This article challenges an influential historicism in Jewish American literary study that takes for granted that Jewish American literature is primarily representational. This kind of historicism inevitably links into a nationalist project to secure (that is, by assuming) a specifically Jewish subject formation that would unify all historical expressions of Jewish culture. Through a rereading of Philip Roth's "Goodbye, Columbus" but with reference across his oeuvre, this article argues that the primary drama in Roth's fiction is the failure of available terms and paradigms to express Jewish identification compellingly. It is not that Roth's characters do not want to be Jews; it is that they do not know how to describe themselves as Jews. The article makes a case for revisioning Jewish American literary study as primarily critical, as displacing the positive subject representational historicism expects to find in it.