May 09, 2014

Simon Schama

Simon Schama, Ambassador Nigel Sheinwald, and Thomas Friedman Credit: UKinUSA / Flickr Creative Commons

Guest:

What do Sigmund Freud, Arnold Schoenberg, and Woody Allen have in common?

They’re innovative – that’s a given – and they’re all Jewish. Members of a group that, at least historically, was relegated to the margins. Could this have factored into their ability to think differently?

“Jews were forced, really in a sense, out of any fixed attitudes and institutions in a particular place for thousands and thousands of years,” says Simon Schama, professor at Columbia University and author of "The Story of the Jews," which has also been made into a documentary series for PBS.

Consequently, according to Schama, there was a deep-rooted “need to lead your life sort of above the neck, that in mental and intellectual and spiritual creativity, would lie an answer for however many rigors were laid upon you.”

Schama uses composer Arnold Schoenberg as an example of someone who completely changed the way the world saw music in the 20th century. He broke with key signatures and developed the twelve-tone technique.

Schonberg Portrait

Portrait of Arnold Schoenberg by Richard Gerstl Credit: Richard Gerstl / Wikimedia Commons

“Schoenberg made extraordinary advances to expand the sense of what music was,” explains Schama.

Another reason that Jews have been innovators across every discipline is that “the sort of sense, actually, of always questioning authority, is built into the fabric of religion itself,” Schama argues.

Want to hear more? Listen to the full interview, above.

Simon Schama, Sigmund Freud, Jews, Arnold Schoenberg, history, Culture, religion

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