The Hyena

Proust never misses an opportunity to use Bloch to portray the Jew as Other. The Dreyfus affair has not yet reached its frenzied peak, so Bloch is still welcome at certain, albeit less prestigious, salons.

But, for one thing, however fiercely the anti-Dreyfus cyclone might be raging, it is not in the first hour of storm that the waves are at their worst. In the second place, Mme de Villeparisis, leaving a whole section of her family to fulminate against the Jews, had remained entirely aloof from the Affair and never gave it a thought. Lastly, a young man like Bloch whom no one knew might pass unnoticed, whereas leading Jews who were representative of their side were already threatened. His chin was now decorated with a goatee beard, he wore a pince-nez and a long frock-coat, and carried a glove like a roll of papyrus  in his hand. The Romanians, the Egyptians, the Turks may hate the Jews. But in a French drawing room the difference between those peoples are not so apparent, and a Jew, making his entry as though he were emerging from the desert, his body crouching like a hyena’s, his neck thrust forward, offering profound “salaams,” completely satisfies a certain taste for the oriental.  Only it is essential that the Jew in question should not be actually “in” society, otherwise he will readily assume the aspect of a lord and his manners become so Gallicised that on his face a refractory nose, growing like a nasturtium in unexpected directions, will be more reminiscent of Molière’s Mascarille than of Solomon. (III,253)

It struck me that if in the light of Mme de Villeparisis’s drawing-room I had taken some photographs of Bloch, they would have given an image of Israel identical  with those we find in spirit photographs–so disturbing because it does not appear to emanate from humanity, so deceptive because it none the less resembles humanity all too closely. (III,255)


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