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The Jewish DecadenceJews and the Aesthetics of Modernity$
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Jonathan Freedman

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780226580920

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2022

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226581118.001.0001

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Pessimism, Jewish Style: Jews Reading Schopenhauer from Freud to Bellow

Pessimism, Jewish Style: Jews Reading Schopenhauer from Freud to Bellow

Chapter:
(p.149) Chapter 5 Pessimism, Jewish Style: Jews Reading Schopenhauer from Freud to Bellow
Source:
The Jewish Decadence
Author(s):

Jonathan Freedman

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226581118.003.0006

Intellectual and literary Jews across the twentieth century were inspired by the notoriously pessimistic and anti-Semitic Arthur Schopenhauer, but transformatively, such that they remade him for their own times. Sigmund Freud had a fraught on-again, off-again relationship with the philosopher: the death-drive and nirvana principle testify to that relationship’s existence, even as Freud sought variously to conceal or deny it. Italo Svevo also wrestled with Schopenhauer, with his Confessions of Zeno combining the schlemiel figures of Jewish comic narratives with a deep pessimism imbibed from the philosopher. The fin-de-siècle yen for Schopenhauer accords with a secularizing pessimism evident among Jewish intellectuals of this era. After World War II, however, engagement with Schopenhauer looked to the possibilities of nihilism in the wake of the Holocaust. Isaac Bashevis Singer claimed to admire Schopenhauer beyond all philosophers and even as he satirized Schopenhauer’s work, he remained in dialogue with it. As the privileging of Schopenhauer was in decline, Saul Bellow captured the dilemma of a purposive purposelessness undone by violence in his novel Mr. Sammler’s Planet, whose protagonist is named “Artur.”

Keywords:   Arthur Schopenhauer, Sigmund Freud, Italo Svevo, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Saul Bellow, pessimism, schlemiel, nihilism

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