Jews and Shoes

Jenny Diski writes:

Great shoemakers of our day: Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin. None of them, I think, very Jewish. And if there had been any great pre or postwar Jewish shoe mavins they would certainly have been pointed out to me by my parents, who identified any Jewish achiever in any sphere as one of the family: Alma Cogan, Einstein, Marx, boxing promoter Jack Solomons (the Sultan of Sock), it didn’t matter what they were known for, everyone counted. Even, like the Kray Twins, a little bit Jewish and murderers would make them ours and make us proud – but there was never a mention of shoe designers. So, I supposed that a book called Jews and Shoes was going to be either a bumper book of Jewish jokes about schlepping and cobbling, or a severe cultural studies analysis of the nature and symbolic value of footwear in Jewish society through the ages. Aside from a mention of how Ferragamo got his start by popularising the strappy shoe for Hollywood lovelies after being commissioned by Cecil B. DeMille to make 12,000 sandals for the original 1923 version of The Ten Commandments, there is nothing to be found on high-end modern footwear. Jews and Shoes turns out indeed to be largely about schlepping and cobbling, but is entirely devoid of jokes. This is academic cultural studies at its most anxious, wanting to make much of little but worrying about not being taken seriously. Making much of little is, of course, a vital task and one at which jokes excel (though they’re just as good at making little of much). But I can’t think of any Jewish shoe jokes, so perhaps the contributors to this collection of essays had their hands tied.

(LRB 9 October 2008)