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102 SHOFAR Summer 1999 Vol. 17, No.4 Review Essay Heroic Conduct? Daniel Boyarin and the Future of the 'New' Jewish Cultural Studies Paul B. Reitter University of California Berkeley Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Construction of the Jewish Man, by Daniel Boyarin. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. 417 pp. $50.00 (c); $18.95 (p). What is new about the new Jewish cultural studies? According to Eric Santner, one of its leading practitioners, "the new Jewish cultural studies" can be characterized as "efforts to bring to bear recent innovations in the study of gender and sexuality on readings of canonical Jewish texts." The new Jewish cultural studies is traditional Jewish studies weaned away from exegesis and philology. For Santner, it is a Jewish studies that has learned to speak the language of theory, especially gender theory. As Santner describes it, the movement from old Jewish studies to new Jewish studies is fairly straightforward. And yet, oddly enough, Santner's definition is belied by his own work. For his focus is not "canonical Jewish texts." Rather, Santner seems to be mainly concerned with turn-of-the-century Jewish thinkers whose ideas about Judaism are decidedly uncanonical: Freud, Kafka, Walter Benjamin. He is hardly alone here. Many, perhaps even most, of the important figures in the new Jewish cultural studies have written on Freud, Kafka, or Benjamin. Sander Gilman, for example, has made Freud into the central motif ofhis career. But what is so new about this move? Emphasizing the Freud factor is hardly a novel development in the study of Jewish cultural identity. For decades, cultural historians like Carl Schorske and George Mosse have been examining the ways in which psychoanalysis can be interpreted as a response to the Jewish Question. Mosse's argument is that discussions about national identity in late nineteenth-century Europe were profoundly sexualized, and that, because it was forged in this discursive context, modern Jewish identity became bound up with the question of gender identity. The eager, even ardent involvement of Jews in the incipient project of theorizing sexuality was therefore overdetermined. It was an oblique answer to the Jewish Question. Freud's theories ofsexuality are the most spectacular instance ofthis phenomenon and, as such, are worthy of special attention. Heroic Conduct? 103 Following Mosse's lead, the new Jewish cultural studies continues to examine the fateful collisions between the discourse of Jewish identity and the discourse of gender identity at the fin de siecle. Accordingly and as we have seen, it, too, has thoroughly investigated Freud's embeddedness in the Jewish Question. What is "new" is that it has done so from a poststructuralist perspective. Where Mosse worked with the connections between Freud and the Jewish Question in order to explain the historical development of Jewish identity, the new Jewish cultural studies seeks both to historicize modem Jewish cultural identity and to conceptualize it in the terms of contemporary poststructuralist ideas about cultural identity formation. This philosophical project is what Santner is referring to when he speaks of its appropriation of "recent innovations in the study of sexuality and gender." These "innovations" are poststructuralist models of identity-Foucault's and Judith Butler's. Significantly, these models engage with psychoanalysis, challenging it even as they borrow from it. And so, for the new Jewish cultural studies, Freud is not simply a crucial object of inquiry, he is also a convenient occasion for methodological self-reflection. Hence his compelling attraction. The theorist of doubling has taken on a double role. That Freud stands at the center of Daniel Boyarin's theoretically ambitious new study of Jewish identity should come, then, as no surprise. What sets Unheroic Conduct: The Rise ofHeterosexuality and the Invention ofthe Jewish Man apart from much of what is produced under the sign of the new Jewish cultural studies is, paradoxically, its learned and provocative use of semi-canonical Jewish traditions. Boyarin began his career as a scholar ofmidrash, and, unlike most of his colleagues in the new Jewish cultural studies, he is a professor of Near Eastern studies. And even though Freud is clearly the star of this show, the dramatic tension is produced by Boyarin's poststructuralist...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 102-110
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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