Judaism

My own opinion, as a rugged Jew, is that exaggerating poets' anti-Semitism, as some do, is dangerous on two counts. First, to call Cummings anti-Semitic implicitly flatters more egregious anti-Semites, who were not in his class intellectually or humanly. To quote Ahearn again, "I find statements in letters from the young James Angleton [later of CIA Counter-Intelligence] to Pound more shocking than anything Cummings ever wrote." Pound's looniest anti-Semitism appears not here but in Leonard Doob's edition of his Radio Speeches of World War II, “Ezra Pound Speaking" (Greenwood, 1978). When I first received that book, soon after publication, I showed it to a criminal lawyer accustomed to defending deviance but barely familiar with Pound. His classic appraisal was: "I believe in free speech, but this guy is crazy."

Second, focusing upon stray anti-Semitic remarks by early twentieth-century writers bothers me for deflecting attention from the more serious institutional anti-Semitism among the cultivated classes. Need I remind readers that in the decades after WWII most Ivy League universities had quotas on the percentage of Jews to be admitted in each class (never more than 10 per cent); that Harry Levin became the first Jew tenured to teach literature at Harvard; and that Lionel Trilling was the first Jewish professor of English at Columbia in decades. Remember as well that some prominent book publishers, even in New York, had no Jewish editorial employees before the 1960s; and that, as I've documented elsewhere, remarkably few grants from the National Endowment for the Arts supported anything explicitly Jewish during the Reaganite 1980s. Precisely because such discrimination prevented economic and cultural advance, it was to my mind far more pernicious than anything ever said or written by even prominent poets, including, in truth, Ezra Pound. Blaming them for American anti-Semitism is like blaming Shakespeare, rather than transoceanic shippers and plantation owners, for American slavery and subsequent evils. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

“The Ezra Pound/E. E. Cummings Correspondence” (1998)

A proponent of social opportunity, [Irving Howe] has nonetheless participated in efforts to eliminate competition in his own profession, beginning with Trotskyite attacks on the Communist writers (mostly Jewish) in the fifties, continuing with less principled dismissals of younger writers (again mostly Jewish) in the sixties and seventies. Whether these recurring dismissals of Jewish writers can be condemned as “anti-Semitism” is a provocative moral question.

“Irving Howe: The Epitome of a Fake” (1992, 2004)