5.2 Writing the Counter-book: Joshua Cohen with Eugene Sheppard (JP)

Eugene Sheppard joins his Brandeis colleague John Plotz to speak with Joshua Cohen about The Netanyahus. Is the 2021 novel a Pulitzer-winning bravura story of the world’s worst job interview? Or is it a searing indictment of ethno-nationalist Zionism–and the strange act of pretense whereby American Jewish writers and thinkers in postwar America pretended that Israel and its more extreme ethno-nationalist strains didn’t concern them?

Cohen dramatizes the return of that repressed by imagining the family of the Benzion Netanyahu (actual medieval Spanish historian and father of Israel’s past and present Prime Minister Bibi)  landing itself on a would-be assimilated American Jewish family ripped straight from the pages of a Philip Roth or Bernard Malamud novel.

With John and Eugene, Joshua dissects the legacy of earlier American Jewish writers like Cynthia Ozick, and offers finer details of how Ze’ev Jabotinksy‘s bellicose views would ultimately take hold in Israel, wisecracking his way to a literally jaw-dropping conclusion….


Mentioned in this episode:

Zionist and ethnonationalist Ze’ev Jabotinksy (1880-1940): “We must eliminate the Diaspora or the Diaspora will eliminate us.

Novalis (the German Romantic writer Georg Von Hardenberg) says somewhere “Every book must contain its counter-book.”

Slavoj Zizek makes the case that everything is political including the choice not to have a politics.

Joshua wants readers to think about why celebrated postwar American fiction by Jewish authors like Cynthia Ozick, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth (starting from his 1959 Goodbye Columbus) largely ignores both the Holocaust and Israel until the 1970s or 1980s. Joshua invokes Harold Bloom’s 1973 Anxiety of Influence to explain his relationship to them. He is less interested in Hannah Arendt.

“Shoah Religion” is the way in which the Holocaust came to not only function as a key element in post-war American Jewish identification but also to legitimate the state of Israel (cf Abba Eban’s famous quip “There’s no business like Shoah business“)

Yekke: a German-Jew in Israel or American characterized by an ethos of industrial self-restraint and German culture, satirized in Israeli culture as a man who wears a three piece suit in the middle of summer heat.

Leon Feuchtwanger

“”There’s hope but not for us” Joshua (subtly) quotes a line of Kafka’s that Walter Benjamin (in „Franz Kafka: On the Tenth Anniversary of His Death‟ from Illuminations) apparently lifted from Max Brod (“Oh Hoffnung genug, unendlich viel Hoffnung, — nur nicht für uns.”)

Yitzhak La’or  “you ever want a poem to become real”

Netanyahu tells the story of the snowy drive to Ithaca (again) in an interview with Barry Weiss.

Philip Roth, The Ghost Writer

Listen and read:

Audio: Writing the Counter-book

Transcript: 5.2 Writing the Counter-book

5.5 They’re Not Metaphorical Demons: Mariana Enriquez and Magalí Armillas-Tiseyra Novel Dialogue

Booker Prize shortlister Mariana Enriquez, author of Things We Lost in the Fire and The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, joins Penn State professor Magalí Armillas-Tiseyra and host Chris Holmes to talk about her most recent novel, Our Share of Night, her first to be translated into English. Our Share of Night follows a spiritual medium, Juan, who can commune with the dead and with the world of demons, and his son, Gaspar, as they go on a road trip to outrun a secretive occult society called The Order that hopes to use Juan and Gaspar in their unholy quest for immortality.  Publishers Weekly called it “A masterpiece of literary horror.” In a wide-ranging conversation, Mariana reflects on being a horror writer in Argentina, a country that obsesses over its traumatic past. Indeed, Mariana’s interest in writing fiction in the horror genre was prompted by hearing her first horror stories, the terrors of torture and disappearances under the Argentine Junta government. The three discuss Mariana’s use of violence, especially when it involves children; the various afterlives of the translations of Mariana’s award-winning fiction; and the arborescence of the novel form. Humor and dry wit cut through these weighty topics to make for a lively conversation with one of Latin America’s most important contemporary writers. Mentions:  Silvina Ocampo Mariana Enriquez,  La Hermana Menor -The Things We Lost in the Fire -The Dirty Kid Ray Bradbury, The October Country José Donoso Juan Carlos Onetti Ernesto Sabato Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights Ingmar Bergman, The Hour of the Wolf A Nightmare on Elm Street (film) Titane (film) Pope John Paul II The Oulipo Movement Aleister Crowley Chris Holmes is Chair of Literatures in English and Associate Professor at Ithaca College. He writes criticism on contemporary global literatures. His book, Kazuo Ishiguro as World Literature, is under contract with Bloomsbury Publishing. He is the co-director of The New Voices Festival, a celebration of work in poetry, prose, and playwriting by up-and-coming young writers. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
  1. 5.5 They’re Not Metaphorical Demons: Mariana Enriquez and Magalí Armillas-Tiseyra
  2. 5.4 The Meat and Bones of Life
  3. 5.3 “It’s on the Illabus”
  4. 5.2 Writing the Counter-Book: Joshua Cohen with Eugene Sheppard (JP)
  5. 5.1 We Have This-ness, Y’all!

Published by plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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