Journal of American Studies

Lorrie Moore Collection

Lorrie Moore Collection“A Little Ethnic Kink Is Always Good to See”: Jewish Performance Anxiety and Anti-passing in the Fiction of Lorrie Moore

DAVID BRAUNER

Abstract

This essay explores the ways in which the performance of Jewish identity (in the sense both of representing Jewish characters and of writing about those characters’ conscious and unconscious renditions of their Jewishness) is a particular concern (in both senses of the word) for Lorrie Moore. Tracing Moore's representations of Jewishness over the course of her career, from the early story “The Jewish Hunter” through to her most recent novel, A Gate at the Stairs, I argue that it is characterized by (borrowing a phrase from Moore herself) “performance anxiety,” an anxiety that manifests itself in awkward comedy and that can be read both in biographical terms and as an oblique commentary on, or reworking of, the passing narrative, which I call “anti-passing.” Just as passing narratives complicate conventional ethno-racial definitions so Moore's anti-passing narratives, by representing Jews who represent themselves as other to themselves, as well as to WASP America, destabilize the category of Jewishness and, by implication, deconstruct the very notion of ethnic categorization.

Department of English Language and Literature, University of Reading. Email: d.brauner@reading.ac.uk.

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