Benjamin Schreier, Professor of English and Jewish Studies
Though “Palestine”—as place, national aspiration, conflict, refugee crisis, and/or figure for political-cultural investments—stands at the institutional origin of the fields of Arab American literature in particular and Arab American studies more generally, Palestinian American literature itself has so far mostly failed to become a discrete object of disciplinary study. Palestinian American authors have by no means been ignored, but they are rarely analyzed outside other, subordinating frameworks. This has limited opportunities to critically examine mechanisms of identity- and institution-formation. An emergent archive, which might otherwise support a dynamic field of dedicated literary scholarship, instead frequently suffers overdetermination. It’s regularly merged into Arab American literature, itself a composite category representing a patchwork of histories, which reveals much about U.S. cultural politics, but less about Palestinian specificity. Sometimes it’s relegated to Middle East studies, either considered other than unproblematically “American” or disciplinarily subsumed under the non-literary methodologies that predominate there. Or it gets studied in an auxiliary relationship to Israel politics, Jewish identification, or Jewish American literature, subject to a dominant Jewish studies approach I call “Zionist” for its colonization of anything related to Israel for the purposes of Jewish self-knowledge. Palestine’s historical precedence and specificity are forgotten, Palestinian American literature’s autonomy is foreclosed, or the Palestinian Diaspora is demoted to a “problem” for Jews. Can Palestinian American literature speak in its own terms?