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T H E JE W I S H Q UA R T E R LY R E V I E W, Vol. 94, No. 4 (Fall 2004) 677–693 R E V I E W E S S AY S Critical Narcissism and the Coming-ofAge of Jewish American Literary Studies MICHAEL P. K RAMER LOUIS HARAP. The Image of the Jew in American Literature: From Early Republic to Mass Immigration. 2nd edition. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2003. Pp. xxi Ⳮ 589. RENÉE M. SENTILLES, Performing Menken: Adah Isaacs Menken and the Birth of American Celebrity. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Pp. xi Ⳮ 313. I thought that to seem was to be. But the waters of Marah were beautiful, yet they were bitter. Adah Isaacs Menken, ‘‘Myself’’ Three and a half centuries since the first Jews arrived in New Amsterdam , and more than two and a half centuries since the first Jewish-authored book was published in Boston, the academic study of Jewish American literature may very well be coming of age. There have been some very promising signs in recent years. W.W. Norton, the leading publisher of classroom anthologies, has given the field its imprimatur with Jewish American Literature: A Norton Anthology, and Cambridge University Press has added to its noted series The Cambridge Companion to Jewish American Literature, which I had the privilege of coediting with Hana Wirth-Nesher. Consider, too, the star-studded fanfare of the ‘‘Celebrating Jewish-American Writers’’ conference that accompanied the opening of the Leonard L. Milberg ’53 Collection of Jewish-American Writers at Princeton University.1 Along with the professional recognition it is re1 . See Jules Chamtezky, John Felstiner, Hilene Flanzbaum, and Kathryn Hellerstein, eds., Jewish American Literature: A Norton Anthology (New York and London, 2001), and Michael P. Kramer and Hana Wirth-Nesher, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Jewish American Literature (New York and Cambridge, 2003). For the ‘‘Celebration of Jewish-American Writers’’ conference, see: http://www .princeton.edu/⬃jwst/writers/. The Jewish Quarterly Review (Fall 2004) Copyright 䉷 2004 Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. All rights reserved. 678 JQR 94:4 (2004) ceiving, we now have the reissue, after thirty years, of Louis Harap’s classic of early Jewish American literary history and bibliography and the appearance of Renée Sentilles’s postmodernist-inflected biography of one of the most notorious and controversial figures in that early history. Both good signs as well, and those of us who study Jewish American literature ought to be encouraged. Yet Jewish American literary study needs also at this point in its history to take a good, honest look at itself, take stock of its achievements and failures, understand its motives and objectives. I have neither the space nor the hubris for the sort of fullscale reckoning the field wants and deserves. But I would like to take the occasion of the appearance of these two volumes for some general, preliminary remarks. I. Any serious consideration of Jewish American literature as a field of study must ultimately confront certain vexing questions—questions about the Jewishness of Jewish literature and the Americanness of American literature, about the aesthetics of ethnicity and the art of assimilation .2 These are the field’s constitutive questions. Jewish American literature is inconceivable without them, existing as a coherent, compelling category only because of their nagging persistence. We don’t always tackle the questions head-on. We may approach them cautiously, hesitantly . We may ask them in one form or another, implicitly. But the fact is that we study Jewish American literature primarily because these questions intrigue us and confound us. We study Jewish literature because we want to know the answers, and the answers elude us. We may try to ignore them (some of them) but to ignore the questions is only to repress them. They remain nonetheless, around the corner, waiting to trip us up. The questions are vexing for several reasons. They are technically vexing because they are second-level questions, that is, questions about questions . To ask about the Jewishness of Jewish American literature, say, assumes we know the answer to the question, ‘‘What is Jewish?’’ Which, to put it bluntly, we...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-0604
Print ISSN
0021-6682
Pages
pp. 677-693
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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