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The Cambridge Companion To Jewish American Literature
Hana Wirth-Nesher and Michael P. Kramer, eds.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
$63.30, 57,96 euros, 296 pages, ISBN 0-521-79293-2 (hardback).
$23.21, 21,25 euros, 316 pages, ISBN 0-521-79699-7 (paperback).

Geneviève Cohen-Cheminet
Université de la Sorbonne - Paris IV


This Companion is a very good read which may serve as a measuring rod of current trends. It will introduce uninitiated students to Jewish American Literature and give confirmed scholars fresher, thought-provoking insights about the field. It presents a List of Contributors, a linear Chronology of major dates, events and Jewish American artworks, an Introduction followed by fourteen essays which interrelate without overlapping, and an Index. Cited works come after each chapter for further reading. While presenting contents, this review will address some of the epistemological questions raised by the essays.

The Chronology section is an expected feature; the naive reader may wonder why presentation is linear when the editors claim "The history of the Jews in America is not linear" [p. 3] and the older hands will spot the usual traps of the field: Is a Jewish name enough to label an artwork Jewish ("1909 Gertrude Stein, Three Lives" [p. xi])? Does a Jewish name mean a Jewish action ("1854 Lévi-Strauss sells canvas pants to miners in California" [p. x]; "1989 First Seinfeld episode 77" [p. xv])? Is an individual Jew's achievement a community's achievement ("1973 Henry Kissinger is first Jew to be appointed Secretary of State" [p. xiv])? Incidentally, the position of first Jew as Poet Laureate is construed as a community achievement and attributed to H. Nemerov [p. xv] (for greater accuracy see <>, Karl Shapiro's 1946-47 term, Howard Nemerov's 1963-64 and 1988-90's second term). Which naturally raises the expected question, were Maxine Kumin, Anthony Hecht, Robert Pinsky appointed as Jews or as poets? One also hopes further editions will not register Testimony by Charles Reznikoff in 1933 [p. xii] (the poetic series was published in Going to and Fro and Walking up and Down 1941) and will give it its meaningful title (Testimony A Recitative, published in 1965, 1968 and 1978 for the landmark Black Sparrow Press volumes). Further editions may also need to check By the Waters of Manhattan [p. xii] (the book of verse By the Waters of Manhattan: an Annual, 1929, the 1930 novel or the 1962 By the Waters of Manhattan, Selected Verse?) and to straighten up facts (Charles Reznikoff, "the son of Polish immigrants," p. 155, "his moving pastiche Kaddish," p. 122).

In their introductory essay "Jewish American Literature in the making" Hana Wirth-Nesher and Michael P. Kramer start with the idea that American Jews flourished because "America was different" [p. 1] but keeps away from a complacent glorification of Jewish achievement. The introduction defines the Jewish component of the title. "In America, Jews from different places, times and backgrounds were confronted with a range of opportunities and challenges, and their literary responses were manifold" [p. 4]. The notion of The Jewish Search for a Usable Past (David Roskie) helps read a generation's choice of a representative writer from a reception perspective as an attempt to invoke the writer that a generation needs. The example of Sholem Aleichem is illuminating: he was first read as the authentic Old World writer in the 1920s and 1930s. Then Maurice Samuel translated his Yiddish into English in the 1940s and he became "a folk voice in an elegiac spirit" [p. 6]. Then Isaac Rosenfeld presented him through the Jewish New York intellectual lens of alienation. By the 1960s, Tevye the Dairyman had become the Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway "combining nostalgia with American integrationism" [p. 6] which Cynthia Ozick took strong exception to. The last twist being a reading of Aleichem as "proto-Zionist" [p. 6]. Finally, the introduction engages the American component of the title. It underlines how a changed ideological context has made the definition of American literature an issue in itself. In "a time of dissensus" [Sacvan Bercovitch, p. 6], traditional notions of literature have been challenged. The well-trodden distinction between "ethnic" and "American" has also collapsed since the hyphenated Jewish-American construction has been recognized as an expression of American culture [p. 7]. Not only has the context moved "beyond ethnicity" [Sollors, p. 7] but the demise of religion as a feature of differentiation ("the triple melting-pot of Protestant-Catholic-Jew" [p. 7]) together with the contemporary foregrounding of race has changed the Jews' place on the multicultural map. They fit neither in the white majority position nor in the peoples-of-color position. Because "Jewish identity is itself constituted of both descent and consent models, of genealogy and performance, of ethnicity and religion" [p. 8], it does not fit into the existing model of multiculturalism. Rather than defining Jewish American writing then, the editors see it as a process "in the making." So, the introduction explains the disappearance of the hyphen in the title which may go unnoticed but which marks the end of a critical era (Jewish-American Literature) or the beginning of a new one.

