Harold Bloom's glowing recent review, in the Times Book Review, of Anthony Julius's "Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England" attracted an unusual number of responses--including from the English-born, Harvard-based literary critic James Wood and the British philosopher Galen Strawson, who is visiting M.I.T.
In his review, Bloom, the noted Yale literature professor, wrote that "[t]he new English (and Continental) anti-Semitism is hatred for Israel, which among all the nations is declared to be illegitimate. The United States remains almost free of this disease ...." And he referred to England's "sanctimonious intelligentsia, who really will not rest until Israel is destroyed."
In a letter published in the Times, Wood wrote that Bloom had failed to provide evidence for his sweeping assertions:
In place of this precise slander and imprecise imputation, Bloom might have noted that some of the most robust left-wing discussion of Israeli policy has come from members of the British literary and academic establishment who are also Jewish (Tony Judt, Harold Pinter, Mike Leigh, Jacqueline Rose). If there is more political discussion of this order in Britain than in America it is not necessarily because the English are so anti-Semitic--or at least, I certainly hope not--but more likely (as Judt has pointed out) because most Americans live in almost complete ignorance of the "fierce relevance" of certain political realities and facts.
And Strawson, in a letter published by Paper Cuts, the Times's books blog, was even more aggressive:
"Sadomasochism," according to Professor Bloom, "is something of an English vice, and is so much a school-experience of the upper social class." One might add, in the same spirit, that all Frenchman have pointy waxed moustaches and play the accordion, and that they frequently cry "Ooh la la!"
We should perhaps be grateful that Bloom is Jewish, given that he displays so many of the characteristics that make a virulent anti-Semite--his violent, smarmy partiality, aggrieved bullying manner and hysterical generalizations. The real problem, perhaps, is that the British are peculiarly unimpressed by Bloom?s literary criticism.
Wood's letter prompted a rebuke from his former boss, Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic. He homed in on Wood's singling out such figures as Judt and Pinter as clear-eyed critics of Israel who are also Jewish (and British):
It is an old and easy point, often made by non-Jews who envy Jews their lack of inhibition in speaking about themselves. So what if Wood's authorities are Jews? Can Jews not be wrong, or anti-Semitic? Wood's Jews are certainly anti-Zionist. Judt has called for the dissolution of the Jewish state, and a few years ago he declared that if his view that American policy in the Middle East is controlled by AIPAC "sounds an awful lot, like, you know, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion ... well, if it sounds like it it's unfortunate, but that's just how it is." (I found this disgrace in Julius's book.)
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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.