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Acts of Assimilation: The Invention of Jewish American Literary History

From: Jewish Quarterly Review
Volume 103, Number 4, Fall 2013
pp. 556-579 | 10.1353/jqr.2013.0035



Taking as its point of departure Irving Howe’s much maligned prediction of the inevitable demise of Jewish American literature after his own celebrated generation, this essay asks us to not to disprove Howe by looking forward to the current crop of talented writers, as has been the tendency in Jewish American literary criticism, but rather to look back to establish the literary tradition that Howe constructed and eulogized. The essay identifies two competing narratives of Jewish American writing--the long one identified by historians and some literary critics that goes back to the earliest waves of Jewish immigration to America, and the short one identified by Howe’s cohort, a narrative that begins (and ends) with this cohort and reflects their resistance to being identified as members of a conformist Jewish American community whose sensibilities they rejected. The essay thus questions the dominant narrative of Jewish American literary history that was given force by the power of Howe’s, Alfred Kazin’s, and Leslie Fiedler’s landmark works.

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