1. In "Beginnings and ends: the origins of Jewish American literary history," Michael P. Kramer usefully opposes the notion of Jewish origins to that of American beginnings as they emerge in Sephardic and German immigrants' writing-Judah Monis, Moses Seixas, Gershom Seixas, Mordecai Manuel Noah, Isaac Meyer Wise, Emma Lazarus. M. Kramer's reading traces two competing narratives, the Jewish narrative which placed America in the long-term Jewish history and textuality and the American narrative which emphasized discontinuity, originality, autochtony and a self-sufficient national literature. In contrast, Jewish American history is said to be part of a larger Jewish civilization defined by its indebtedness or its "belatedness, its reliance on earlier texts" [p. 14] and "the unbroken textual tradition" which "effectively substitutes for [...] the political history of the Jews" [p. 14]. However, once European Wissenschaft des Judentums thinkers started to read Jewish history as discontinuous and once Judaism was reformed in the US, the barrier between American and Jewish narratives eventually broke down and they coalesced in the 1850s. This led to Jewish American literature.

>2. "Imagining Judaism in America" by Susannah Heschel takes up the same issues but crosses over to the present. She focuses on the evolution of Jewish thinkers who have "imaginatively constituted" [p.31]--i.e. ideologically constructed--American Judaism and the way American Jews interpreted their role in the nation. She clearly outlines a shift from hoped-for proximity ("America as a site of liberation from Europe" [p. 47]) to sought-after distance ("America was a compelling enticement to abandon their religion and identity" [p. 33]). In contrast to their European counterparts who needed to assert Judaism's legitimacy against Christianity's claim to exclusive truth, American Jews first viewed America as an expression of Jewish values which "demonstrated their own suitability for America" [p. 38]. They reformed Judaism in the 1840s (Max Lilienthal, Isaac Wise, David Einhorn, Samuel Adler, Bernard Felsenthal, Samuel Hirsch) repudiated European Judaism as "oppressive, backward, and authoritarian" [p. 36], distorted by persecution and economic discrimination. The Gilded Age, Darwinism, the comparative study of religions made it difficult for liberal Judaism (Kaufmann Kohler) to maintain the notion of a singular Judaism and this evolution was carried further by modernizer Mordecai Kaplan who "sought to shape a Judaism distinctive to America, making Jewish values accord with American" [p. 38]. His impact on worship, on the Reconstructionist movement (1960s) also created the dilemmas that plagued the end of the century. Jewish optimism ended with World War II and a new awareness of America as "a needy, dispirited, and even corrupt society" [p. 41]. It led thinkers (Abraham Joshua Heschel, Joseph Soloveitchik, Shlomo Carlebach, Richard Rubinstein) to reclaim formerly rejected aspects of traditional Judaism. But their reappropriation of European Orthodoxy as a source of inspiration occurred after it had been destroyed. The end of the essay outlines trends since the 1960s and defines the dominant type of American Jewishness in very negative terms: "Just as Jews appropriated 'blackface' in the early part of the century to assimilate into American society and assure their position as whites, American Jews toward the end of the century appropriated a 'Jewface' [...], an imitation of the Jewish, an impersonation of European Judaism in the absence of an inner sense of American Jewish authenticity."[p. 48]

