Tyranny of the majority. Its a stock character today, but is the perhaps dominant cultural aesthetic of our time: the endless variations on the neurotic and hyperarticulate, as well as sexually obsessed individual; throw in issues of class and assimilation with a gob of self-absorption and you have endless variations ranging from the tedious labors of self examination to the occasionally brilliant. It is one of the pervasive leitmotifs of mass culture from the superficial but highly commodified and financially successful from the likes of The Big Bang and Seinfeld through more “highbrow” leftist critiques from the likes of Slavoj Zizek. What can be termed the sort of Seinfeld phenomenon is a hand-me-down process from Samuel Beckett and Jean Genet literary endeavours that exemplified and exalted the ostensibly illogical and purposeless nature of modern existence, which in turn were inspired by surrealism, Dada, Marcel Duchamp, They are directly related to the DADA and Surrealistic movements in art.
Ever since Huckleberry Finn prayed for a fishing pole , and got a pole with no hooks, religion as an economic discourse has had to absorb a mighty blow. Somehow heroes have to be flawed, preferably deeply, and have to inevitably succumb to innate character flaws and flounder in the muck, giving living evidence that the Deconstruction of Jacques Derrida was part of some erosive grand design in the evolution of humankind in which undermining the foundation of the hero was just part of the process in the overturning of history, the hyper-secular sparks of nihilism in which the embers are permanently aglow and risk conflagration.Conformity finds its new normal; the pressure of the majority is a well oiled machine that can persuade one that its demands are actually intrinsic spontaneous desires. people who feel they have large chunks of their identity slipping away from them often do very little vetting or reality cheacks that this is the result they truly want. As Nazi Germany showed, its not that far-fetched to be stamped willy-nilly over a short time frame, by the die-press and into a standard exchangeable part.
Looking at this through a Jewish prism between figures like Herman Wouk and Philip Roth as contrast, and put Woody Allen into the same stew, it locates the big trench that separates a more personal esthetic experience as opposed to a different sort of social amber that could only be pervasive and influential through a mass cultural reproduction that de-privileges esthetic experience. In this digital age, technology itself is superior to the techniques that inform artistry: everything is digested until it becomes a shadow of self where the real is by default superceded by its cannibalization in mass diffusion and reproduction anto the kind of artistic and cultural fare served and re-served until it is reduced to an appearance.
From the Tablet magazine. Both visions are struggling with obsolescence, fighting codified appearances and the kitschified forces which make artistic expression, part of the spectacle itself in what is increasingly appearing to resemble a psychotic society characterized with the feeling one has of watching oneself perform, an estrangement and emotional detachment from the perception of self. Guy Debord’s Homo Spectator…
( see link at end)…Locating the roots of Modern Orthodoxy is one of those tasks highly contingent on where one happens to be standing. In the mid-1980s, when the New York Times Sunday Magazine ran the story “American Jews Rediscover Orthodoxy,” the religious counterculture of the late 1960s seemed like a taproot. But even earlier, at the start of the 1960s, the editors of the American Jewish Year Book were looking for someone to write about what appeared to be Orthodoxy’s resurgence; in 1965 it was the sociologist Charles Liebman whose article “Orthodoxy in American Jewish Life” was published in the AJYB. “Earlier predictions of the demise of Orthodox Judaism in the United States have been premature, to say the least,” Liebman wrote. If Modern Orthodoxy could be said to have an ideologist, Liebman designated him as Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, a pioneer in the refusenik movement whose radical reinterpretation of halakha was that it was “about more than texts. It is life and experience.”
Yet all of these efforts to locate the origins of Orthodox Judaism’s resurgence seem to have missed the signal contribution of the novelist Herman Wouk, whose wildly popular This Is My God appeared in 1959, at a moment most scholars of American Judaism believed that Orthodoxy was all but dead and buried. As Nathan Glazer wrote of non-Hasidic Orthodoxy in his 1957 American Judaism: “It has survived—barely.”
