The ProsenPeople

Werner Sombart: Portrait of an Anti-Semite

Friday, October 07, 2011 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Ned Beauman wrote about Oscar Panizza and Henry Ford. His debut novel, Boxer, Beetle (Bloomsbury), is now available.

Can an anti-Semite reach correct conclusions about Jews? Here is Jeffrey Herf in his book Reactionary Modernism on the work of Werner Sombart, a leading German sociologist of the early twentieth century:

“Sombart stressed four aspects of European Jewish social history that contributed to the origins of modern capitalism. First, the Jews were dispersed in different countries and thus had international contacts. Second, their existence as outsiders forced them to be more attentive to new economic opportunities and to favor economic rationalism over local custom and tradition. Third, because Jews had been excluded from full citizenship rights, they turned their attention away from politics to economics. Fourth, Jewish wealth made banking and lending possible, activities from which modern capitalism was born.”

All those points seem both valid and interesting out of context, and indeed Sombart’s 1911 book The Jews and Modern Capitalism was not seen as anti-Semitic when it was published. Furthermore, the records of Sombart’s feelings on Nazism is vague and contradictory, and his views seem to have fluctuated over his lifetime. Nonetheless, reading more about Sombart, one feels certain he was basically pretty hostile to Jews – at one point he even wrote that he didn’t like Berlin department stores because their ‘crass juxtapositions’ were a product of Jewish sensibilities.

So where does that leave his sociological insights? The fact is, anti-Semites do spend a lot of time thinking about Judaism – more time than a lot of Jews spend thinking about Judaism. Occasionally, they are going to come up with something solid. When I was researching the history of anti-Semitism for Boxer, Beetle, I encountered this problem often, and it seems to me that at a hundred years’ distance, maybe it’s finally time to go back to some of these old sources – even if we have to employ the intellectual equivalent of those steel boxes with built-in lead-lined gloves like they install in nuclear research laboratories.

Ned Beauman is the author of Boxer, Beetle

Ford vs. Sapiro

Wednesday, October 05, 2011 | Permalink

On Monday, Ned Beauman wrote about Oscar Panizza. His debut novel, Boxer, Beetle (Bloomsbury), is now available.

Henry Ford might be the most famous American anti-Semite, but it’s not widely known that the industrialist only narrowly escaped having to answer for his vitriol in court. In 1927, the heroic Jewish lawyer Aaaron Sapiro sued Ford for remarks that Ford had made about Sapiro in his book The International Jew (later popular among the Nazi Party). Unfortunately, the libel case ended in a mistrial, and had been pretty precarious from start to finish. As Time magazine reported: ‘During the life of the Sapiro-Ford trial the following events were chronicled: Henry Ford was badly battered in an automobile accident. Stuart Hanley, lawyer for Mr. Ford, suffered a back strain. Two of Aaron Sapiro’s children came down with scarlet fever. Milton Sapiro (brother) splintered a wrist in another automobile crash. Senator James A. Reed of Missouri, chief counsel for Mr. Ford, went to the Henry Ford hospital with an acute attack of gastrointestinal trouble. Superstitious observers whispered that the trial was hoodooed.’

What the article neglects to mention is that Ford probably contrived his injuries in order to avoid appearing in court. There’s something almost Ballardian about an automobile tycoon deliberately staging his own automobile accident. But what I like even more is the bluff that followed. Sapiro’s team were having trouble serving a subpoena to Ford. ‘Eventually the server threw it on Ford’s lap through the open window when he stopped his car at an intersection,’ writes Hadassa Ben-Itto in The Lie That Wouldn’t Die, his history of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. ‘Ford suffered severe loss of face when the judge summarily rejected his lawyer’s argument that the service of the subpoena was faulty, claiming that the document had not actually landed in his client’s lap, but slipped to the floor of the car between his knees.’ One imagines that Ford was soon fantasising about a luxury version of his own Model A with two new features perfect for the busy anti-Semite: triple-gauge crash simulator and velvet-upholstered subpoena guard.

Check back all week for more posts from Ned for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Visiting Scribe.

MetaMaus Book Trailer

Tuesday, October 04, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

More on MetaMaus: 

Anti-Semitism of a Complex Kind

Monday, October 03, 2011 | Permalink

Ned Beauman is the author of Boxer,Beetle. It was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Desmond Elliott Prize upon its initial UK release last year, and has recently been praised by the New York Times as ‘funny, raw and stylish’.

