26, 182–­84, 197, 200 Schopenhauer, Arthur, 4–­5, 8, 13, 17, 162, 165, 168, 171; as anti-­Semite, 152–­53; and Bel­ low, 173–­78; and contemplation, 177–­78; and death, 156, 173; and Freud, 153–­55, 158–­59, 165–­66; as influential, 150–­52; as Jewified, 158; misogyny of, 167; and mysticism, 177; pessimism of, 149, 151, 155, 167; and Singer, 167, 169–­70, 172; suicide, attitude toward, 156–­57; and Svevo, 159–­ 61, 166–­67; and violence, 177; and will, 156, 158–­59, 175, 177; “The World as Will and Idea,” 154, 169; The World as Will and Representation, 150–­52, 174 Schubert, Franz, 34 Schuster, Adela, 70–­71 Schwartz, Maurice, 75 Schwob, Marcel, 19, 36, 52, 232, 277–­78n8; Le livre de Monelle, 206, 231, 236 Scott, Walter, 10 Secessionism, 4; Secessionist art, 182 Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, 266n11 Self Portrait with Candles (Joseph), 58 Self Seekers (Raffalovich), 64–­65 Serious Man, A (film), 221 “serpent qui danse, Le” (Baudelaire), 229 Sert, Josep Maria, 45 Seurat, Georges, 43 Sfar, Joann, 227, 228 “Shadow of a Crib, The” (Singer), 167–­68, 171 Shadows on the Hudson (Singer), 8, 170, 173 Shakespeare, William: All’s Well That Ends Well, 22–­23; Hamlet, 22; Measure for Measure, 22–­23; The Merchant of Venice, 23, 31; The Tempest, 22–­23; The Winter’s Tale, 22–­23

Index  295 Shapira, Elana, 39 Shaw, George Bernard, 53 Shelley, Percy, 33, 61 Sherard, Robert, 52, 75, 259n4 shtetls, 24, 208 Shtok, Fradl, 78–­79; Musicians Only, 80 Siddal, Elizabeth, 232 Silverman, Sarah, 108 Simmel, Georg, 17, 150–­51, 174 Singer, Isaac Bashevis, 3, 10, 17, 151, 251; “The Cafeteria,” 171; Enemies: A Love Story, 167, 170; The Family Moskat, 170, 173; metaphysical concerns of, 167–­68; mystical vision of, 172–­73; and Schopen­ hauer, 167, 169–­70, 172; “The Shadow of a Crib,” 167–­68, 171; Shadows on the Hudson, 8, 170, 173; “The Spinoza of Mar­ ket Street,” 169; and temptation, 171–­72; women, attitudes toward, 167 Singing in the Rain (film), 82 Slonim, Yoel, 77–­78 “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (Kern), 228 Snel, Harmen, 256n16 Society for the Extension of University Teaching, 54 Socrates, 279–­80n19 Sodom and Gomorrah, 124 Solomon, Simeon, 34, 56–­57, 229, 251, 260n11; Young Rabbi Holding the Torah, 35 Solomon, Solomon Joseph, 56–­57, 67 Sorel, Georges, 18, 194–­95, 198 “Soul of Man under Socialism, The” (Wilde), 75 Spanish Inquisition, 28 “Sphinx, The” (Wilde), 50, 52, 72, 259n2 Spiegel, Max, 82 Spinoza, Baruch, 149, 171–­72, 181 “Spinoza of Market Street, The” (Singer), 169 Stanislavski, Konstantin, 220 Stanislawski, Michael, 7 Stein, Leo, 43–­44 Steinberg, Isaac, 26 Sternberg, Joseph von, 230

