Argu­ing The Mod­ern Jew­ish Canon: Essays on Lit­er­a­ture and Cul­ture in Hon­or of Ruth R. Wisse

Justin Cam­my, Dara Horn, Alyssa Quint, and Rachel Rubin­stein, eds.
  • Review
By – January 16, 2012

This mas­sive, ele­gant­ly print­ed col­lec­tion of schol­ar­ly essays has been pro­duced as a fest­shrift, or tra­di­tion­al cel­e­bra­to­ry vol­ume, to hon­or the extra­or­di­nary career of lit­er­ary schol­ar, cul­tur­al crit­ic, and Har­vard pro­fes­sor of Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture Ruth R. Wisse. Edit­ed by four of her for­mer doc­tor­al stu­dents, the book con­tains thir­ty-five essays in which major con­tem­po­rary schol­ars and crit­ics respond to and enlarge upon Wisse’s work, and par­tic­u­lar­ly her most influ­en­tial book, The Mod­ern Jew­ish Canon. 

While some of the con­tri­bu­tions may be too dense or eso­teric for nonaca­d­e­m­ic read­ers, many — includ­ing essays by Hil­lel Halkin, Dara Horn, Mikhail Kru­tikov, Goldie Mor­gen­taler, Jonathan Rosen, and Cyn­thia Ozick — resem­ble Wisse’s finest work in eschew­ing the­o­ret­i­cal jar­gon in favor of impres­sive eru­di­tion and pas­sion­ate rhetoric. Justin Cammy’s trans­la­tion of a foun­da­tion­al piece of lit­er­ary crit­i­cism in the form a tri­al by the Yid­dish mas­ter Sholem Ale­ichem, dat­ing from 1888, is a true gift to those who can­not read Yid­dish. Over­all, the col­lec­tion tes­ti­fies not only to Wisse’s pow­er­ful influ­ence as a gen­er­ous teacher and provoca­tive thinker, but also to the rich­ness and vari­ety on dis­play in con­tem­po­rary schol­ar­ship and crit­i­cism of mod­ern Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture. Biogra­phies of con­trib­u­tors, Ruth R. Wisse bibliography. 

Josh Lam­bert (web/twit­ter) is the Sophia Moses Robi­son Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Jew­ish Stud­ies and Eng­lish, and Direc­tor of the Jew­ish Stud­ies Pro­gram, at Welles­ley Col­lege. His books include Unclean Lips: Obscen­i­ty, Jews, and Amer­i­can Cul­ture (2014), and The Lit­er­ary Mafia: Jews, Pub­lish­ing, and Post­war Amer­i­can Lit­er­a­ture (2022).

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