Novelist Howard Jacobson

Friday, April 01, 2011

Howard Jacobson talks about his novel, The Finkler Question, winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize, about the long friendship between a BBC producer, Jewish philosopher, and their former teacher. It’s a tale of friendship and loss, exclusion and belonging, and the wisdom and humanity of maturity, and an examination of what it means to be Jewish.


Howard Jacobson

Comments [7]

fran walker from Oyster Bay

there were so many tmes during reading this book that I howled with laughter.Treslove became hilarious. I felt I was reading some older Woody Allen. Lenny for the first time I got the impression that you didn't actually read the book yet, but you prevailed and it was a good interview.

Apr. 16 2011 10:46 PM
turpentine from NYC

With his passing comments on Marx's essay (not "book") "The Jewish Question" ("Die Judenfrage"), Howard Jacobson indulges his own inner historical revisionist.

As is well known by scholars, Marx's 1844 essay-- SUPPORTS Jewish legal and social emancipation AGAINST Bruno Bauer's claim that in order to have civil liberties Jews would first have to reject their religious beliefs.

Marx again took up his argument against Bauer in Marx's later book, The Holy Family. Here Marx cites leading Jewish critics of Bauer and endorses their arguments against Bauer. Marx also supported a petition of the Cologne Jewish community to the local Diet for legal and social emancipation.

True, Marx -- like so many supporters of Jewish legal emancipation - personally despised Judaism and called it "detestable." Like almost everyone else in the 19th century, he also linked Jews with money.

But the irony of "The Jewish Question" is that Marx turns this argument back on "Christian society" itself and claims that Christians are as much under the obsession with money as Jews. Marx "detourns" Christian stereotypes against themselves.

This attack was made more striking given that the Prussian King Frederick William IV was a well-known fundamentalist Lutheran with strong mystical leanings and little interest in Jewish legal equality.

One can agree or disagree with the still Young Hegelian Marx and obviously his views of Jews and Judaism is as wrong and grotesque as it was utterly common at the time.

But it is also a bit grotesque to caricature Die Judenfrage as some viscous attack on Jewry and a precursor text for the Holocaust as a "final solution to the Jewish Question" when it was in reality a defense of Jewish civil and political liberties, albeit one drenched in Young Hegelian prose muck.

At a minimum, Jacobson should at least grasp the fact that Die Judenfrage was never a book except in his capacious imagination.

It was also a virtually unknown essay at the time as it was published in the one and only issue of the Deutsche-Franzosische Jahrbucher as the journal was suppressed by the French government on behalf of Prussia. The Holy Family proved an equally utterly obscure text.

As far as I can tell, Die Judenfrage and The Holy Family were never discussed by anyone at the time or later in the 19th century and they had no role at all in shaping either pro or anti-Semitic views in the 19th century. They were totally lost works. Nor did Marx want to call attention to them as he saw them as representing his youthful "Young Hegelian" mindset which he soon abandoned.

A very good introduction to Marx's actual arguments in Die Judenfrage can be found in the well-known Israeli scholar Shlomo Avineri's essay, "Marx and Jewish Emancipation" in the Journal of the History of Ideas (25/3), 1964.

Apr. 11 2011 03:47 AM
Peter Talbot from Harrison, NJ

Great interview. I was struck by Howard's clarity of motives for characters (and interviewees). I'll vote with my feet to Amazon to order Finkler.

Apr. 04 2011 03:04 PM
oscar from ny

btw i loved the interview!

Apr. 01 2011 07:40 PM
oscar from ny

im an artist beast who represents ny, i think that jewish have a complex dating sumerian time,*the devils hate the jew and loves them because the jews love god who made the devil and thrus god's love the devil feels this and he cant stand it so he curses , its blade cuts both ways, there is no way to stop this, we are the architect of our world, if somehow the worshipers were to stop, than i will think that we can all live in peace, as for us degenerates , we dont care about our life because we fu&! what we see, there is only here and now... anyways its basic 21st century stuff like the blacks and the whites the indians the latins the lords the gods, google thru our time, this is going to out to the loners, the others have a backwood post mirror [children] are who you are and what we are should be a unification even if we have different dna..that, should be the missing link, when we die at least we will know we have a purpose..

Apr. 01 2011 07:35 PM
Bowildhax from NJ

Why did he schedule his NY Public Library talk on Shabbat?

Apr. 01 2011 01:00 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Six "solutions" to the "Jewish problem:"

Ghettoism, materialism, communism, zionism, assimilation, or annihilation. Which of those does your guest think is best?

Apr. 01 2011 12:52 PM

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