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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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PRINTED FROM NYU Press SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.nyu.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of NYU Press Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NYSO for personal use.date: 20 June 2021

Why Jews Aren’t Normal

Why Jews Aren’t Normal

The Unrepresentable Future of Philip Roth’s The Counterlife

(p.149) 4 Why Jews Aren’t Normal
The Impossible Jew

Benjamin Schreier

NYU Press

This chapter articulates a more critical concept of identity that can contribute to a more theoretically justified—and a more literary critically interesting—Jewish literary study. Through a close reading of Philip Roth's 1986 novel The Counterlife, it examines writer Nathan Zuckerman's claim that he can only be a Jew where there are no other Jews. The Counterlife alternately embraces and resists the concept of authenticity in its displacement of Jewish normativity. The novel also helps articulate a critical Jewish American literary study that contests the terms in which we inevitably take for granted the self-evident categorical legibility of identity. This chapter shows how Roth's Zuckerman books illuminate the desire for Jewish self-evidence and argues that Roth is important to Jewish American literary study because his work stages the fundamental polemical labor of a Jewish literary history.

Keywords:   identity, Philip Roth, The Counterlife, Nathan Zuckerman, Jews, authenticity, Jewish normativity, Jewish American literary study, self-evidence, Jewish literary history

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