By Lara Trubowitz
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Extra info for Civil Antisemitism, Modernism, and British Culture, 1902–1939
Together, these interludes turn a determinedly historical lens on what earlier I described as “the political and social institutionalization, and rhetorical self-effacement, of civil antisemitism in Britain,” processes in dialectical relationship with the circulation and construction of representations of Jews. In the first interlude, I trace some of the key ways in which early modern traditions of “courtly rationality” evolve into nineteenth- and early twentieth-century preoccupations with etiquette and civility, and ultimately come to revolve around the figure of the “uncivil” Jew.
In many cases, the construction of the language in these texts becomes what I characterize as “productively” convoluted, that is, the rhetoric seems to take over the discourse, even to possess its speaker, a necessary gesture for establishing plausible deniability were the speaker to be accused of encouraging or turning a blind eye to hate rhetoric or militant activity. 23 My attention to such vicissitudes of language—its gaps, circumlocutions, dissimulations, and exaggerations—leads me in the second half of my book to literary modernism of the late 1930s, a movement that gives us what is perhaps the “smartest”—I use the term cautiously—or most sophisticated examples of “civil antisemitism” operating in the twentieth century.
28 Here, rhetoric about Jews is as out of control as the spreading of the “disease” itself. But such excess is not a misstep; rather, it provides further demonstration of its own accuracy in configuring the proliferating and contagious Jew, and of the immediate need for legislation. In this sense, borrowing from Cooper and Herman’s notion of “legal productivity,” we can refer to the crucial and oddly productive role of the “contagious rhetoric of the Jew”—productive precisely because the more it loses control over its subject matter, the more it reinforces, ironically, the dangerous nature of the very subject it describes.