The Impossible Jew: Identity and the Reconstruction of Jewish American Literary History

The Impossible Jew: Identity and the Reconstruction of Jewish American Literary History

The Impossible Jew: Identity and the Reconstruction of Jewish American Literary History

The Impossible Jew: Identity and the Reconstruction of Jewish American Literary History

Synopsis

He destroys in order to create. In a sweeping critique of the field, Benjamin Schreier resituates Jewish Studies in order to make room for a critical study of identity and identification. Displacing the assumption that Jewish Studies is necessarily the study of Jews, this book aims to break down the walls of the academic ghetto in which the study of Jewish American literature often seems to be contained: alienated from fields like comparative ethnicity studies, American studies, and multicultural studies; suffering from the unwillingness of Jewish Studies to accept critical literary studies as a legitimate part of its project; and so often refusing itself to engage in self-critique.

The Impossible Jew interrogates how the concept of identity is critically put to work by identity-based literary study. Through readings of key authors from across the canon of Jewish American literature and culture--including Abraham Cahan, the New York Intellectuals, Philip Roth, and Jonathan Safran Foer--Benjamin Schreier shows how texts resist the historicist expectation that self-evident Jewish populations are represented in and recoverable from them. Through ornate, scabrous, funny polemics, Schreier draws the lines of relation between Jewish American literary study and American studies, multiethnic studies, critical theory, and Jewish Studies formations. He maintains that a Jewish Studies beyond ethnicity is essential for a viable future of Jewish literary study.

Excerpt

First things first: the take-away. In the interest of figuring out how a category of identity is critically put to work by Jewish literary study, this book tries to make it more difficult to assume that the study of Jewish literature is necessarily part of a larger study of The Jews as a population (or linked group of populations)—itself a concept or entity that must ultimately be taken for granted, at least in its categorical legibility, if it is going to mean anything at all. That is, we can make all kinds of noise about different kinds of Jewish populations and different modes of Jewish identification, but the problem this book addresses is the pernicious nationalism of thinking that relies on population—on the compelling security provided by a concept of population—to stabilize and underwrite the categorical identity of an archive of work. Alternatively, I suppose I could say that this book is part of a project to resituate Jewish studies in order to make room for a critical study of Jewish identity or Jewish identification, or of the ascription or detection or relevance of Jewish categoricalness, that is not grounded in the more or less ethnographically or anthropologically coded study of Jews and what they do and how they do it. Such a project would reconceptualize Jewish studies as operating precisely as the displacement of the assumption that Jewish studies is the study of Jews. But in fact I do not really want to put it this way, at least not primarily, because another thing I want this book to do is help break down the walls of the ghetto in which Jewish literary study these days so often seems to be contained, a ghetto instantiated simultaneously along three professionally powerful axes: on the one hand in the sometime seeming unwillingness on the part of fields such as comparative ethnicity studies, American studies, and multicultural literary studies to welcome Jewishness into the fold of privileged identities; on . . .

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