Abstract

A tidy story is told about Cynthia Ozick: an aesthete in her youth, her reading of Leo Baeck prompted a break with this “religion of Art” and inspired a polemical commitment to literature centered by a particularly Jewish moral seriousness. This article contests this consensus by revisiting Ozick’s career-long articulation of aestheticism’s appeal, and particularly her relation to the avatar of modernism in her work, Henry James. By attending to the persistence of aestheticism in a series of Ozick’s essays from “Toward a New Yiddish” (1972) to “Tradition and (or Against) the Jewish Writer” (2006), this article shows how the consistency of her attachment to modernism troubles the mainstream view of Ozick as a polemicist for an anti-aesthetic Jewish ethics. In so doing, this article seeks to both rethink the question of Ozick’s Jewishness and to contribute to what Benjamin Schreier characterizes as the non-identitarian project of critical Jewish literary study.

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