“The Impossible Jew: Identity and the Reconstruction of Jewish American Literary History” by Benjamin Schreier— Breaking Down the Academic Ghetto

the impossible Jew

Schreier, Benjamin. “The Impossible Jew: Identity and the Reconstruction of Jewish American Literary History”, NYU Press, 2015.

Breaking Down the Academic Ghetto

Amos Lassen

The timing for my receiving this book could not have been more perfect. I am in the midst of preparing a course I will be teaching next year on what is new in Jewish literature and what does it have to say to us. One of the biggest questions we have about our literature has to do with the study of identity and identification. Author Benjamin Schreier “breaks down the walls of the academic ghetto” which is where, he says, Jewish American literature is found. Since it is there, it is alienated from other fields such as comparative ethnicity studies, American studies and multicultural studies and in short, this means that Jewish studies is unwilling to take critical literary studies as part of its own being and therefore does not take part in self-critique.

In his book, Schreier looks at how the concept of identity is “critically put to work by identity-based literary study.” He looks at this in terms of key authors who are in what is considered the Jewish American Literary canon and he includes Abraham Cahan, the New York Intellectuals, Philip Roth, and Jonathan Safran Foer. You might wonder why Bernard Malamud and Saul Bellow are not among the authors discussed and just who is this Abraham Cahan. Schreier tells us “how texts resist the historicist expectation that self-evident Jewish populations are represented in and recoverable from them.” He then draws the lines of relation between Jewish American literary study and American studies, multiethnic studies, critical theory, and Jewish Studies formations. His thesis is “that a Jewish Studies beyond ethnicity is essential for a viable future of Jewish literary study.” A look at the Table of Contents lets us know that this is not a book for everyone and is best suited for academics.

Contents

Acknowledgments ix Introduction: The School of Criticism I Wouldn’t Be

Caught Dead In: A Polemic on Theorizing the Field 1

  1. Toward a Critical Semitism: On Not Answering the Jewish Question in Literary Studies 22
  2. Against the Dialectic of Nation: Abraham Cahan and Desire’s Spectral Jew 69
  3. The Negative Desire of Jewish Representation;
    or, Why Were the New York Intellectuals Jewish? 95
  4. Why Jews Aren’t Normal: The Unrepresentable Future of Philip Roth’s The Counterlife 149
  5. 9/11’s Stealthy Jews: Jonathan Safran Foer and the Irrepresentation of Identity 185

Conclusion: Minority Report 214

Notes 221

Bibliography 249

Index 259

About the Author 270

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