3. The next essay picks up the same thread of authenticity but goes back to the days "Of Crucibles and grandfathers: The East European immigrants." Priscilla Wald reads "assimilative Americanization" [p. 55] at the turn of the century in "the literature of Yiddish New York" [p. 67]. She covers familiar grounds (Israel Zangwill's The Melting-Pot, Mary Antin's The Promised Land, Jacob Riis' How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York, Abraham Cahan's Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto, Sholem Aleichem's Adventures of Mottel the Cantor's Son, Anzia Yezierska's Hungry Hearts, Bread Givers and Salome of the Tenements) and each interpretation is nuanced and contextualized (Horace Kallen's "cultural pluralism as a conservative ideology" [p. 55], Chicago sociologists Robert E Park, Ernest W. Burgess contribution).

4. "Coney Island, USA: America in the Yiddish literary imagination" by David G. Roskies goes further along the same line and views Coney Island as "the unique, liminal space" [p. 89] occupied by Yiddish American literature, a trope of its in-betweeness. The common trope to Morris Rosenfeld, Sholem Asch, Moyshe-Leyb Halpern, Mani Leyb, Jacob Glatstein, Joseph Opatoshu, Lamed Shapiro and Yitskhok Bashevis (Singer) is that they have "their backs to America and their faces to the ocean" [p. 70]. They witnessed how "a self-sustaining Yiddish secular culture in America" [p. 86] failed and how a return to the core of Yiddish culture meant a return to a vanished ghetto or to a "reimagined past" [p. 87]: "Yiddish literature in America gave voice to an anxious present caught between a severed past and an unattainable future" [p. 89]. This triangular situation overlaps the linguistic triangle enacted by Yiddish: "The Hebrew-Aramaic component stood in for the distant, mythic past; the Slavic, for the recent, severed past; and the Germanic, for the present and future"[p. 72].

5. "Hebrew literature in America" by Alan Mintz breaks new territories. It discloses the less expected existence of Hebrew literature written in America, "the best-kept secrets of Jewish American cultural history" [p. 92]. It debunks several myths: first, that Yiddish was the immigrants' unique linguistic option [p. 92]; second, that all immigrants were illiterate ("American Hebraism was the activity of a small elite, cultural in nature rather than religious" [p. 93]); third, that Americanization meant monolingualism ("[Hebraists resisted] the monopoly of American culture and language over the life of the educated Jew" [p. 93]); fourth, that the revival of Hebrew meant Israeli Hebrew ("Hebrew culture had long been revived in Eastern Europe, before the establishment of Israel" [p. 93]); last, that the Jewish national idea was only territorial ("The revival of Hebrew as a language for social criticism, cultural discourse, political debate, as well as a language for poetry, fiction, and drama was part and parcel of the Jewish national enterprise" [p. 93]). Alan Mintz's line of approach is to read "the Americanness of American Hebrew writers" [p. 100], i.e. Israel Efros, Shimon Ginsberg, Yosef Haim Brenner, Ephraim Lisitzky, Menachem Ribalow, Shaul Tchernichovsky, Avraham Shlonsky, Uri Zvi Greenberg, David Fogel. He interestingly stresses that American Zionism embodied by Louis Brandeis had little interest in Hebrew as a common Jewish language in America and that although Hebraists were an influential elite, their very commitment to Hebrew limited their ability to reach large audiences.

