- Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
- Available in: Hardback, eBook
- ISBN: 9781350098947
- Published: September 19, 2019
An obsession with “degeneration” was a central preoccupation of modernist culture at the start of the 20th century. Less attention has been paid to the fact that many of the key thinkers in “degeneration theory” – including Cesare Lombroso, Max Nordau, and Magnus Hirschfeld – were Jewish. Unfit: Jewish Degeneration and Modernism is the first in-depth study of the Jewish cultural roots of this strand of modernist thought and its legacies for modernist and contemporary culture. Marilyn Reizbaum explores how literary works from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, through James Joyce’s Ulysses to Pat Barker’s Regenerationtrilogy, the crime movies of Mervyn LeRoy, and the photography of Claude Cahun and Adi Nes manifest engagements with ideas of degeneration across the arts of the 20th century. This is a major new study that sheds new light on modernist thought, art and culture.
“Unfit is a comprehensive account of the power of degeneration theory under the sign of modernism. Questions of “purity,” “fitness,” and “artistic form,” (through the prism of “race” and sexuality) are mapped onto modernism both in its “classic” configuration and its more contemporary, global incarnations. The book is attractively written and has a long historical reach from Joyce, Nordau and Lombroso to Pat Barker, Mervyn LeRoy, and Adi Nes. Unfit is highly informative and will help the reader rethink many topics ranging from film and photography to queer studies as well as the manifold intersections between degeneration, Jews, and modernism.”
– Professor Bryan Cheyette, Chair in Modern literature and culture, University of Reading and author of Diasporas of the Mind: Jewish/Postcolonial Writing and the Nightmare of History (2014).