Identity matters: Contemporary Jewish American writing

Tresa Grauer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The burden isn't either/or, consciously choosing from possibilities equally difficult and regrettable – it's and/and/and/and/and as well. Life is and…all the multiplying realities, entangled, overlapping, colliding, conjoined. (Philip Roth, The Counterlife, 350) Identity…is a paradox. (Daniel Mendelsohn, The Elusive Embrace, 34) Almost twenty-five years ago, Irving Howe introduced his collection, Jewish American Stories, by declaring that Jewish American writing had “probably moved past its high point,” having found “its voice and its passion at exactly the moment it approache[d] disintegration” (16, 3). Today, Howe's essay still remains the best discussion of the distinctive “voice and passion” that he identified as the trademark of writers of “the immigrant Jewish milieu”: “the judgment, affection and hatred they bring to bear upon the remembered world of their youth and the costs exacted by their struggle to tear themselves away…the vibration of old stories remembered and retold…[and] the lure of nostalgia” (3). Indeed, the terms by which Howe championed such writers as Henry Roth, Bernard Malamud, and Saul Bellow have largely determined what has come to be known as the Jewish American literary canon – so much so that it has become impossible not to cite him in any discussion of this literature. However, by defining Jewish American writing as he did – as a “regional literature” that “would be incomprehensible to a reader who lacked some memory or impression” of its particular context (5) – Howe's prediction of the decline of Jewish American fiction was already inherent in his definition. Given its very specificity of place and time, it was inevitable that the body of literature that he described would eventually cease to appear.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Jewish American Literature
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9780511998751
ISBN (Print)0521796997, 9780521792936
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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