Sternhell, Zeev, 195 Stevens, Hugh, 213 Stevens, Wallace, “The Idea of Order at Key West,” 119 Stickney, Trumbull, 33 St. Mark’s Basilica, 90, 90, 91 Stoker, Bram, 209; Dracula, 211, 213–­14 Stokes, Rose Pastor, 31–­32 Straus, Geneviève Halévy Bizet, 44, 239, 271n41 Strauss, Leo, 151 Strauss, Richard, Salome, 83 Stravinsky, Igor, 103 Strindberg, August, The Dance of Death, 13 Studies in the History of the Renaissance (Pater), 119 Sue, Eugène, Le juif errant, 198 surrealism, 185, 232; and Paris, 186 “Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the Euro­ pean Intelligentsia” (Benjamin), 185 Svevo, Italo, 3, 21, 251; As a Man Grows Older, 160; Confessions of Zeno, 17, 160–­66; and Freud, 160; Jewishness of, 161; and Schopenhauer, 159, 160–­61, 166–­67; Una vita (A Life), 160 Swann in Love (Proust), 13–­14, 119, 134–­39, 144, 146, 163 Swann’s Way (Proust), 206 Swinburne, Algernon Charles, 33, 77, 232 Symbolism, 4, 20–­21, 49, 151, 232, 236; poetry, 18, 33, 249 Symbolistes et décadents (Kahn), 34–­35 Symons, Arthur, 2 Tadié, Jean-­Yves, 128–­29, 268n22 Taine, Hippolyte, 141 Tannhäuser (Wagner), 4, 7, 181 Tate Britain, 69 Tenishev, Nikolaevich, 208 Tennyson, Alfred Lord, 236 Terdiman, Richard, semiotic disquiet, 10 Terry, Ellen, 53, 98 Theses on the Philosophy of History (Benja­ min), 200

296  Index Thomas, Dylan, 156 Thomashefsky, Bessie, 74, 79, 85 Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (Freud), 32 Thus Spake Zarathustra (Nietzsche), 151 Thynne, Lizzy, 232 Tian-­Shanskaiai, Olga Semyonova, 208 Tiffany, Louis Comfort, 41 Tin Pan Alley, 9, 82 Titian, 87 Tolstoy, Leo, 150 Too Thin (Reed), 92–­93, 96 Toulet, Paul-­Jean, 249 Toulouse-­Lautrec, Henri de, 41, 48 Toussenel, Alphonse, 188, 203–­5, 243; anti-­Semitism of, 194, 201; as fabulist, 201; Les juifs, rois de l’époque, 194, 200–­201; as naturalist, 200–­201; universal analogy, notion of, 201 Trilby (Du Maurier), character of Svengali, 33–­34, 144, 272n46 Tristan und Isolde (Wagner), 13, 219 Truth (magazine), 52, 63 Tuberose and Meadowsweet (Raffalovich), 60 Turner, J. M. W., 55 Turner, Reggie, 15, 21, 34, 59, 62–­63, 64, 71, 229, 251, 260n9; Jewishness of, 65; The Yellow Book, 64, 118 Tzara, Tristan, 181 Uhde, Wilhelm, 43 Unborn, The (film), 221 undead, 225; fascination with, 211 United States, 2, 4, 21, 27, 30, 33, 61, 77, 84, 110, 150–­51, 162, 180, 209, 230, 261n22, 275n1 Uranisme et unisexualité (Raffalovich), 61–­62 urbanization, 27 Valentino, Rudolph, 106 Valéry, Paul, 231, 277–­78n8 Vallotton, Félix, 45, 46, 47, 237 vamp, 9, 82, 105–­6

Velázquez, Diego, Las Meninas, 237–­38 Venice (Italy), 23, 55–­56, 90–­91 Venus triste, La (The Weeping Venus) (Brooks), 105 Verlaine, Paul, 2–­3, 10, 33, 36, 38, 115, 229, 249–­50, 277–­78n8 Vermeer,  Johannes, View of Delft, 116–­17, 117 Victoria and Albert Museum, 41 Vienna (Austria), 3, 7–­9, 21, 39, 86, 181–­82 View of Delft (Vermeer), 116, 117 Violette (film), 246 Volk (people), 208 Vollard, Ambroise, 43 Voltaire, 279–­80n19 van Straten, Jits, 256n16 Vuillard, Édouard, 38, 43–­45, 47, 49, 237; Misia et Vallotton à Villeneuve, 46 Wagner, Richard, 150, 209; Das Rheingold, 14; Tannhäuser, 4, 7, 181; Tristan und Isolde, 13, 219 Wagnermania, 115 Wainewright, Thomas Griffiths, 241 Walker, Aida Overton, 263n5 Wandering Jew, 198 Wandervögel, 186 Warsaw (Poland), 3, 220 Waszyński, Michał, 221 Weber, Caroline, 271n41 Weber, Eugen, 130 Weight Watchers, 110 Weil, Godchaux Baruch. See Ben-­Lévi, “Rise and Fall of a Polish Prayer Shawl” Weill, Berthe, 43 Weininger, Otto, 5, 167 Weintraub, Stanley, 63 Weizmann, Chaim, 27 “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” (Whitman), 79 “When Patricia Salomé Did Her Funny Little Oo-­La-­Pa-­lome” (song), 84 Whistler, James McNeill, 3, 57, 115, 118 White, Edmund, 268n22

