This article takes the postwar period in the US (from the end of World War II to the mid-1960s) as represented by a handful of canonical films—both of the era and since—as an opportunity to argue for a critical Jewish Studies-based analysis of periodization. It illustrates the need in Jewish Studies to mount a sustained critique of the concept of identity that anchors its professional practices. Questions about identity are too often asked as questions about culture as the naturalized predicate of a population, and this tendency underlies and supports a dominant historicist approach in Jewish American Studies that suppresses critical alternatives. Through a series of close readings—of The Jazz Singer (1927), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), The Pawnbroker (1964), Liberty Heights (1999), and Inglorious Basterds (2009)—this paper instead proposes that we deploy a critical history of the concept of Jewish American identity—rather than a history of an empirical subject we take for granted as American Jewry—to destabilize the logic of periodization underlying the historicist self-evidence of Jewish identity.


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pp. 76-101
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