6. "Traces of the past: multilingual Jewish American writing" is closely related to the previous essay. The angle of approach is different however, since it claims Werner Sollors' Multilingual America: Transnationalism, Ethnicity, and the Languages of American Literature [1998] as its theoretical backbone. Hana Wirth-Nesher argues that bilingualism is the common characteristic of Jewish literary works and fits into American multiculturalism when "the original and the translation become 'recognizable parts of a greater language' " [p. 127], when mixing does not mean dissolving. She presents a chronological overview starting from the bilingualism of immigration (Abraham Cahan's bilingual puns in Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto [pp. 113-114], Mary Antin's linguistic passing in The Promised Land) then she watches how it was replaced in the 1950s and 1960s by the bilingualism of ethnicity (Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March, Grace Paley's The Little Disturbances of Man, Bernard Malamud's The Jewbird). Then Jewish languages are said to have been redefined in the post-Holocaust period, "once immigration shifted from personal experience to collective memory" [p. 119]. H. Wirth-Nesher joins forces with previous papers when she notes unsparingly: "The fierce drive away from Yiddish that marked many immigrant writers has been partly replaced by a romanticizing or reifying of Yiddish as a sacred touchstone of Jewish collective identity" [p. 118]. So, Yiddish eventually receded (Cynthia Ozick's The Shawl, Philip Roth Eli, the Fanatic). With English as a "birthright" [p. 119], where is Jewish bilingual authenticity to be found? It is Hebrew which takes on the role of familiar and foreign language, either the sacred language of religious practice (C. Ozick's Puttermesser Papers) or secular Israeli Hebrew (Johanna Kaplan's America and I, Aryeh Lev Stollman's The Far Euphrates, Myla Goldberg's Bee Season). The essay ends with Henry Roth's Call it Sleep [pp. 122-127] and the issue of translation and multilingualism.

What strikes me most here is that this essay marks the passing/demise of the Yiddish paradigm of collective identity which has been prevailing since the 1970s (Allen Guttman's The Jewish Writer in America: Assimilation and the Crisis of Identity, Oxford UP, 1971). Many other contributors heartily debunk the nostalgia and second-hand myths of Old World Yiddishkeit which have clogged literary criticism. One may note that this new Hebrew American bilingualism paradigm of legitimate identity is presented with qualifications. Worshipping by rote in Hebrew is not synonymous with bilingual proficiency or creativity. And speaking two languages--Hebrew and English, or any other vernacular language--is hardly news when seen in the broader perspective of diasporic communities. So, one wonders, is shifting away from Yiddish toward Hebrew a falling back on familiar diasporic patterns or an avant-garde change? Are we closer to David Roskies's in-between trope or to Alan Mintz's Ben Yehuda-like pioneering activism? Depending on the answer, the new paradigm may then either point to the resilience of the myth of American exceptionalism (America as the Promised Land) or to the place of Israel in Jewish American letters. Finally, one may underline an evolution from H. Wirth-Nesher's What is Jewish Literature? (Jewish Publication Society, 1994), in which she cogently pointed out "C. Ozick famously remarked: ' [...] two deeply obvious circumstances. The first is that of all Jews alive today, 45 percent live in America, and perhaps 50 percent have English for their mother-tongue. [...] The second is that there has been, from America, no ingathering of Jews into the land of Israel. But why not ? [...] We are, after all, the first Diaspora in two millennia to exist simultaneously with the homeland [...] with the restoration of Zion.'" C. Ozick's reminder of Jewish American monolingualism tones down the optimism of an American Hebrew bilingual model. The present essay will make us watch out for future developments: will this model become the rule in the future? Will it be the preserve of an elite? How will Hebrew relate to English?

7. Donald Weber's "Accents of the future: Jewish American popular culture" lively describes expected themes from early immigrant cinema (Edward Sloman's His People), comedy (Sid Caesar, Gertrude Berg, the Marx Brothers, Mel Brooks, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen), TV shows (Brooklyn Bridge, Thirtysomething), "Yinglish" [p. 137] and "Yidditude" [p. 141]. One may wonder about such comments, "he deconstructs goyish-American whitebread wholesomeness" [p. 141], or "The most wackily inventive television series to explore the state of the contemporary Jewish soul in the diaspora was the award-winning [ABC's] Northern Exposure " [p. 145], but the essay's conclusion that "Jews can be nostalgic for their parents' nostalgia" [p. 146] confirms other essays'.

