The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey Through Language and Culture

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9780684830759: The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey Through Language and Culture

Analyzes the major literary works by Jewish authors to chronicle the history of twentieth century Judiaism.

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Review:

The Modern Jewish Canon is Ruth R. Wisse's attempt to establish a set of criteria for a canon of Jewish literature (mainly prose fiction written by Ashkenazi Jews and their descendants in the 20th century). This is a fascinating, odd, and ambitious book, whose big ideas are ultimately less interesting than its small observations. Wisse, who is a firm believer in the moral power of fiction ("Even considering the dangers to the text that may accompany a moral education, I would argue that the importance it ascribes to words more than compensates for the occasional violence it does to them"), designates "Jewish literature" as work that "tells the stories of the Jewish people in the twentieth century ... best." The Modern Jewish Canon never provides a convincing, specific explanation of what exactly that means. As a result, some passages of the book (such as Wisse's ejection of Marcel Proust from her canon) seem irrationally parochial. Wisse's strongest readings concern "how the language in which Jewishness is conceived affects the nature of the literary work." She is highly sensitive to the different ways that Hebrew, Yiddish, English, Russian, and German languages give rise to distinct kinds of political, moral, religious, and literary sensibilities. --Michael Joseph Gross

From the Inside Flap:

What makes a great Jewish book? In fact, what makes a book "Jewish" in the first place? Ruth R. Wisse eloquently fields these questions in The Modern Jewish Canon, her compassionate, insightful guide to the finest Jewish literature of the twentieth century. From Isaac Babel to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Elie Wiesel to Cynthia Ozick, Wisse's The Modern Jewish Canon is a book that every student of Jewish literature, and every reader of great fiction, will enjoy.

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Ruth R. Wisse
Published by Free Press (2000)
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