The Continuing Allegorization of the “Jew”
The “Secret Jew” and the “True Jew”
Paul's allegorization of the Jew is, in fact, twofold. On the one hand, Israel is, as I have been arguing throughout, the signifier of the new Israel, ultimately to be the Christian church. For Paul, this seems to be the primary referent of the sign Israel and thus the Jews. On the other hand, there are two textual moments in the Pauline corpus that lend themselves to another, somewhat more sinister, reading of the signifier Jew. I mean Romans 2 and 7, where we can (and a certain tradition does) read the Jew as a symbol for everything that Christ and Paul have come to negate. These two symbolizations of the Jew have their historical continuation in the continued allegorizations of “Jew” in European culture until now. I have called them the trope of the “secret Jew in all of us” and the trope of the “true Jew.” The first-mentioned trope continues a traditional reading of Romans whereby the Jew represents homo religiosus or some other despised human characteristic, while the second continues the Pauline theme whereby the Jews are the material signifier transcended by their allegorical, spiritual signified.
The “Jew” as Symbol of Inferior Religion: Rudolf Bultmann, Ernst Käsemann, and Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly
The “Secret Jew”
The key text for the neo-Lutheran theological appropriations of Paul by Rudolf Bultmann and his student Ernst Käsemann is Romans 2. In this chapter, Paul addresses a singular, anonymous Jewish interlocutor as “O Jew.” This formal usage has lent itself very conveniently to those who wish to see here EveryJew, and indeed to allegorize EveryJew as a contemnable part of Everyman. Bultmann and Käsemann have revived in all its glory the Lutheran tradition whereby Paul stood against everything Jewish as the very essence of that which God hated and which he had sent Christ (and Paul) to strike down.
Having seen one possible reading of the first part of Romans 2 (above in Chapter 4), let us see what happens to it in the hands of Ernst Käsemann, who, it will be remembered, is one of Bultmann's leading neo-Lutheran heirs. As shown there, this chapter is eminently readable as a critique of Jews who believe that merely being Jewish will afford one a place in the economy of salvation; indeed it is an attack on a notion that by grace alone, one may be saved. Paul argues strenuously, indeed, that it is only by good works that anyone is justified. He redefines, however, at the end of the chapter, of what it is that good works consists. These are not, as the Jew would think, those practices that mark them off from the Nations, such as circumcision, but rather those spiritually understood universal allegorical meanings of the practices, such as faith and love. Käsemann, in accordance with his religious ideology inherited from his teacher and ultimately from the whole Lutheran tradition, reads the Jew who is being addressed in this chapter as “religious man.” Accordingly, verse 4 becomes for him not a charge against “real” Jews that they forget that God's special regard for the Jews is a demand that they repent—“Or do you think lightly of the wealth of his goodness and of his forbearance and patience, disregarding the fact that the kindness of God is to lead you to repentance?”—but something else entirely:
The danger of the pious person is that of isolating God's gifts from the claim which is given with them, and of forgetting to relate forbearance and patience to the Judge of the last day. Humans always crave security. They seek to obtain it through moralism, worshipping the gods, or trusting the divine goodness. (Käsemann 1980, 55)
Paul's “Jew” is no longer as in my interpretation—based on Dunn's—a real Jew at all but a symbol or allegory for the “pious person”—a pejorative in Existential Theology. Käsemann goes on to say that, “The person represented typically by the Jew is determined by σκληρότης [hardness] and, in explication, by the καρδία ἀμετανόητος [impenitent heart]” (56). On the one hand, Käsemann, superficially similarly to Dunn, recognizes as well that these terms are drawn from biblical preaching of repentance itself, but on the other hand, for him the repentance that Paul calls for is not repentance from failure to keep the Law but from success in keeping the Law. This move is brought out clearly in such a statement as the following: “ θησαυρίζειν is not used ironically (contra Michel). It derives from the good Jewish view that a person accumulates capital in heaven with his works when he is alive.…Paul, however, changes the Jewish expectation into its opposite” (57). Hidden in this statement is a truly sinister interpretation of Paul—although one which the entire Lutheran tradition prepares—that Paul is not claiming that Jews who do not keep the Law, claiming instead privilege by its mere possession, are storing up wrath for the day of wrath, but that Jews who do keep the Law and believe that thus they are storing up merits are, in fact, only accumulating wrath. As Käsemann puts it explicitly in another place, “works of the law…[by which Käsemann means all good works and ethical striving] are for Paul a higher form of godlessness than transgression of the law and are thus incompatible with faith” (103)—to which I as a Jew would instinctively reply that such “godlessness” is surely preferable to God than a faith that does not issue in ethics. Now Käsemann clearly recognizes that the next verses (6–8) are extraordinarily difficult for traditional Protestant interpretations of Paul, his among them:
“who will render to each according to his works.” To those who seek for glory and honor and immortality by perseverance in doing good—eternal life. But to those who out of selfish ambition also disobey the truth, being persuaded to unrighteousness—wrath and anger.
