What is Jewish about Jewish American literature? While the imaginative possibilities are numerous many scholars approach literary products with an established notion of a...

What is Jewish about Jewish American literature? While the imaginative possibilities are numerous many scholars approach literary products with an established notion of a Jewish identity before they reach their subjects. This is one of the central concerns for Benjamin Schreier, Associate Professor at Penn State University, in The Impossible Jew: Identity and the Reconstruction of Jewish American Literary History (NYU Press, 2015). He calls for a critical study of identity and identification within his field, which should have broader applications in other identity-based investigations. Schreier provides a comprehensive and productive reevaluation of approaches to identity, which explores the meaning and power of the uses of identity in literary products. He puts his new approach into action through a rereading of key works and authors from an established Jewish American literary canon. On the other end of the spectrum, he tests the boundaries of the deployment of Jewishness when it does not align with the dominant assumptions in Jewish American literary study.

In our conversation we discussed the place of Jewish American Literary studies within adjacent fields, the dominant scholarly practices of this field, racialized nationalist grounds of Jewishness, Abraham Cahan’s spectral Jew, the New York Intellectuals, the anxiety of Jewish identity in Philip Roth’s work, the irrepresentation of identity in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and how to think about identity as an analytical category.


Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Nebraska Omaha. His research and teaching interests include Theory and Methodology in the Study of Religion, Islamic Studies, Chinese Religions, Human Rights, and Media Studies. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at [email protected].

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