8. Maeera Shreiber's "Jewish American poetry" aims to specify "the material difference Jewishness makes to poetic practice" [p. 150] in a chronological survey of poets, from Yiddish poets (Moyshe Leyb Halpern, Jacob Glatshteyn, Malka Heifetz Tussman, Kadya Molodowsky), and Objectivist poets Charles Reznikoff and Louis Zukofsky, to Muriel Rukeyser and Karl Shapiro, Allen Ginsberg and Adrienne Rich, ending with Jerome Rothenberg and Irena Klepfisz. Coming after so many essays debunking Yiddishkeit-based mythology, the argument is weakened by the choice of such familiar topoi as "Yiddish, a deterritorialized language," "linguistic loss as a founding principle of Jewish American poetic practice" [p. 151], or "the condition of outsidedness or marginality" [p. 151], "a commitment to history" [p. 153] to define "Jewish aesthetics" [p. 153]). The paper earnestly searches for "key aesthetic issues characteristic of Jewish American poetry" but such statements should be more discussed: "[Karl Shapiros's claim] raises the possibility that a specific ethnic orientation may bring with it certain, specific aesthetic implications" or "Charles Reznikoff is [...] devoted to exploring the aesthetic implications, indeed obligations, of Jewishness" [p. 153], or "But Reznikoff hardly adopts a consistently pious agenda" [p. 153]. One wonders what in nominal Jewishness may determine aesthetic choices. The essay asserts the theoretical possibility of reading an aesthetic agenda in personal identity and of linking "the various identity positions, aesthetic dilemmas, and formal innovations that distinguish this complex body of writing" [p. 150]. But seen from the perspective of What is Jewish Literature? this may be an essentialist assertion bordering on stereotyping. Seen from the broader perspective of American poetry to which this body of works belongs such a critical strategy may undervalue the formative influence of modernism (TS Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams) and postmodernism. Jewish American poets are not insulated from mainstream aesthetics. Ginsberg, Rich or Rothenberg are read as Jewish but they also attended school, traveled, went to art galleries or read other poets, in English or in other languages. Last, seen from the paper's own perspective, the choice of these poets to illustrate "marginality" and "outsidedness" is rather unfortunate since few twentieth-century writers have enjoyed such mainstream popularity and readership. So, one may need to redefine Jewish aesthetics in terms other than personal identity. But reading the essay is worthwhile precisely because it raises this unsolved question.

9. "Jewish American writers on the left" by Alan Wald and 10. "Jewish American Renaissance" by Ruth R. Wisse provide a rich survey for any reader interested in the New York intellectuals, at mid-century (Lionel Trilling, Philip Rahv, Leslie Fiedler, Alfred Kazin, Irving Howe, Harold Rosenberg, Clement Greenberg, Norman Podhoretz, Nathan Glazer, etc). Both essays come to notice the same cultural shift: "As [the Jewish intellectuals and literary cohort of the 1940s and 1950s] gradually abandoned the European models of an adversarial intelligentsia and the posture of a Jewry forever on trial, they assumed for America the kind of responsibility that Jewish tradition has always demanded of its learned and literary elite" [p. 208]. This usefully links up with 12. "Jewish American women writers and the race question" in which Susan Gubar explains why "the so-called 'Jewish American renaissance [...]' has no female-authored counterparts" [p. 232]. She further relates their writings (Lore Segal, Irena Klepfisz) to African American writings and points out common features ("(passing), internalization of hostile images (self-blaming), and scapegoating (the construction of a pariah class)" [p. 240]) and argues both for and against a comparison of slavery with the Holocaust [pp. 236-248].