That Wouk spent so little of This Is My God making himself out to be a religious virtuoso (he compared a trip to the synagogue to a night at the opera) was key to the book’s success. Anyone with common sense—anyone who could read—could see the wisdom in Wouk’s Orthodox lifestyle: “The sensible thing is to use hard thinking to find the right way to live and then to live that way, whether many other people do or few do. … The chances are that—at least today—he will seem a mighty freakish non-conformist in some neighborhoods; but that is changing too, and anyway, what does it matter?”
It certainly did not matter if you were wealthy and famous. And as a best-selling novelist and playwright living in the Virgin Islands when not comfortably lodged on Park Avenue, Wouk was able to push the boundaries of the Judeo-Christian tradition so in vogue in the 1950s toward a religious particularity that included mikvah and mezuzah and the rules of kashrut in a way that appealed to upscale suburban readers. One of the most brilliant things about Wouk’s This Is My God was how amiably he made the case for dignified, “non-conformist” Modern Orthodox living. In the era of strivers like those depicted in The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, Wouk tapped into the yearnings of his readers, who wished to live independent of the opinions of others, even as he acknowledged the pressure of social expectations that weighed heavily on 1950s Americans. Serialized in both the New York Herald Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, This Is My God found a place on the breakfast tables and nightstands of Americans who had never heard the word “phylacteries,” much less “tefillin.”
There was nothing new in 1950s America about Jewish-themed books or Jewish authors, of course: Leon Uris’ Exodus was published the previous year (also by Doubleday), and Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus appeared on the New York Times list of notable books in 1959, along with Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King. The 1940s and 1950s witnessed a surge of “Introduction to Judaism” books for mainstream American readers, authored by Reform and Conservative rabbis. With titles like Basic Judaism, What the Jews Believe, and What Is a Jew? this genre’s greatest contribution might have been in affirming the American-ness, at mid-century, of a general ignorance about Judaism, as well as the desire for self-improvement through reading. In the New York Times Book Review, Will Herberg condescendingly referred to This Is My God as “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Orthodox Judaism,” alluding to the book’s popular and accessible-guide style (as well as George Bernard Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism) and its failure to show religion as an “agonizing venture of the spirit.” Herberg wrote: “Whether he intends to or not, Mr. Wouk gives the impression that being a Jew is lots of fun.” More to Herberg’s liking was the old plaint: “It’s hard to be a Jew!”
This Is My God was also noteworthy within its genre for the author’s confidence in where to turn for guidance: Modern Orthodoxy. There was no hint of an angst-ridden Jewish writer exposing his alienation from Judaism. Still, Wouk demonstrated real sympathy for his generation’s gloomy memories of childhood visits to old Jewish neighborhoods and the “ball-and-chain dragginess” of their grandparents’ Judaism: “There was foolishness about not striking matches or turning on lights on the holidays, niggling suspicion about the ingredients of packaged foods; obdurate mistrust and disdain, based on no intelligible reasons, for anybody who lived differently or believed differently.” One left these stale spaces and “came into the sunlight of the street with the joy of a man getting out of jail.” Wouk was not interested in a return to fusty, pre-modern Orthodoxy; even the world of his beloved grandfather, a rabbi from Minsk featured prominently in This Is My God, was portrayed as superannuated. “He was, to the best of his ability, a walking replica of the East European Jew of the past two hundred years,” Wouk wrote, without reproach. “One cannot live in a time capsule after all.”…
Wouk helped to open the territory later plowed by Chaim Potok and Cynthia Ozick, whose characters were not marked by the secularism and alienation from Judaism that was characteristic of fiction by Roth, Bellow, and Bernard Malamud. In the works of Wouk, Potok, and Ozick, Jewish characters felt a strong attachment to an Orthodox lifestyle even as they struggled with the allure of the outside world….
