The Impossible Jew

Identity and the Reconstruction of Jewish American Literary History

256 pages

June, 2015

ISBN: 9781479895847



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Benjamin Schreier is an Associate Professor of English and Jewish Studies and Lea P. and Malvin E. Bank Early Career Professor in Jewish Studies at Penn State University. He is author of The Power of Negative Thinking: Cynicism and the History of Modern American Literature  and the editor of the journal Studies in American Jewish Literature.

All books by Benjamin Schreier

He destroys in order to create. In a sweeping critique of the field, Benjamin Schreier resituates Jewish Studies in order to make room for a critical study of identity and identification. Displacing the assumption that Jewish Studies is necessarily the study of Jews, this book aims to break down the walls of the academic ghetto in which the study of Jewish American literature often seems to be contained: alienated from fields like comparative ethnicity studies, American studies, and multicultural studies; suffering from the unwillingness of Jewish Studies to accept critical literary studies as a legitimate part of its project; and so often refusing itself to engage in self-critique.           
The Impossible Jew interrogates how the concept of identity is critically put to work by identity-based literary study. Through readings of key authors from across the canon of Jewish American literature and culture—including Abraham Cahan, the New York Intellectuals, Philip Roth, and Jonathan Safran Foer—Benjamin Schreier shows how texts resist the historicist expectation that self-evident Jewish populations are represented in and recoverable from them. Through ornate, scabrous, funny polemics, Schreier draws the lines of relation between Jewish American literary study and American studies, multiethnic studies, critical theory, and Jewish Studies formations. He maintains that a Jewish Studies beyond ethnicity is essential for a viable future of Jewish literary study.


  • “Brilliant, original, and funny, this is the book many of us in Jewish and literary studies have been waiting for all these years: an absolutely convincing Jewish-literary-historical account of the impossibility of Jewish literary history and a stirring diagnosis of identity studies more broadly. The Impossible Jew will be a paradigm-shifting book.”

    —Daniel Itzkovitz, co-editor of Queer Theory and the Jewish Question

  • “This is a profound and articulate work of high theory. Summing Up: Highly recommended.”


  • "The Impossible Jew is a brilliant and valuable contribution to the same field of research Schreier wishes to dismantle, or at least disrupt. It foregrounds a broader, unceasing preoccupation with Jewish identity as an undetermined element scholars will never put to rest."

    Studies in Contemporary Jewry