In 1893 the German writer Oscar Panizza published a story called “The Operated Jew,” a synopsis of which reads like a racially charged David Cronenberg film: a young Jewish doctor submits to a serious of painful surgical procedures to conceal his heritage, culminating with a blood transfusion from pure Ayran virgins, but just before his wedding to a blonde German woman, the operations lose their hold and he melts into a puddle on the floor. That same decade, the Zionist Theodor Herzl began using the term ‘anti-Semite of Jewish origin’, which would soon be simplified to ‘self-hating Jew’.

These days you don’t very often hear ‘self-hating Jew’ from level-headed people, but to a novelist, a self-hating anything is inherently juicy material, and “The Operated Jew,” if it had been written by a Jewish author, would probably now be a major text in Jewish Studies.

Most of us are already familiar with the story of Dan Burros, the Jewish Ku Klux Klan member whose story was the basis for the 2001 Ryan Gosling film The Believer. But my own favourite ‘self-hating Jew’ is the German-Jewish scholar Oscar Levy. ‘We who have posed as the saviours of the world, we, who have even boasted of having given it “the” Saviour, we are to-day nothing else but the world’s seducers, its destroyers, its incendiaries, its executioners,’ wrote Levy in 1920. ‘We who have promised to lead you to a new Heaven, we have finally succeeded in landing you into a new Hell.’ As a result of the storm of publicity over this article, Levy was kicked out of his adopted home of Great Britain, even as the anti-Semitic newspaper The Hidden Hand or Jewry Über Alles praised him as ‘the most courageous and honest Jew living.’

But as Dan Stone explains in his book Breeding Superman, Levy’s anti-Semitism was of a complex kind. Levy was one of the first translators of Nietzsche into English, and like Nietzsche, he didn’t acknowledge much of a distinction between Jews and Christians: both were equally at fault for the dismal state of the world, although it happened to be the Jews who’d helped to begin that decline.

And the Jews could still do something about it. ‘Yes, there is hope, my friend,’ he wrote, ‘for we are still here, our last word is not yet spoken, our last deed is not yet done, our last revolution is not yet made.’ As Stone summarises his position: ‘The Jews, the underminers of western civilisation, are the only people able to rescue that civilisation from further deterioration. Self-hatred is yet self-aggrandisement.’ To anticipate Levy in The Operated Jew, perhaps Panizza would have had to write something closer to The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde – with his young doctor as a penitent by day but also a revolutionary by night.

Ned Beauman was born in London and currently lives in New York. His debut novel Boxer,Beetle (Bloomsbury) was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Desmond Elliott Prize upon its initial UK release last year, and has recently been praised by the New York Times as ‘funny, raw and stylish’.

JLit Links

Monday, October 03, 2011 | Permalink
Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter


  • In Scripture (Lori Hope Lefkovitz), a 2010 finalist for the National Jewish Book Award in Women’s Studies, will be available in paperback later this month
  • Jewish Book Network author Tom Fields-Meyer‘s son Ezra has a book coming out
  • 614: HBI ezine features Jewish Book Network authors

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Trailer

Thursday, September 29, 2011 | Permalink

Praying Outdoors

Wednesday, September 28, 2011 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Stuart Nadler blogged for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s author blogging series about casting off one’s sins and the stories that didn’t make it.

They were small, felt, ringed in blue. We wore them to meals, to all of them, and of course, to services on Fridays and Saturdays. You were given two at the start. If you lost them, they were a few dollars to replace. Of course, they were yarmulkes, even though we never called them that, choosing, instead, to call them beanies. To have called them yarmulkes, I suppose, would have been to place them in a more strict religious context, that, as boys, we may have shirked from. Or found uncool. It’s hard to remember now. This was my summer camp near Cape Cod, a tiny, wooded outpost flanked by a fresh water lake, a dozen creaky, wooden bunks.

Even as a young kid, I recognized the chapel as something beautiful. To get there you had to walk along the water. There was a fence that separated the field from the lake. We’d go in what was supposed to be our best clothing. But we were young, and we were boys, and inevitably, we were filthy. I remember having to go down a slope, although this might be inaccurate. It’s been fifteen years since I was there last, and the photographs I’ve found on the web don’t do justice to my memories. There were three sections of benches arranged in a half-circle. Plain wooden benches like the sort you’d see at a softball field. And there was a bimah, a makeshift pulpit. Behind this was the water. There were high trees surrounding us, white pine, black gum, red spruce. The chapel, I realize now, was nothing but a landscaped clearing. There was another summer camp along the lake, a YMCA camp. And there were a few houses dotting the shore. One of them had an airplane docked out front, its landing gear retrofitted for the water, and occasionally, during services, if you were lucky, you’d see the pilot take off, or land, and then, a few moments later, you’d see the water lap up against the shore – small, insistent waves.