What Modern Orthodoxy entailed, as Wouk described it, was the acknowledgement that the theological reality of Orthodoxy was no longer all-embracing in a Jewish world in which individual choice was now as significant as Jewish law. In a more integrated, tolerant post-World War II America, new social pressures impinged. In writing a first draft of an introduction to This Is My God, Wouk sketched an imaginary dialogue between himself and a religious skeptic whose reasons for reading Wouk have little to do with faith and much to do with fascination with the faithful. “You’re a sort of an interesting freak to me,” explains the skeptic.
I know you’re a successful novelist, Pulitzer Prize, best-seller lists and all that—and I hear that you’re an old-fashioned religious fanatic, won’t eat ham, and so forth. You’re a sort of two-headed calf to me. The whole picture is very curious.
The religious life is of no personal interest, the skeptic insists. But despite all that, “I’d like to know what makes you tick.”
We can’t all empathize with what it means to feel Wouk’s firm commitment to daily prayer and the rules of family purity (nor do we all desire to live this way), but we understand well the agony of decision-making and the fear of commitment. Writing about the Modern Orthodox therefore allowed readers to connect with a particularly modern set of emotions, even as they foreshadowed the return to more traditional religious practices by a surprisingly large number of American Jews.Read More:http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/91652/modern-times
(see link at end)…Wouk, for one, recognized the threat that Roth—his fiction and his style of Jewishness—posed to his own conservatism in both realms. In Inside, Outside, Wouk’s 1985 novel about four generations of an American Jewish family, he included a Roth-like character named Peter Quat, who becomes famous by writing scurrilous novels about Jews with titles like “Onan’s Way.” I don’t know if Roth ever said anything about Wouk—probably he thinks of Wouk’s novels as beneath or beyond criticism, which in some ways they are. You can’t argue with the 3 million copies that The Caine Mutiny sold in the 1950s, nor the tens of millions who gathered around their TV sets to watch the miniseries based on Wouk’s World War II epic The Winds of War.
But then, you don’t really need to argue with them—though many critics have, including Norman Podhoretz, who compared Wouk’s blundering prose style to “a blind man trying to locate an object in an unfamiliar room.” Literary fame has a way of finding its own level: Those who start big usually end up small, while those who start small have at least a chance of ending up big. In the 1950s, if you asked people to name the greatest living American Jewish writer, vast numbers would have picked Wouk; today, no one would, and few even read him….
…it could be said that Wouk’s moment has come again. After all, in This Is My God—a book written ostensibly for the enlightenment of Gentiles, but actually to call assimilated Jews back to the faith—Wouk confidently predicted the rise of modern American Orthodoxy that we are now seeing: “Pietists sometimes despair of American Jewry. I for one am proud to be part of the community, and I think its great days lie ahead.” If Wouk is right, then his own fiction’s treatment of American Jewish life—above all in his classic best-seller Marjorie Morningstar—might have something to tell us about the difficulties of being a Jewish traditionalist engaged with the modern world….
…The only narratable phase of Marjorie’s life is the brief window of sexual freedom between 17 and 25. The rest of life, as in a fairy tale, can only be summarized with a “happily ever after”—but, Wouk makes clear, not too happily. In this way, Wouk can both tease the reader with Marjorie’s nubility and her sexual explorations and reassure the reader that her sexuality will be punished and kept under control by a husband. No wonder the novel was a best-seller….
…There is, one might say, a tug of war in Wouk’s soul between Judaism and Hollywood, art and money. And the fact that the book he produced is The Lawgiver, rather than Aaron’s Diary, suggests that Mammon has once again proved a more tempting fictional subject than God. In Marjorie Morningstar, Noel Airman has a long monologue explaining his life philosophy, which is that people are essentially motivated by the pursuit of “hits”—successes, self-gratifications, ego-fulfillments. This is meant to be a sign of his worldliness and insatiability; but Wouk himself has had enough hits to know how addictive they can be. The Lawgiver is probably his last shot at a hit. But Wouk himself deserves to be remembered, as an example of the strange shapes American Jewishness can assume when it tries to honor both parts of its hybrid identity.Read More:http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/117174/herman-wouk-last-shot/3