Necrology: Mark Shechner (1940-2015).

Author:Whitfield, Stephen J.
Position:Obituary
 
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In the decades immediately after the Second World War, three writers rose to such prominence (and found themselves pelted so often with National Book Awards and Pulitzer Prizes) that this trio constituted the very definition of literary excellence. Despite their divergences, they were grouped together as Jews, which led Saul Bellow, a Nobel laureate in 1976, to nickname Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth and himself the literary counterparts of Hart Schaffner & Marx. When names like Norman Mailer and Joseph Heller are added, the Jewish inflection to the national letters was bound to compel the academy to offer admiration and critical assessment. That recognition became the mission of a generation of scholars who explicated the lineage of American Jewish literature, specialists who came of age when the study of the Jewish imagination had managed to achieve respectability in the nation's Departments of English. Sarah Blacher Cohen, Bonnie K. Lyons, Sanford Pinsker, Daniel Walden and Donald Weber belong on a list that is not intended to be exhaustive, while other students of American Jewish literature--Edward Alexander, Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi and Alvin Rosenfeld--also illumined the representation of the Holocaust. Yet none exhibited a more blazing talent than Mark Shechner, who died last year at the age of 75.

In contributing essays and reviews that appeared in the Nation, the New York Times Book Review and the New Republic, as well as in highbrow quarterlies like Partisan Review and Salmagundi, Shechner adopted "the style of brilliance" that Irving Howe attributed in 1968 to "the New York intellectuals." (1) Shechner displayed a gift for transforming literary scholarship into a performance art. Much evidence can be found in the book that made his reputation, After the Revolution: Studies in the Contemporary jewish-American Imagination (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987). It surprises and abounds in fresh and arresting notions, and yet the author's aptness of characterization--his flair for summing up a novel in an epigram--demonstrated a yearning to get an interpretation right, and not merely to say something fresh.

Drawn largely from articles that Shechner had previously published, and from his canonical assessment of American Jewish literature in The Harvard Guide to Contemporary American Writing (Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1979), After the Revolution takes a historical approach. Its baseline is the departure of the...

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