May 02, 2006

A Profound Intellectual Disagreement among Scholars, or “Me shut up? No, you shut up!”

If you are anything at all like us, you savor those blessed four times during the year when The American Historical Review hits the newsstands. Nothing makes our hearts skip a beat quite like the arrival of the good ole’ AHR. (Well, to be honest, a steady diet of circus peanuts might do it, but that is neither here nor there.)

We would be remiss if we did not mention that the delicious articles in the rag aren’t the immediate focus of our attentions. Obviously, we look forward to diving in to such landmark works of scholarship as Alon Rachamimov’s “The Disruptive Comforts of Drag: (Trans)Gender Performances among Prisoners of War in Russia, 1914-1920.” That ought to be a page-turner.

But it’s the storied “Communications” section of the AHR that really draws us in. For those (few) among us who don’t regularly peruse the magazine, allow us to inform you that this section allows various academics to lash out at one another, usually as a result of withering book reviews in previous numbers. As you might imagine, it’s a veritable cornucopia of fun.

Take, for example, Professor Y. Michal Bodemann’s letter in the April 2006 issue of AHR. It pertains to Professor Lynn Rapaport’s nasty review of his work, A Jewish Family in Germany Today: An Intimate Portrait, copies of which, we presume, are flying off the bookshelves.

Most of Mr. Bodemann’s letter deals with substantive issues, which are naturally of no concern to us. But the end of the missive makes it all worthwhile:

I should like to stress that I welcome critical reviews of my work. Indeed, some years back, I reviewed Professor Rapaport’s own book on German Jewry quite critically. But I believe I did provide solid evidence to back up my critique.

Slam! Take that, Ms. Rapaport! We don’t know about you, dear reader, but we found this simply delightful.

Note the use of “indeed.” It makes it seem as if Mr. Bodemann’s second sentence has a logical connection with the one that precedes it. “I love criticisms of my work; indeed, I criticized your work.”

Might we be bold enough to suggest that Mr. Bodemann offered this sentence in order to take an un-subtle dig at Ms. Rapaport, and to suggest that she had a sordid motive in panning Mr. Bodemann’s tome? We may have gone out on a limb with that assertion; but perhaps not.

If you think that’s good stuff, just get a load of Ms. Rapaport’s reply. Again, we haven’t the slightest interest in the substance of her response; we merely love the polemic. And here it is:

Finally, Bodemann gratuitously brings up his long-forgotten review of my own work, Jews in Germany after the Holocaust: Memory, Identity, and Jewish-German Relations (Cambridge University Press, 1997). He should be informed that my book won the 1998 Best Book Award in the Sociology of Religion from the American Sociological Association.

Take that, smarty-pants! How do you like ‘dem apples?

To be honest, we have the sneaking suspicion that Ms. Rapaport actually remembers Mr. Bodemann’s “long-forgotten review” of her book. Perhaps his mention of it caused Ms. Rapaport to engage in a little self-puffery?

Posted at May 2, 2006 12:01 AM | TrackBack