Diasporas of the Mind


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Jewish and Postcolonial Writing and the Nightmare of History

Bryan Cheyette

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In this fascinating and erudite book, Bryan Cheyette throws new light on a wide range of modern and contemporary writers—some at the heart of the canon, others more marginal—to explore the power and limitations of the diasporic imagination after the Second World War. Moving from early responses to the death camps and decolonization, through internationally prominent literature after the Second World War, the book culminates in fresh engagements with contemporary Jewish, post-ethnic, and postcolonial writers.
Cheyette regards many of the twentieth- and twenty-first-century luminaries he examines—among them Hannah Arendt, Anita Desai, Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, Primo Levi, Caryl Phillips, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, Edward Said, Zadie Smith, and Muriel Spark—as critical exemplars of the diasporic imagination. Against the discrete disciplinary thinking of the academy, he elaborates and argues for a new comparative approach across Jewish and postcolonial histories and literatures. And in so doing, Cheyette illuminates the ways in which histories and cultures can be imagined across national and communal boundaries.

Bryan Cheyette is professor of modern literature at the University of Reading. He lives in London.
"There is a restless, earnest originality, a deft capacity to undercut disciplinary boundaries in all that Bryan Cheyette writes. One of the finest and wisest interpreters of modern Jewish literature, this new book is perhaps his best work, an extended conversation between Cheyette and everything that intersects, however obliquely, with the contemporary Jewish imagination." - Steven J. Zipperstein, Stanford University
'Diaspora, exile, deterritorialization – these have become commonplace concerms in Jewish studies, postcolonial studies, cultural studies; and their meanings, too, have become scattered, ranging from emblems of loss to the building blocks of enduring value and ending up at all points in between. In this brave and brilliant book, Bryan Cheyette disarticulates the various deployments of diaspora, from nostalgia for homelands lost to the embrace of enduring alienation, from the wrenching experience of exile to the self-exiling of the intellectual, by putting its many manifestations in sustained dialogue with each other. Marked by substantive historicization, gorgeous readings, and theoretical suppleness, this book makes a major contribution to all the many fields it touches on. Neither Jewish studies nor postcolonial studies, neither the study of intellectuals nor that of contemporary theory and fiction, will look the same. This is a landmark study.' - Jonathan Freedman, University of Michigan

"Diasporas of the Mind is a rare book: serious, critically imaginative and theoretically aware, it is incisive, thoughtful, detailed, well-written, with an astonishing intellectual hinterland. Centrally, it sets the contours for a series of new debates about post-War literature, cultural history and the history of ideas."—Professor Robert Eaglestone, Royal Holloway, University of London

“Brian Cheyette's Diasporas of the Mind elegantly weaves together Jewish and postcolonial writers and thinkers to make new and unexpected links and illuminations.”—Professor Robert Eaglestone, THES, Book of the Year

‘Bryan Cheyette’s rangy and authoritative new book not only takes a challenging look back at writers such as Rushdie and their imaginative claims to the territory of “migration, displacement”, but also tries to imagine a creative and political environment in which writers might turn the idea of “diaspora” into something active and specific, as opposed to the supposedly disengaged or cosmopolitan qualities with which it has sometimes been identified by its detractors of widely different ideological stamps. . . Diasporas of the Mind remains a major contribution to its field: a timely sometimes uncomfortable remapping of its intellectual territory.’—Bharat Tandon, TLS
ISBN: 9780300093186
Publication Date: February 11, 2014
320 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4