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A Culture of Tough Jews

Rhetorical Regeneration and the Politics of Identity


David Moscowitz

From brutal Nazi killers to Hanukkah heroes in the ’hood, tough Jews refute images of doomed Holocaust victims, wandering Jews of exile before them, and the post-war ‘nice Jewish boys’ who followed. They foster belligerent responses to polemics of fear and self-hatred, and as such, materialize as a challenge for postmodern cultural identity. A Culture of Tough Jews reframes the tough Jew as an enduring act of rhetorical regeneration by reifying a related figure, the vital Jew. As corrective to the tough Jew, the vital Jew encourages robust cultural production and dialogue. For audiences of rhetoric and cultural studies, the book offers critical and theoretical study of rhetorical regeneration, including original constructs of postmodern blackface and transformative performativity, as a resource for contemporary rhetorical invention. It also constitutes a case study for the postmodern critique of identity by invoking concerns of (post)assimilation, gender and power, and the social construction of race, ethnicity, class, and power to advance conversations on fractious cultural exigencies. A Culture of Tough Jews is a spirited call for postmodern cultural vitality that responds to contemporary politics of identity and memory.
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It is humbling to think about how acts of consequence are rarely performed in solitude. Sure, the act of writing, particularly the kind that comprises this book, is pretty hermetic, but the production of this writing (and its distribution) is not. Given how this project is fueled by a continual call for vitality in our discourse and a more robust understanding of culture and identity, that we are all in this together, it is gratifying to remember many folks who helped make this book happen.

Clarence reminds us at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life that nobody is a failure who has friends. So many have nurtured my wings across the stages of this project. This book began at Indiana University in conversations both serious and irreverent with my CMCL cohort, including Jeff Bennett, Cara Buckley, Tonia Edwards, Suzanne Enck, Claire King, Tom Mentzer, Jeff Motter, Jamie Skerski, Darrel Wanzer, and Isaac West. It has continued during my time with engaged, supportive colleagues at Butler University and College of Charleston. Chad Bauman, Claire Curtis, Katharina Dulckeit, Allison Harthcock, Terri Jett, Larry Krasnoff, Mike Lee, Tamara Leech, Leigh Moscowitz, David Parisi, Ann Savage, and Kristin Swenson have provided the gift of gab and shrewd, critical perspectives that challenge and enrich the work that I do. In particular, my years in Indianapolis began my career and fueled my research in manifold ways, from Rae Kridel’s generous ← XI | xii → invitation early on for me to speak at the...

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