Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Significant Moments: Variations on a Racist Stereotype

In a previous blog post I wrote: "For thousands of years, the Jewish People have endured negative stereotypes such as the "insects of humanity." As Sander Gilman pointed out, the Nazi Party labeled Jews as "insects like lice and cockroaches, that generate general disgust among all humanity." These derogative stereotypes, although championed by the Nazis, have their origins many centuries earlier and have appeared throughout Western culture for thousands of years. This fierce anti-Semitism specifically surfaced in Europe’s large cities in the early twentieth century, partially in conjunction with the growing tide of nationalism, patriotism, and xenophobia that sparked the First World War in 1914."

My book Significant Moments contains several references to insects, some of which symbolize Jews; but the references depict the insect as a creature that is vulnerable and persecuted, and exalt the insect as a creature that is free and full of wonder and potential.  In only one instance, to the best of my recollection, do I invoke the anti-Semitic notion of the insect as a nuisance.
____________________

Jews symbolized as flies vulnerable to the capricious aggression of anti-Semites:

Of their treatment at the hands of the Germans, the Jews could say, paraphrasing King Lear, "As flies to wanton boys are we to the Germans, they kill and torture us for their sport."
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust.
 ____________________

Anti-Semites depicted as mosquitoes who engage in endless petty torments against the Jews.  The torture rendered thereby exceeds the sum of the petty acts of cruelty:

"It's not the big things that are important, but the everyday life of tyranny, which gets forgotten. A thousand mosquito bites are worse than a blow to the head. ..."
Victor Klemperer,  I Will Bear Witness. A Diary of the Nazi Years: 1942- 1945. 
 ____________________

Jews symbolized by flies preserved in amber, bearing eternal witness to past terrors and injustices:

He would recall exactingly. He would . . .
Don DeLillo, The Names.
     . . . tenaciously attempt to . . . 
Maynard Solomon, Beethoven.
         . . . preserve for future generations . . .
Photos: The Warsaw Ghetto, II.
             . . . the memory of the past . . . 
Maynard Solomon, Beethoven. 
... in the form of . . .
Isaac Asimov, The Wellsprings of Life.
          ... a telling stage-picture in which characters are suspended in significance like flies in amber,
. . . Lucy Beckett, Richard Wagner: Parsifal 
                  ... an honest effort to make the vanished horror live for all the world that was not there. 
Herman Wouk, War and Remembrance. 
____________________

Jews symbolized by puppets: vulnerable objects, the passive agents of the abuser's manipulation; the English word "puppet" is derived from the Latin "pupa" -- 1773, "post-larval stage of an insect," special use by Linnæus (1758) of L. pupa "girl, doll, puppet" (see pupil (1)) on notion of "undeveloped creature:"

Everyone must find his own form of aggressiveness in order to avoid letting himself be made into an obedient puppet manipulated by others. Only if we do not allow ourselves to be reduced to the instrument of another person's will can we fulfill our personal needs and defend our legitimate rights.
Alice Miller, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence. 
____________________

The Jew as an insect having an inchoate identity, which in its final form may be a monster or a thing of beauty, like a butterfly:

I believe I am in a cocoon, and God knows what beast will crawl out.
The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhehn Fliess, 1887-1904.
 ____________________

Once again the insect is seen as a creature bearing eternal witness:

I was pleased anyway not to have made a complete fiasco;
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Letter to an Unknown Friend in Renoir: A Retrospective, Nicholas Wadley, ed. 
Then, too, . . .
Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit. 
     ... I was pleased to be able to . . .
Henry David Thoreau, Walden. 
           . . . preserve for future generations . . . 
J.H. Fabre, Social Life in the Insect World.
                   ... a little souvenir of that admirable head.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Letter to an Unknown Friend in Renoir: A Retrospective, Nicholas Wadley, ed. 
 ____________________

Here, the insect symbolizes the polar opposites of entrapment (the Kafka story The Metamorphosis is about a man who has turned into a giant insect) and freedom (as seen in the quotes of Faulkner):

Hardly was he well inside his room when the door was hastily pushed shut, bolted and locked. The sudden noise in his rear startled him so much that his little legs gave beneath him. It was his sister who had shown such haste. 
Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis
Until then I had had so many ways out of everything, and now I had none.
Franz Kafka, A Report to an Academy. 
I was glad . . .
Hermann Hesse, Demian.
      ... glad and grateful . . .
Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 6 ("The Pastoral").
         . . . when I finally lay in my bed.
Hermann Hesse, Demian. 
I felt that it had become my . . .
Ulrich Baer, Listening to Survivors' Testimonies. 
     . . . haven of refuge.
Rex Ellingwood Beach, The Ne'er-Do-Well
Beyond the open window . . . 
William Faulkner, Light in August. 
     — one could hear rain drops beating on the window gutter — 
Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis. 
               . . . the sound of insects has not ceased, not faltered. 
William Faulkner, Light in August.
____________________

Again, as in the previous quotes (from the same section of the book Significant Moments) the freedom of the insect (pupa) is juxtaposed against the polar opposite idea of entrapment:

Such was Wagner's response to a deep existential need — his means of escape.
Martin Gregor-Dellin, Richard Wagner: His Life, His Work, His Century. 
His dreams . . .
Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay: A Novel 
      . . . obscure and ambiguous . . .
Henry James, In the Cage.
           . . . dreams of transcendence —
Richard Schickel, They Sorta Got Rhythm.
                  . . . had always been Houdiniesque: they were the dreams of a pupa struggling in its blind cocoon, mad for a taste of light and air . . .
Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures ofKavalier & Clay: A Novel
                          . . . yet enjoying in some curious way . . .
J. Moussaieff Masson, The Psychology of the Ascetic.
                                 . . . the glory of its aloneness.
Roger Zelazny, Auto-da-Fe. 
____________________