11. "The Holocaust in the Jewish American imagination" by Emily Miller Budick has a different take on the issue. It is a threefold charge against "the Jewish community's fascination with the Holocaust." First comes the fascination exemplified by "the community's idealization, idolization (fetishizing) of Anne Frank's Diary" [p. 213]. E.M. Budick joins "recent moves in the American intellectual debate [which] call into question the community's way of constructing personal and communal identity on the basis of a trauma not even their own, which is taken on retrospectively for just the purpose of what has come to be called identity politics" [p. 213]. Here, the point is to debunk "a particularly American form of Holocaust fiction" [p. 214], i.e. "Holocaust-focused," works (Art Spiegelman's Maus, Philip Roth's The Ghost Writer) which are both blamed for being "characteristically American texts" [p. 214], variations on the American genre of "immigrant or refugee novel" [p. 214]. Basically, what is wrong is that they are not about the Holocaust but they inscribe the Holocaust in the primary agenda of Jewish identity in the US [p. 216]. E.M. Budick further faults them with a self-serving instrumentation of the Holocaust, "Excise the cancer, get rid of the trauma, those texts seem to say, and not only does the patient die, but their progeny have nothing to write about. [...] Yet without his father's story, which threatens to overwhelm his, Spiegelman has no story at all" [p. 215]. This also applies to other writers: "Rebecca Goldstein, Allegra Goodman, Melvin Bukiet, Lev Raphael, Nathan Englander, and Thane Rosenbaum all write post-Holocaust, Holocaust-inflected texts, in pursuit of their [...] Jewish-and most importantly American concerns" [p. 216]. The word is repeatedly put in italics. E.M. Budick nails Holocaust fiction down for "the project of creating a Jewish American tradition distinct from any other national Jewish [...] tradition" [p. 216]. At this point, the article reaches its second point and argues that this American Jewish story is ready to drop the Jewish component in order to run its full American course. To be sure, there are extenuating circumstances to this betrayal, America was spared the Holocaust, America is for most American Jews the solution to antisemitism not its cause, and the Jew is American. E.M. Budick uses this arresting phrase, "the new American reality of the Jew" [p. 217]. However, Jewish American writing grows out of "inherited or secondary trauma" and uses the Holocaust in a self-serving "project of sustaining identity" [p. 218]. This is preempting the Holocaust. Here the argument borrows from Dominick LaCapra, Walter Benn Michaels and Lawrence Berger. The essay then formulates its second paradox, "a no-win bind. Forget the past and the Jewish component falls away. Remember the past and you write European rather than American fiction" [p. 218]. The essay reaches its last point here, presenting ways "the best fiction" would resist preemption. The solution is to restore individual voice [p. 219] and ask the past "to assist us so that we can construct a meaningful life" [p. 220]. Under any other premises, Holocaust writing is "a sustained act of violation of what is forbidden to say" [p. 220], a reenactment of the trauma defined by its muteness, a regression, a humiliation, a rhetorical attempt to prove when "Nothing can prevent Holocaust denial" [p. 222], a self-defeating attempt against an inescapable antireality effect. Accepting these basic flaws means taking responsibility and writing "from within the position of the ghost brother and sister of the murdered siblings" [p. 224]. E.M. Budick reaches the conclusion that "Jewish responsibility is to perpetuate the memory and perpetuate the race that Hitler intended to annihilate" [p. 225]. "Progeneration" is the duty in view of "the specific endangerment of Jews" [p. 227]. The article ends up on the following choice, either "an end-of-the-line scenario of Jewish history" [p. 227] or responsibility to one's "proper" [p. 228] genealogy defined by the Covenant, Hebrew and a form of messianic mourning of the past leading to "blessings for the future" [p. 229].

