Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Jewish American Lit in the Sixties

For the second year in a row, I'm going to be teaching a 3-week summer course at Hebrew Union College, mainly to rabbinical students. This time the topic is Jewish American Literature of the 1960s, with "the sixties" stretching a few years back into the fifties and on into the seventies. Here's my course description:

“The Sixties” in Jewish American Literature: Assimilation & Rebellion

The decade of the 1960s was a period in which Jews entered the mainstream of American society and contributed to American culture to an unprecedented extent. At the same time, Jewish Americans were also instrumental in the formation of the counter-culture which stood as a critique of mainstream American values. Torn between assimilation and rebellion, the generation of Jewish American writers which came of age during this period reflect their historical situation in a great range of literary genres and styles. This generation, largely the children of hard-working first and second generation Jews who anxiously sought to fit into American life, both acknowledge and reject the drama of their parents’ struggle for middle-class status and social acceptance. They seek to redefine their Jewishness in relation to the turmoil and promise of the sixties. This course will consider a variety of texts and authors of the sixties (give or take a few years), and attempt to situate them in terms of their Jewish identity and cultural impact. Authors will include Philip Roth, Grace Paley, Bernard Malamud, Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan.

As you can see, it's going to be quite a mix. I'll be starting with Goodbye, Columbus and moving on to Ginsberg's Kaddish, including the various responses of other Jewish poets to that poem (most notably Allen Grossman's great review). The Malamud stories will probably include "The Angel Levine" and "Black Is My Favorite Color," for a consideration of Jewish / African-American relations during that period. Paley's feminist perspective is likewise crucial, and Dylan, well, it's a no-brainer, especially given "Highway 61" ("God said to Abraham / Kill me a son..."). Does anyone have any other suggestions? I'd really like to show a good film...

3 comments:

morris said...

"Jewish Americans were also instrumental in the formation of the counter-culture which stood as a critique of mainstream American values"

Today they would be harrased out of their mind.
Just read Tikkun.org mailing list was hacked, whether it is true or not (and it probably is), it is the typical behaviour of the current Jewish oligarchy.

E. M. Selinger said...

Oy.

Hey, Norman, great topic! What about Rukeyser's collection "The Speed of Darkness" (1968)? It's one of her best--includes both "Akiba" and "Kathe Kollwitz" in its "Lives" section--and would make a fine comparison to Paley. "Poland / 1931" another natural to include; in the best of all worlds you'd be able to show them an issue of TREE. Maybe some Wallace Berman collages?

Norman Finkelstein said...

Thanks, Eric. The Berman collages are a terrific idea, if not a copy of TREE. And I'll try to fit in some of the Rothenberg (since most of POLAND/1931 was written in the 60s) and the Rukeyser. It is only three weeks...