For the past forty years the word ‘Oriental,’ and all words derived from it, have suffered a limited and politicized significance lent to them by Edward Said and all who followed his views, and debated his post-colonial analysis. It is against this weighty, but recent, linguistic convention that the title of Julie Kalman’s 2017 volume, Orientalizing the Jew: Religion, Culture, and Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century France, serves as a reminder of the changed meanings of these related terms. ‘Orientalism’ originally denoted the study of languages and cultures of the Orient and Muslim countries. Scholars in those domains were ‘Orientalists.’ ‘To Orientalize’ referred to the ways in which Oriental sensibilities and influences changed western art forms dating back to antiquity. ‘Orientalizing’ is here applied to the veil through which European Jews are seen or imagined. Several scholars have shown how this projection fosters internalization, or ‘self-orientalism’, and examples include the adoption of Moorish styles in synagogue architecture, and, later, even the artistic production of European Jews in Palestine and Israel. In 2005, Ivan Davidson Kalmar and Derek J. Penslar published an anthology of articles, entitled Orientalism and the Jews that succeeded in its stated aim of encouraging research on the under-explored topic of the role of Jews in western concepts of the Orient. In their introduction, the editors argued that Orientalism was based on Christians’ attempts to comprehend and manage their daily and political relations with Muslims and Jews. As Jews were generally part of the story whenever nineteenth-century Occidentals talked about or imagined predominately Muslim lands, the resulting imagination of the Orient shaped Christian Europe’s perceptions of Jews in Europe as well. The dozen years that followed the Kalmar and Penslar volume have seen the production of art exhibits and many publications examining this question from additional perspectives. Now Julie Kalman’s recent book picks up that challenge and aims to reinstate Jews in their pivotal role in the French orientalist dynamic. She delineates aspects of France’s nineteenth-century cultural and political history that relate to French depiction of Jews, and even argues that the Jews of North Africa played an insufficiently acknowledged role in France’s North African political involvement. From the moment we read her title, and throughout her text, we are struck by the fact that Kalman does not speak of the ‘the Jews of France,’ but of ‘the Jew.’ This makes clear that her topic is not the actual Jews of France, but the essentialized, stereotyped Jew, an abstraction viewed through nineteenth-century Orientalizing eyes. She offers evidence that the mutual influence of this conceptualization of French Jews and of foreign Jews played out in a continually mirroring manner. She demonstrates that French governmental figures, as well as French artists, authors and intellectuals, projected this compiled image onto the Jews living both in the Orient and also inside France. It is this phenomenon that encouraged the view that Jews were the most European of the local inhabitants in the Orient and led to their ability to serve as a bridge, playing the role of intermediaries, such as interpreters and guides. Acknowledging that this is not a complete or definitive study, Kalman has chosen several windows into her topic, and presents her work as an initial effort to integrate Jews into the discussion of French perceptions of the Orient. She provides three inter-related sections. The first describes the way in which pilgrimage travel served religious ambition at home, assisting Christians in their internal exploration of their religious self-consciousness and political ambitions. Positing the notion that the Jews of France are part of the baggage that pilgrims brought with them, she argues the utility of Jews to travellers like Chateaubriand, whose goal was restoring to France the pre-revolutionary role of Catholicism. In a second part, Kalman examines Orientalizing through the prism of culture, emphasizing French writers and artists who often also held intimate relations with Jews at home, and focuses at length on the example of Théophile Gautier. She shows how his verbal descriptions of Jews are often stereotypically negative, although he nevertheless maintains close friendships with Jews, and says, ‘…Gautier did not distinguish between stereotype and experience.’ The final section of the volume elucidates the contribution of Jews of Muslim Algeria to French imperial designs. For this portion, Kalman elaborates on French governmental relations with the Algerian Jewish trading firm of Bacri and Busnach, whose principals were popularly viewed as the ‘Kings of Algiers.’ She demonstrates how this exaggerated mythical image of the house of Bacri and Busnach benefited simultaneously the firm and French political ambitions. Jews of France, nominally full citizens since the French Revolution, but living through the nineteenth-century succession of changing political regimes, experienced uncertainty regarding whether their status would be reversed with each change of government. They spent that century and the following one struggling to understand the meaning of what would later be called ‘Jewish identity,’ and its role in a national cultural concept of the French republic. Kalman’s work contributes significantly to an understanding of that insecurity, as she fleshes out the stereotypes that others, officials, artists, authors and intellectuals, projected onto the Jews living among them inside France. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of French History. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
French History – Oxford University Press
Published: May 7, 2018
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