Jew historicism: Delmore Schwartz and overdetermination

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Primarily through an investigation of his iconic story "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" and against a pervasive critical tendency to identify Delmore Schwartz with recognizably "Jewish"' sociocultural narratives, this article argues that Schwartzfinds experience alienating precisely in the expectation that it recover a legible reality. Indeed, the critical reduction of Schwartz to various formulaic accounts of Jewish assimilation, artistic genius, and modern estrangement ends up illuminating the very way in which Schwartz in fact resists these clichés. The paper relies on the idea of overdetermination as delineated by Freud and Althusser to outline Schwartz's insistence that the ideal imaginative investments made in experience - investments that are presumed to render reality emotionally and ethically useful - on the contrary put reality at an irretrievable remove. Understanding how Schwartz's engagement with modern experience is ultimately more intractable than the extant critical commonplaces about him allow provides an opportunity to move beyond ethnic and racial essentialism in the study of literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)500-530
Number of pages31
JournalProoftexts - Journal of Jewish Literature History
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Religious studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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