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The Impossible Jew

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

Benjamin Schreier
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Impossible Jew
    Book Description:

    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 Jewinterrogates 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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-8843-6
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: The School of Criticism I Wouldn’t Be Caught Dead In: A Polemic on Theorizing the Field
    (pp. 1-21)

    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...

  5. 1 Toward a Critical Semitism: On Not Answering the Jewish Question in Literary Studies
    (pp. 22-68)

    I wrote this book because the professional study of Jewish American literature has repeatedly raised two questions for me: first, Why has Jewish studies had such a difficult and unsatisfying relationship with multiculturalism, with critical identity studies, and with critical theory more generally? and second, Why does literary study in general, but especially Jewish American literary study, so often seem the neglected stepchild in the Jewish studies world? Theorizing a way past these institutional impasses through analysis of the professional interpretive and historical habits by which Jewish American literature has been canonized,The Impossible Jewargues for reimagining identity as...

  6. 2 Against the Dialectic of Nation: Abraham Cahan and Desire’s Spectral Jew
    (pp. 69-94)

    This book began with a politically and professionally motivated desire to develop a way to talk about the Jewishness of Jewish literature that is not coordinated by an inevitably unsavory nationalistic project to recognize the history, culture, ancestry, descent, and society—that is, by a historicist project to secure the identity—of The Jew. As I hope I have made clear, by gesturing toward a genealogy of the term I do not mean that we should not be studying literature from the perspective of identity; that the constellation of territorializing forces we call “identity” currently underwrites our shared ability to...

  7. 3 The Negative Desire of Jewish Representation; or, Why Were the New York Intellectuals Jewish?
    (pp. 95-148)

    Though the New York intellectuals are widely acclaimed as the preeminent American intellectual group, certainly of the twentieth century—Irving Howe wrote that “the New York intellectuals are perhaps the only group America ever had that could be described as anintelligentsia”¹—their political, historical, and critical legibility remains contested; for a good forty years now we have had a fairly steady stream of work from across the political and academic spectrum that has fought over, in an attempt to secure, the relevance and significance of these highly visible critics. Yet too often scholarship devoted to them imagines itself as...

  8. 4 Why Jews Aren’t Normal: The Unrepresentable Future of Philip Roth’s The Counterlife
    (pp. 149-184)

    In the fifth and final chapter ofThe Counterlife, titled “Christendom,” Philip Roth’s narrator, the writer Nathan Zuckerman, attends a Christmas choral service in London with his pregnant, British, gentile wife, Maria, and her daughter (by her previous husband), mother, and two sisters. He has just that day returned from Israel, one of the novel’s many sites of identity production and disputation, where he went to visit and, he had possibly hoped, rescue his brother, Henry, who has rather suddenly abjured his profane secular family life in New Jersey in favor of making aliyah under the psychically protective and ideologically...

  9. 5 9/11’s Stealthy Jews: Jonathan Safran Foer and the Irrepresentation of Identity
    (pp. 185-213)

    In this book’s interest in thinking about Jewish literature outside of a normative and inevitably nationalist anthropological paradigm that takes for granted that texts represent, express, or otherwise bear the legible traces of a biologistically legitimized historical population—whether through the proxy of already-identifiable authorship, content, or practice—it has located itself in the difficult region where the doubled subject of an identity-based canon is recognized—both the historical subject whom literary history recognizes as responsible for the literature and the historical subject whom literary history recognizes as represented in the literature. As Michael Kramer has helped us understand, identity...

  10. Conclusion: Minority Report
    (pp. 214-220)

    As I suggested at the outset, I am aware of—and a bit anxious about—the fine line I am trying to walk inThe Impossible Jew. On the one hand, this book is a polemic, full of vitriol and bile, but on the other hand, in attacking the current arrangement I am trying to justify myself to others and convince them to join forces.The Impossible Jewis directed at anyone who thinks that the status quo between Jewish American literary study, Jewish studies, “ethnic” or multicultural studies, and English and American literature is unsatisfying; but it is also...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 221-248)
    (pp. 249-258)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 259-269)
    (pp. 270-270)