This ecumenical statement ends a thought-provoking essay. The anti-lyrical posture is refreshing compared to the mass of tearful or self-glorifying critical writing on the subject. E.M. Budick's command of the field may nonetheless leave the reader wishing for more detailed textual readings of the works mentioned. The risk inherent to the notion of "Literary Imagination" is that Holocaust fiction might be treated in an ahistorical manner thus flattening out literary differences between, say, 1944 Dangling Man and 1997 The Far Euphrates which were produced and received in very different cultural eras. The force of the argument therefore rests on detailed textual reading to sustain attack as is the case in the early pages on Ozick's The Shawl and Maus. In that particular instance, the punchline ("without his father's story Spiegelman has no story at all") illustrates how the essay functions. It usefully breaks away from universal eulogy, offers an alternative, icon-breaking perspective which is stimulating. However, the European reader who is used to seeing Jews routinely accused of cashing in on Auschwitz may wonder why E.M. Budick uses such a double-edged argument whose critical extension remains doubtful. Would anyone need to blame Stephen Crane for cashing in on the Civil War? Again, the criticism leveled at Holocaust fiction offers a useful synthesis of some of the past debates on the issue but saying that the Holocaust is too sanctified by suffering to allow its instrumentation does not quite mean the Holocaust should remain a non-American territory. Whose territory should it be? Should it be a national preserve? Here again, the essay argues against "the project of creating a Jewish American tradition distinct from any other national Jewish [...] tradition" [p. 216] but fails to explain why the Israeli tradition should exclude Jewish European traditions ("European-authored texts" and European scholarship are glaringly absent from the essay and from the volume taken as a whole). Nor does it explain why Holocaust writing should be defined in nationalistic terms ("European fiction" pitted against "American fiction"). In a word, "Deterritorializing and reterritorializing the Holocaust through fiction" might be a more accurate title for this essay which interestingly addresses the question of the degradation of a major historical event into a societal symptom. It is worth reading despite (or for) its openly partisan stand.

13. "Contemporary literary theory and Jewish American poetics" by Shira Wolosky and 14. "Identity matters: contemporary Jewish American writing" by Tresa Grauer recap many of the issues already covered by the previous articles. Shira Wolosky discusses three Yale scholars from the 1950s onward (Harold Bloom, John Hollander, Geoffrey Hartman) and extends to Sacvan Bercovitch as "the major theorist of a poetics of American culture" [p. 250]. She focuses on poetry and poetics because "theirs is a theory of figures," of the way language represents. "This reflection on the figural power of language is also what they themselves see as the Jewish core of their theories, tying them to traditions of Jewish interpretation" [p. 250]. They bring a "Judaic hermeneutic to bear on American texts." The article mentions Midrash and Literature scholars (Geoffrey Hartman, Sanford Budick, Daniel Boyarin, David Stern), sociologists (Norman Finkielstein, Rael Meyerowitz, Susanne Klingenstein). The article is less interested in personal identity than in how "literary theory reflects Judaic concerns and, even more, represents itself doing so" [p. 252]. The figure of the chain (chain of transmission, chain of interpretation, the issue of tradition, history) helps read through these very different thinkers. The last paper goes back to the issue of identity, this time defined in concrete religious terms. The works mentioned all partake of this "impulse toward particularism-toward defining the 'I' in terms of a particular collective 'we' " [p. 271]: Irena Klepfisz's Dreams of an Insomniac, Allegra Goodman's Kaaterskill Falls, as well as pilgrimage-to-Israel writers (Nessa Rapoport's Preparing for Sabbath, Anne Roiphe's Lovingkindness, Victor Perera's The Cross and the Pear: A Sephardic Journey). The article rightfully raises the following questions: "Can the stories of a single family be in any way representative of a collective history? What is the relationship between history and mythology? Can stories of the past reveal the self ?" [p. 282].

To conclude, the book argues in favor of transnationalism and multilingualism but is limited to Israeli and American scholars although Jewish American literature is read and studied in other parts. One may regret this parochial choice of critical resources which somehow invalidates back cover claims to diversity. Methodologically, the mirror theory, or its variant the stimulus-response theory of literature, still prevails to account for the relationship existing between culture and society. The volume is thus unified by common theoretical assumptions, essays making an abundant use of "register, resonate, echo, reflect, chronicle, record, finds its expression in." However, reading such phrases as "Sophie's real-life counterparts [p. 67] in our post-structuralist and post-deconstructionist context makes one wonder about the validity or usefulness of critical efforts which do not question their theoretical tools. That one should find such familiar contents in the book is part of its appeal. But also part of its weakness.

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