Fiedler on the Roof

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the two decades since the publication of THE COLLECTED ESSAYS OF LESLIE FIEDLER (1971), Fiedler has continued to produce work on a wide variety of literary and cultural topics. FIEDLER ON THE ROOF, the first of a projected three volumes gathering Fiedler’s later essays, focuses on Jewish subjects. In the dozen essays, lectures, and reviews collected here, Fiedler ranges from the Book of Job to Isaac Bashevis Singer. Two pieces center on Leopold Bloom and Jewishness in Joyce’s ULYSSES; others discuss works by Norman Mailer and Bernard Malamud. In addition to pieces devoted to specific writers and/or books, there are essays on “The Roots of Anti-Semitism” and “The Christianness of the Jewish-American Writer”; in “Why Is the Grail Knight Jewish?” Fiedler indulges in the outrageous variety of myth-criticism that has long been his trademark.

The key piece in the collection is the concluding essay, “In Every Generation: A Meditation on the Two Holocausts.” Fiedler’s real subject here is Jewish identity. He describes his youthful conversion to Marxism and socialism, fueled by a utopian faith in the “universal brotherhood of all mankind.” Having lost that faith, he has nevertheless chosen the path of the “unreconstructed assimilationists.” Indeed, Fiedler acknowledges, “not a single one of my own eight children has at the present moment a Jewish mate; nor, for that matter, do I.”

This is the second holocaust alluded to in the essay’s subtitle: the so-called “Silent Holocaust” of intermarriage and assimilation. On the one hand Fiedler places himself among those Jews who have decided to “cease to exist in their chosenness for the sake of a united mankind”; on the other hand, he insists on his Jewish identity and accepts the metaphorical identification of assimilation with the Holocaust. There is a brazen contradiction here, a shameless desire to have it both ways, which epitomizes Fiedler’s stance throughout these essays and which greatly undermines his authority.