Jewish American canons : assimilation, identity, and the invention of postwar Jewish American literature / Jeremy Shere
Includes bibliographical references
In recent years scholars and critics of Jewish writing have begun referring to a "canon" of Jewish American literature. Yet during the emergence of Jewish writers on the American literary scene after World War II, the existence of such a canon was hardly a given. This dissertation investigates the following questions: (1) What do scholars mean when they write about a "canon" of Jewish American literature? (2) When, how, and why did this canon develop? (3) What can the mechanics of the canon's assembly tell us about the related evolution of American Jewish identity?The dissertation addresses these issues historically. I investigate canon-forming texts---anthologies of Jewish American writing, literary criticism focused on Jewish authors, and novels written by Jewish American authors in the postwar period---within the context of major intellectual trends and developments influenced and in some cases initiated by Jewish intellectuals.My research shows that the concept of a "Jewish American Canon" took shape under the influence of two related and sometimes opposed forces: assimilation and the reinvention of Jewish identity in postwar America. In the postwar period many intellectuals and writers, including Irving Howe, Harold Ribalow, Irving Malin, Meyer Levin, Leslie Fiedler, and later Cynthia Ozick and Ruth Wisse turned to Jewish literary history as a base from which to conceive a literary Jewishness not completely at odds with modern intellectual sensibilities. As American Jews rapidly assimilated into the American mainstream, these and other intellectuals, anthologists, and writers struggled to invent working definitions of "the Jewish writer" and "Jewish American literature." The work of these and other figures has resulted in competing versions of a Jewish American canon meant to define and reflect modern Jewish American life.
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