Most of us were secular, if not entirely unobservant in our usual lives, and these services amounted to the totality of our religious experiences. One summer, a boy had his bar mitzvah there, all of his friends pitching in together to make it happen. I remember this particular service more than the others. These were small gestures: the beanies, the prayers we sung before our meals, the imposed solemnity of our weekly walk to the chapel. I remember worrying that my yarmulke would blow off in the middle of a service, some lake-born gust of wind taking it and spilling it somewhere. This was a fear one doesn’t suffer in synagogue.

Lately I’ve been thinking about that chapel, about how lovely it was to sit out there in the woods, with the birds out overhead, and that airplane dropping slowly onto the water. There was no better place to pray quietly, to find peace, to feel gratitude at the easy beauty we had around us. I find myself wishing I could back there now, even though, I’m fairly sure I’ve long lost those felt beanies. Although I suppose, for a few dollars, I could get another.

Stuart Nadler has been blogging here all week. He is the author of The Book of Life and is currently touring as a part of the Jewish Book Network. For more information about booking Stuart, please contact jbc@jewishbooks.org.

Nathan Englander’s “The Reader”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Over at Electric LitDrew Christie animates a sentence from Nathan Englander’s latest story, “The Reader.

The Sentence: “And with all those headlights floating divided in his rearview mirror, Author never can tell which belong to his reader, which pair is his beacon, a North Star, split, cast back, guiding him on.”

JLit Links

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The Stories that Don’t Make It

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 | Permalink

Yesterday, Stuart Nadler blogged for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Visiting Scribe about casting off one’s sins

At a certain point in the process, I had to do the cutting. Not the small cutting, the excising of some misplaced lines, the usual reshuffling that revision turns into at the end, everything somehow feeling more surgical than therapeutic. But I had to really cut. To kill some stories. To take them out, shelve them, end them. This is what I did, in the most unsentimental of ways – stories that I’d suffered over for months at a time, pulled from the manuscript, put into the drawer. There were fourteen stories. Then there were ten. For a few weeks there were nine. Now the book exists in its final form, and there are seven stories, all handsomely put together and bound and out there for anyone to read. But what about the others, the stories that didn’t make it?

Short story collections are, at their best, a crystallized instance of a writer’s preoccupations. In most cases the medium doesn’t allow for the concentrated energy a novel does, or for the lingering, careful introspection. At their best, a certain incidental beauty emerges, a glancing touch of something lovely, or wise. I wrote the bulk of my book in Iowa City, a wonderful town with a small Jewish Community, but where, after a few months, I found the simple task of buying candles for a menorah nearly impossible. The experience stuck with me. I’d been working on a book about a piano player. I shelved it. Slowly, the stories began to touch one another, their common threads signaling, at first, a deepening fascination about religious identity. My characters, as they emerged, were secular Jews whose notion of their identity was brittle and uninformed. Why did I want those candles so badly, when I barely celebrated any other holidays? At the end of one of these stories, a character whose father is dying announces that he has no idea what it means to be Jewish. This, it seemed to me, was what my book was about. Or what it should be about. But then, so quickly, things changed. Other threads emerged: struggling families, adulterous lovers, estranged brothers. My preoccupations were shifting.

There is a distance, often, that takes root between what a writer wants to write about, and what a writer actually writes about. Outlines become useless, taunting things. A collection of stories becomes bound by ideas the writer is not entirely away of. Slowly, this began to happen to me. The woman who eventually became my editor helped me realize that the characters I’d been writing weren’t all religious, but they were all Jews. If nothing else, this was the thread.


Photo by Nina Subin

John Cheever’s advice on putting together a story collection was to put the best story up front, the next best story last, and then arrange everything else in the middle. I heard this a few weeks after my book had been acquired for publication, an occassion that to me felt like my own, private Hanukkah miracle: my book of stories would go out into the world! But there was a whole separate book I’d shelved. In it, there is a story about a brother whose twin is dying. A story about a family whose adopted son is a painting prodigy. There is a story about a boxer who falls in love with his opponent. I’m this book’s only reader now. It’s a funny thing to see: my slight obsessions rising up and falling away. My plans for a perfectly round collection loosening. This book doesn’t have a handsome cover, or a title, or really, to be honest, any future. But it exists, if for no other reason, than to remind me of how my book got made – by cutting and cutting and cutting.

Stuart Nadler is the author of The Book of Life. Check back tomorrow for his final post for the JBC/MJL Author Blog.