- Queer Theory and the Jewish Question
In Gay is the Word, a gay bookstore in London, I heard a person pick up this very book, gaze at the cover's reduplicated images of Barbra Streisand à la Andy Warhol's Marilyn prints, and ask her friend, "Is Streisand gay?" Although her friend answered, "of course not," the editors of this volume might have averred that Barbra was not so much gay as queer. The project of this book is both a very expansive and timely one of examining the analogical thinking in Western culture that renders interchangeable the terms of Jew and woman, Jew and queer, and queer and Jew. Enter Barbra, or rather, Marjorie Garber's study of Yentl as a film that precipitates a category crisis not only in gender but in Jewish femininity as well. The editors frame their volume of essays with this crucial cinematic articulation of the intersection of the Jewish and the queer, an intersection that the rest of the essays in the volume take up in its historical, theoretical, and textual formations. In tandem with Garber's essay on Streisand and Yentl, a reprinted excerpt from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet provides another crucial linkage between closetedness and Jewish self-identification. Together the two essays chart the theoretical and historical possibilities for considering how modern Jewishness is conceived through categories of race and gender. The nineteenth-century co-emergence of the modern Jew and the modern homosexual provides the historical coordinate for much of the writing in this volume, although a few essays venture into the intersections of Jew and queer in medieval and early modern cultures.
Janet Jakobsen's essay, "Queers are Like Jews, Aren't They?" considers the intersection of the terms Jew and queer, itself, especially the troubling effects of the analogy of the two. She also, however, suggests a strategy of destabilization through the formation of an alliance between Jews and queers and the deliberate playing of norms off against each other. Enter Streisand again, not as Yentl this time, but as Barbra.
All things Barbra aside, this volume addresses in thoughtful and engaging ways the intersection of Jewishness and the queer in a range of cultural texts, from the rhetorics of antisemitism in the case of Leopold and Loeb, to the contestation of Zionism in transsexual drag queen Dana International, to the misogyny, homophobia, and self-contempt behind Freud's theory of castration anxiety, to the queer implication of Christian devotion to the Virgin and medieval antisemitism in a medieval tale by Geoffrey Chaucer. Canonical authors (besides Chaucer) such as Charles Dickens, Henry James, Marcel [End Page 146] Proust, and Jean Cocteau come under scrutiny in this volume alongside less familiar works of Yiddish theater from the turn of the century to Abraham Cardoso's messianic writing in the seventeenth century, among others. One of the strengths of the volume is its ability to address so many different kinds of texts without losing its theoretical edge and focus.
For the purpose of this review I will discuss only a few of the essays. One of the most interesting essays in the volume is by Daniel Boyarin, who takes issue with the work of Sander Gilman to argue for the "toxic effects" of Freud's closeted Jewishness. In his theory of castration anxiety, according to Boyarin, Freud exhibits the "doubled consciousness" of the colonized, that is, the simultaneous self-contempt in the gaze of, and desire for, the dominant culture. The effect of this phenomenon in Freud (as well as the work of Franz Fanon) is misogyny, homophobia, and self-contempt. Both achieve whiteness through the psychic defense mechanisms of the colonized, of projection and introjection. Another essay by Jay Geller also tracks Freud's internalization of antisemitism and homophobia in his conception of male homosexuality.
Michael Moon examines the relationship between Yiddish theater at the turn of the century and queer theater of the 1960s. In particular, Moon is drawn to the affective ambiguity in turn-of...