We are imaginary Jews
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This essay explores themes related to my creative work by analyzing John Berryman’s relationship to and appropriation of a specific kind of Jewish identity for his own aesthetic ends. Berryman’s claim to being an “Imaginary Jew” in his work, and the complicated position he creates for his autobiographical identity in the face of this explicitly constructed one, is problematic because of the obvious cultural appropriation of public Jewish suffering as a metaphor for Berryman’s private, emotional difficulties. I argue, however, that Berryman’s imaginative identification with the figure of the Jew is redeemed by its partiality; the failure to fully wear the mask of the Jew in his poems renders them less problematic precisely because it calls attention to the mask qua mask.