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The Impossible JewIdentity and the Reconstruction of Jewish American Literary History$
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Benjamin Schreier

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781479868681

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479868681.001.0001

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Toward a Critical Semitism

Toward a Critical Semitism

On Not Answering the Jewish Question in Literary Studies

(p.22) 1 Toward a Critical Semitism
The Impossible Jew

Benjamin Schreier

NYU Press

This chapter focuses on the nationalist identitarianism underwriting the current academic isolation of the historicist mainstream of Jewish American literary practice. It first considers the Jewish problem as the problem of “Jewishness” before turning to a discussion of the Jewish identity that underwrites Jewish American literature and how a critical vocabulary capable of liberating Jewish American literary study from the historicist criterion can be developed. It then explores how the specific academic history of Jews and their studies has enabled identitarianism to hinder a critical theorization of the identity of Jewish American literature. It also examines how Jewish literary study can articulate itself in an analytical vector that aims to secure Jewishness as a legible object of both scrutiny and practice, a vector it calls “semitism.” The chapter concludes by noting the importance of the genealogy of the historicism of currently ascendant professional languages of identity in “semitic” literary criticism.

Keywords:   identitarianism, Jewish problem, Jewishness, Jewish identity, Jewish American literature, Jewish American literary study, Jews, semitism, historicism, literary criticism

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