The Regressive Renaissance

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Recently, I read — and very much enjoyed — Keith Gessen’s fiction debut All the Sad Young Literary Men. Tonight, Gessen will lead a discussion with Adam Mansbach, author of The End of the Jews, at the Jewcy offices

Over on his blog, Gessen mentioned the talk with some interesting words:

One of the strangest events in American cultural life during the Bush years has been the explosion of Jewish-themed magazines, online and off. Heeb, Zeek, Guilt and Pleasure, Habitus, Nextbook.org, Jbooks.com, Jewcy.com… am I missing any? Some of them are better than others, and more hereterodox, but as a “trendâ€? taking place in a highly assimilated, extremely successful community — I find this odd. And regressive. I could be wrong.

Though I won’t be able to make it to the talk tonight, I am curious to hear what Gessen has to say — and how he justifies partaking in this regressive activity (or at least an event sponsored by a regressive publication).

In fact, I think Gessen’s comment may highlight a mini-trend within the greater Jewish pop/cultural-retribalization movement (a term I just coined, by the way).

The mini-trend I speak of: Participating in the New-Jew renaissance, while at the same time looking down on it.

Another example.

Nearly every panel about contemporary Jewish American fiction that I’ve been to seems to conclude with the young Jewish writer-panelists expressing complete disinterest in the concept of contemporary Jewish American fiction.

Which of course begs the question: Why agree to be on the panel?

Which begs another: Is there a masochistic element to participation in New-Jew culture?

Just to be clear, I’m not dismissing the possibility that there is, indeed, something regressive about the New-Jew renaissance. Perhaps it is a step back toward a more unfortunately parochial past.

And perhaps skepticism about the New-Jew project is an integral — and thus interesting — aspect of it.

But there must be some cost to participating in a project one finds morally dubious. No?

Posted on July 22, 2008

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