Modernity, Culture, and 'The Jew' (Contraversions Jews and Other Differences)

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9780804730709: Modernity, Culture, and 'The Jew' (Contraversions Jews and Other Differences)

This book provides a rich and wide-ranging analysis of Jewish history and culture, relating them to theories of modernity and postmodernity and to recent debates on ethnicity and postcolonialism. The sixteen essays are divided into four parts, addressing psychoanalysis and gender, literary antisemitism, modernity/postmodernity and “the Jew,” and the memory of the Holocaust. A Foreword and Afterword place these concerns in an extended multicultural and postcolonial context.

What is at stake when Jewish history and culture are inserted into current feminist, gay and lesbian, postcolonial and postmodern revisions of modernity? Even the radical reconstruction of modernity has created a host of new orthodoxies which themselves need to be unsettled. Along with an amorphous “political correctness,” mainstream cultural studies has, routinely, written out the question of Jewishness, assuming it as part of a supposed “Judeo-Christian” tradition. On the other side of the barricades, however, those apologists for the efficacy of Western modernity have continued to banish Jewish difference from their brave new world in a desperate bid to signify the universality of the modern project.

The essays in this collection are written in the margins of these reductive oppositions. They recognize that the Jewish other is both at the heart of Western metropolitan culture and is also what must be excluded in order for dominant racial and sexual identities to be formed and maintained. There is a virtue in this ambivalent positioning, this center of the road, which characterizes Jewish history and culture both then and now.

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From the Back Cover:

This book provides a rich and wide-ranging analysis of Jewish history and culture, relating them to theories of modernity and postmodernity and to recent debates on ethnicity and postcolonialism. Issues addressed include psychoanalysis and gender, literary anti-semitism, (post)modernity and 'the Jew', and the memory of the Holocaust. A Foreword by Homi Bhabha and an Afterword by Paul Gilroy place these concerns in an extended multicultural and postcolonial context.


The book examines the work of past and present cultural theorists who have placed the figure of 'the Jew' at the heart of their version of modernity and postmodernity. Many of the essays locate 'the Jew' at the centre of Western metropolitan culture. But they also explore the ways in which Jews have historically been excluded in order for ascendant racial and sexual identities to be formed and maintained. Cheyette and Marcus argue that there is a virtue in the ambivalent positioning which characterizes Jewish history and culture both then and now.


The volume places a disruptive and uncontainable Jewish history and culture in the context of current debates about gendered, sexual and ethnic identities. It challenges postcolonial and postmodern revisions of modernity which locate Jews in a dominant Judeo-Christian tradition or appropriate them to signify the universality of the modern subject. It will be of interest to students and scholars in Jewish studies, cultural studies, sociology, history, literature and philosophy.

About the Author:

Bryan Cheyette is Reader in the School of English Drama at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London. He is the editor of Between Race and Culture: Representations of 'the Jew' in English and American Literature (Stanford, 1996). Laura Marcus is Lecturer in Englisha and Humanities at Birkbeck College, University of London

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Bryan Cheyette (Editor), Laura Marcus (Editor)
Published by Stanford University Press (1998)
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