Filming identity in the Jewish American postwar; or, on the uses and abuses of periodization for Jewish studies

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Abstract

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 selfevidence of Jewish identity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-101
Number of pages26
JournalShofar
Volume34
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Religious studies

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