Index  297 White, Hayden, 151 White, Patricia, 108 Whitechapel Gallery, 69 “Whiter Shade of Pale” (song), 227 Whitman, Walt, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” 79 Wilde, Constance, 60 Wilde, Oscar, 2–­3, 6, 9, 16, 19, 25, 33–­34, 36, 41–­42, 51, 53, 55–­57, 62, 64, 76, 92, 102, 111, 118–­20, 206, 211, 236, 238–­39, 243–­44, 259n4, 260n9, 260n18, 260n19; art for art’s sake, as herald of, 77; The Ballad of Reading Gaol, 77, 241; criminality and aestheticism, conflation of, 241; as cultural icon, 50; decadence, poster boy of, 15; Florentine Tragedy, 71; as foreign other, 52; An Ideal Husband, 75; The Importance of Being Earnest, 78, 162; as Jewified, 52; Jewish circle of, 59–­60, 66, 70, 74; in Jewish consciousness, 79; Jewishness, link to, 52, 65; libel suit, 63; “Pen, Pencil and Poison,” 241; The Picture of Dorian Gray, 4, 60, 74, 79; as prophet, 75, 77; Salomé, 52, 74–­75, 78–­81, 83, 86–­87, 91, 99, 101, 103–­6, 231; self as celebrity, 241; smoking, in praise of, 274n30; “The Soul of Man under Socialism,” 75; “The Sphinx,” 50, 52, 71–­72, 259n2; trials of, 61, 70–­71, 80, 270n30; Wildemania, in Jewish culture, 75; women, relations with, 70–­72; yellow, references to, 118 Wilde, Vyvyan, 50 Wildenstein, George, 258n37 Wildenstein Gallery, 49 Williamson, G. C., 149

Winehouse, Amy, 230 Wisse, Ruth, 1, 77, 162 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 150–­51, 182 Wolitz, Seth, 132–­33, 207, 219 Wollen, Peter, 85–­86, 102–­3, 108 Wordsworth, William, 249 “Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Repro­ duction, The” (Benjamin), 185–­86 World as Will and Representation, The (Schopenhauer), 150–­52, 174 World War I, 70, 122, 126, 150–­51, 244 World War II, 17, 231, 238–­39, 243 World Zionist Organization, 35 Worobec, Christine, 211 Yeats, W. B., 2; The Celtic Twilight, 206 Yehoshua, A. B., 3, 213, 225; The Liberated Bride, 8, 18, 210, 220–­24 Yellow Book, The (magazine), 232, 235, 235 Yellow Book, The (Turner), 64, 118 Yezierska, Anzia: The Bread Givers, 109–­10; Salome of the Tenements, 110 Yiddish Art Theatre, 75, 220 Yiddish theater, 74, 78 Young Rabbi Holding the Torah (Solomon), 35 Zevi, Sabbatai, 216 Ziegfeld, Florenz, 83, 263n7 Ziegfeld Follies, 83; Ziegfeld (American) Girl, 85 Zionism, 7, 10, 26–­27, 35, 57, 59, 77, 181 Zipporah, 271n45 Zipporah (Ruskin), 145 Zo’har (Erlanger), 37 Zola, Émile, 4, 91–­92, 115, 121, 160, 191