This article takes the cliché of Jewish American literary breakthrough in the late 1950s as an opportunity to examine the perverse professional legibility of the Jewish American literary field: everyone knows about it, but few scholars outside the field take it seriously according to the reigning canons of scholarly importance. If early critics of the Jewish American literary field celebrated this emergence, its ethic of assimilation was starkly at odds with an increasingly influential multiculturalism, even as these critics relied on an implicit multicultural logic in justifying the field. A critical exploration of this paradox—and a critical genealogy of how the field got to this point—shows how the marginalization of Jewish American literary study in the contemporary academy reveals an important story about the origin and development of a currently dominant concept of identity in the humanities, even as it reveals how the Jewish American literary field continues to operate in the shadow of this cliché.

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