Well, doesn't this just figure? In the comments to this post, I learned that I have a faithful reader I don't know, who has read every post I've put up over a period of some months...and who finally came out of lurkdom to attack me. Signing the first comment "pretty disgusted" is one of those sure ways to tip someone off that you disagree with them.
What I was saying is you imposed the antisemitic overtones on the Snapes character out of outsize identification with fiction and insufficient connection to reality...[snip]I believe I've read every single post on this blog; I've been reading it for months. I like your blog well enough. But it's a self-conscious attempt to solidify ethnic/religious identity, and you habitually associate Judaism and Jewish values with all things the smart set consider "progressive". So when you free-associate to fictional characters who in some vague way remind you of overtly antisemitic fictional characters in past works, and consider yourself to have been "sensitive" (as a Jew) and to have detected some pernicious new fictional example of antisemitism, forgive me for pointing out that this demonstrates authentic Jewish identity and sensitivity to antisemitism in about the same way and to the same degree that Afro-Americans whose families have been living in the US for a few centuries and celebrate Kwanza demonstrate authentic connection to their African roots and sensitivity to oppression.
To me, this seems like a bit of an overreaction. (Ironic, as the whole point is to accuse me of overreaction. Hmm.) Of course, all criticism sends me into spirals of self-doubt, but as my husband pointed out, I really didn't make any huge claims about Rowling or her characterization of Snape. So a Jewish blogger finds it interesting to explore the resonances of 19th century literary anti-Semitism in the most popular book in the Western world, is that so unexpected? No more unexpected, I guess, than the way the word "anti-Semitism" draws negative comments to a blog.
Fortunately, this Kwanzaa example is great for illuminating the assumptions on which Pretty Disgusted's disgust is grounded. I can't speak for people celebrating Kwanzaa, but okay, let's look at the parallels. I disagree that it is inauthentic for any cultural minority in the United States to invent a new ritual or practice based on their current values and beliefs. The implication of this whole line of thinking is that either 1) you can't be culturally authentic if you aren't personally, currently suffering violent oppression, or 2) the cultural identities that groups forge in diaspora are inherently invalid.
I guess I should put it this way: Is the point of Kwanzaa to make African-Americans into Africans? (According to this site it's Kwanzaa with two As when you are discussing the African-American observance.) Is the point of my Jewish observance to turn my America into the shtetl, or Budapest, or Riga, or Jerusalem, or some other lost landscape? You can light candles on Kwanzaa with full awareness that Kwanzaa was invented by an academic in the 1960s. What's so inauthentic about that? Are you going to go to the house of this hypothetical family and tell them, "Kwanzaa is dumb, that's not properly grammatical Kiswahili, and also, I don't like your drapes"?
I've always liked Jenna Weissman Joselit's book The Wonders of America. In it she describes all the cultural innovations of Jewish life in the United States. Should we stop those dorky candlelighting ceremonies at bar mitzvah receptions? (My husband says "Yes!") Or the moving stone-setting ceremonies that many families conduct after a year of mourning? Are those inauthentic? No, they are as authentic as Chicago pizza, or fortune cookies, or Kwanzaa. That is, they aren't from the old country, they are the products of our current experience and what historians sometimes call "memory." What we think is a vestige of immemorial antiquity is often quite recent, but that doesn't make it less authentic. We can only live our own experience, not return to a mythic past.
I guess it's not surprising that I am more invested in this question than in reading Harry Potter. I don't live to read Harry Potter. It's not even my favorite children's/young adult book. I think I'm with this confirmed Harry Potter fan who prefers The Once and Future King. She writes:
Isn't that--isn't that perfect? isn't it lovely and painful and doesn't it tell you everything about wart and everything about merlyn and everything that really good children's literature should do? i STILL don't understand the vast, vast majority of white's allusions. i never will. but that's the glee of the porpoise, that's the beautiful thing, that's what makes really good books really good books, that they leave you leaping joyfully along in their wake. every time i re-read Sword, I get another complicated joke, catch another terribly sad foreshadowing, realize another beautiful, subtle nuance in Wart or Kay or Ector or Merlyn or even (goofy, wonderful, wonderful) Pellinore. every time i re-read the HP books, i might catch another clue as to, you know, why i should have caught on earlier about Crouch; but the people are static and strange to me. rowling...i just don't think she taps into that joy, that love of the unfamiliar, even the incomprehensible, which is so unique to children.
It's not that Rowling is somehow defying political correctness in her characterizations and that's making everyone read the books. If anything I would say she's selectively politically correct. Perhaps my interlocutor will be just as annoyed by this essay exploring Rowling's tokenism with black characters. Nu. It's still a good example of what I mean by selective p.c. I would attribute Harry Potter's popularity to three factors:
1. the books realize a fully-envisioned alternative universe through the vehicle of word-play
2. Rowling's use of visual imagery is cinematic, which is perfect for her audience
3. very effective marketing
I would even say that that effective marketing and relatively weak characterization has opened up the field for speculation and interactivity, which enhances the books tremendously for me. Nothing pleases me more than to be able to talk about a book I enjoyed with so many different people at so many different ages.
Well, this was stimulating. I can't believe I have a blog post that includes both Jenna Weissman Joselit and The Once and Future King. I must say I prefer people to stimulate me by saying nice things rather than attacking me, but still. At least they aren't complaining about my kugel.