Only in the following reference is the anti-Semitic insect stereotype invoked:

— When we are talking about the attachment of certain Jews to him, he [Wagner] says, "Yes, they are like flies — the more one drives them away, the more they come. "
Cosima Wagner's Diaries (Sunday, September 12, 1880). 
 ____________________

The context of the book Significant Moments (see above) suggests that the following passage about a puppet show contains the latent imagery of the insect or "pupa" (puppet), manipulated by the child Richard Wagner:

Ludwig Geyer . . .
Martin Gregor-Dellin, Richard Wagner: His Life, His Work, His Century. 
      . . . Father Geyer . . .
Cosima Wagner's Diaries (Thursday, December 26, 1878).
            . . . had left him a toy theater for which he made himself some puppets, and at some point he started to write a play about knights of old.
Martin Gregor-Dellin, Richard Wagner: His Life, His Work, His Century.
"... I made a little boat out of a cigar box and rag figures, with red and white shirts . . . blue ribbons around the head, and I put them out into the sunlight ..."
Helen A. Cooper, Thomas Eakins The Rowing Pictures. 
               . . . with all the men armed and arrayed in battle formation.
Medieval Sourcebook: The Battle of Hattin 1187.
The opening scene of this gory melodrama fell into his sisters' hands, and their scornful laughter was terrible to hear. It may well have been a similar play that Caecilie . . .
Martin Gregor-Dellin, Richard Wagner: His Life, His Work, His Century.
      . . . Richard's eldest sister . . .
Hollis Alpert, Burton. 
              . . . recalled him presenting during a summer excursion to Loschwitz, where the Geyers owned a cottage. 
Martin Gregor-Dellin, Richard Wagner: His Life, His Work, His Century. 
May had begun, and after weeks of cold and wet a mock summer had set in.
Thomas Mann, Death in Venice. 
The young adventurer who was planning dramas on a Shakespearean scale almost as soon as . . .
Ernest Newman, The Life of Richard Wagner.
         . . . the family had made its . . .
Alice Ferguson, Mouton brothers stake claim in Vermilionville.
                 . . . arrival in the country . . .
Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 6 ("The Pastoral"). 
                          ... set up his miniature stage beside the steps on the castle hill.
Martin Gregor-Dellin, Richard Wagner: His Life, His Work, His Century. 
On this high note the puppet show commences.
Herman Wouk, War and Remembrance. 
____________________


In the next example, the puppet signifies passive agents who are under the influence of the repetition compulsion:

What's past is . . .
William Shakespeare, The Tempest
      . . . eternally present, and therefore . . .
Hermann Hesse, Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game.
            . . . would seem to present material for an instructive prologue.
Lawrence J. Friedman, Identity's Architect: A Biography of Erik H. Erikson. 
It was uncanny to observe how the persons drawn into the imbroglio were forced to pursue the acting out, almost as if they were . . .
K.R. Eissler, Talent and Genius: The Fictitious Case of Tausk Contra Freud.
      . . . grotesques, moving puppetlike . . .
Robert W. Gutman, Richard Wagner: The Man, His Mind, and His Music.
             . . . under the dominance of . . .
K.R. Eissler, Talent and Genius: The Fictitious Case of Tausk Contra Freud. 
                         ... an unseen Player who . . .
Gilbert J. Rose, William Faulkner's Light in August: The Orchestration of Time In the Psychology of Artistic Style. 
                              . . . acted through them.
Tito Vignoli, Myth and Science.
_______________________________

The following section of Significant Moments takes the anti-Semitic stereotype of the Jew as a pathogenic microbe and turns that image on its head.  I describe the retrovirus, which, despite its pathogenicity, is also capable of use in genetic engineering, thereby benefiting mankind.

http://dailstrug.blogspot.com/2007/02/fugitive.html

2 comments:

Gary Freedman said...

Anti-Semites depicted as mosquitoes who engage in endless petty torments against the Jews. The torture rendered thereby exceeds the sum of the petty acts of cruelty:

"It's not the big things that are important, but the everyday life of tyranny, which gets forgotten. A thousand mosquito bites are worse than a blow to the head. ..."
Victor Klemperer, I Will Bear Witness. A Diary of the Nazi Years: 1942- 1945.
_____________________

Robinson v. Jacksonville Shipyards, 760 F.Supp. At 1524 (1991).

[T]he analysis cannot carve the work environment into a series of discrete incidents and measure the harm adhering in each episode. Rather, a holistic perspective is necessary, keeping in mind that each successive episode has its predecessors, that the impact of the separate incidents may accumulate and that the work environment created thereby may exceed the sum of the individual episodes. “A play cannot be understood on the basis of some of its scenes but only on its entire performance and similarly, a discrimination analysis must concentrate not on individual incidents but on the overall scenario.” Andrews, 895 A.2d at 1484. It follows naturally from this proposition that the environment viewed as a whole may satisfy the legal definition of an abusive working environment although no single episode crosses the Title VII threshold.

Gary Freedman said...

On the Jewish fear of being trapped in an enclosed space (like the character Gregor Samsa in Kafka's story The Metamorphosis):

http://dailstrug.blogspot.com/2010/07/jewish-court-nominee-hell-in-very-small.html