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speculative rewriting of the past, can be read not only as a critique

of the present but also as a proposal for a turning away from and a

suspension of a teleological and preemptive understanding of history.

This rigid view of a nation’s trajectory can lead to justifying taking

drastic means to govern contingency and prevent alternative

historical paths from being articulated.

Three years later in 2007, another Jewish American writer,

Michael Chabon published

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

, in which

he imagines an interim Jewish settlement in Alaska rather than a

Jewish state in Palestine. It is no coincidence that two of the most

prominent Jewish American writers of their time have both taken up

the Holocaust as their subject, while cloaking their inquiry into this

subject behind the hypothetical question of a “what if” in plotting

understanding, self-definition, and self-representation. Historically, there have

been different claims about what constitutes the exceptionality of America: America

is exceptional in the sense that it is exemplary, different, unique, and/or missionary.

The idea that America is exceptional is a familiar, and very old theme in American

literature. The famous “city on the hill” sermon, delivered by John Winthrop to his

puritan followers, registers the early colonists’ fervent belief that the new “city on

the hill” that they were destined to build in the New World would be an exemplary

community for the whole world to behold. At the heart of Winthrop’s inspirational

rhetoric lies a messianic streak, the belief that the young country could not only set

itself up as an exemplary model to be emulated, but it is also its mission to further

the moral and political emancipation of the world. In the nineteenth-century,

American exceptionalism underwent a decisive shift when the “city on the hill”

idiom is fused with the rhetoric that it is the young nation’s “manifest destiny” to

expand westward. However, the desire to expand did not end with the “closing”

of the western frontier; it continues even today. The fusion of these two notions of

American exceptionalism

as an example or as its mission

has launched the US

into a series of wars, resulting, rather ironically, in its colonization of the native

peoples, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine–American War, the two World-

Wars, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the First Gulf War, and the War on Terror.

Wherever there is a national crisis, the language of American exceptionalism is

recycled both to assert America’s hegemonic position in the global geopolitics and

to justify America’s domestic and international policies. For a critical survey of the

historical development of American exceptionalism, including its cultural and

theological meanings and the implications for reshaping the field of American

Studies, please refer to Donald Pease’s “Exceptionalism” in

Keywords for American

Cultural Studies