These verses are extremely difficult ones for Protestant Paulinism, whereby works not only are insufficient for salvation but actually constitute sinfulness. Indeed well might have “Roman Catholics seized on it, not without malicious joy for their dogmatics,” for these verses clearly say that at the last judgment one will be judged by one's works (57). In fact, the problems which this chapter presents are much deeper and more fatal for a Lutheran Paul than Käsemann is willing to admit. The Jew who is addressed by Paul here is not a Jew who has confidence in her achievement in keeping the Law and thereby denies God's grace, but exactly the opposite. The Jew whom Paul is addressing and attacking here is a Jew who does not successfully keep the Law, and relies on God's grace to the Jews to save her at the last judgment. Paul's adversary is covenantal grace, not good works. Romans 2, I submit, renders the Lutheran reading of Paul, and with it Käsemann's, simply nonsensical. In the brilliant and biting formulation of Francis Watson: “The Jews teach a doctrine of sola gratia, and this leads them to live by the maxim pecca fortiter ” (Watson 1986, 112). The biblical theologoumenon, established in the Torah and repeated in the Prophets—which Paul knows and even asserts in Romans 9–11—that in the end salvation is guaranteed to the Jews, could easily lead to the (mis)understanding that Jews do not even need to keep the commandments in order to be saved, and Paul's argument here is thus one that any Pharisee would agree with. The doctrine of God's grace is indeed a dangerous one. What is new in Paul is his deduction from the truism that Jews must keep the Law to be saved that therefore they are in no advantageous position at all vis-à-vis gentiles when it comes to justification. This chapter, then, strongly supports the tradition of interpretation going back to F. C. Baur, within which Dunn and I stand, for on our view Paul is not critiquing homo religiosus but homo non religiosus, the Jew who does not keep the Law but thinks it is enough merely to be Jewish and possess or hear the Law to be saved. Käsemann's attempt to get out of the implication of these verses is simply incomprehensible to me, and I will not even attempt to paraphrase it.
Käsemann's fullest exposition is found, however, not in his commentary on Romans but in his essay “Paul and Israel,” in which he reveals both a hopelessly confused and confusing understanding of Judaism and thus of Paul (Käsemann 1969). He achieves this confusion by mixing two entirely separate categories: On the one hand, an assumption by Jews of some kind of privilege with God borne of possession of the Torah or the past of the patriarchs; on the other, “religious achievement” (185), blithely assuming that all will assent that reliance on ethnic status without works is equivalent to reliance on commitment to the fulfillment of God's will. Only the latter is considered “religious achievement” by Jews; the former is the source of the obligations that Jews have and feel to perform works. These are both considered by Käsemann equally as examples of a “distinction that he may have previously conferred upon us,” that is, both ethnic Jewishness and attempting to do his will in the present. This is simply sleight of hand to cover up the fact that Paul's open expression here is in direct and obvious contradiction to Lutheran theology.
However, let all that be as it may, and let indeed even the improbability and incoherence of Käsemann's interpretation of Paul rest for a moment—it has been adequately disposed of by contemporary critics (Watson 1986, 109–22)—the issue that concerns me here is the moral responsibility which a postwar German must take for allowing himself to utter the following statement, “In and with Israel he strikes at the hidden Jew in all of us, at the man who validates rights and demands over against God on the basis of God's past dealings with him and to this extent is serving not God but an illusion” (1969, 186 [emphasis added]). First of all, there is the sheer arrogance of the claim to understand Israel's religion on the part of a man who only knows that religion from secondary sources—Strack-Billerbeck and the TDNT!—and indeed those produced by the same hostility to Jews that he shares. On what basis dare he, a German writing after World War II, characterize Judaism as the religion of men [sic] who “validate rights and demands over against God”?—particularly as by then it had been amply demonstrated by Jewish and Christian scholars that such a description of Judaism is a libel. And even more condemnable is the mode of expression, making “Jew” the name and allegory for something shameful about human nature. The notion that there is Jewishness (a Jewish spirit) that is hidden in everyone and must be driven out or overcome was, as Peter Heller has written, “paradigmatic of the most virulent variety of anti-Semitism in the twentieth century,” because “the true, fanatical anti-Semite of the Hitlerian type furiously fights what he conceives to be a threatening possibility within himself” (Heller 1981, 102). It is impossible to imagine that Käsemann was innocent of the implications of his use of “the Jew Within” as a trope for human evil, since it was a veritable topos of German anti-Semitism (Aschheim, 1985). If this tradition was abominable before the Nazi genocide, it has only become more so now that its effects have become historically real in such deadly fashion.
Undoubtedly Käsemann himself—known as an opponent of Nazism—imagined that he was striking a blow against anti-Semitism by indicating that “Jewishness” is not the special province of Jews, but in fact he did the reverse. When I say, as I often do, that there is a Nazi hidden in each of us, I am implying the proposition that to be a Nazi is something essentially evil. There is no such thing as good Nazis and bad Nazis. For Käsemann to write such a sentence of a “Jew,” and thereby imply such a proposition of Jews, shows that he has learned nothing at all from the events of the Nazi genocide. Postmodern hermeneutics has often been claimed as an escape from moral responsibility. I would claim the exact opposite. Interpretation can no longer serve as a cover for moral and political irresponsibility, since we know that hermeneutical choices are always being made by interpreters. There may be interpretations that the text excludes; it almost never demands only one reading. Thus if Käsemann reads Paul anti-Semitically, then he, Käsemann, must be held responsible for his anti-Semitism. Dunn's example—among others—amply reveals the alternatives. I thus find the following statement almost shocking in its lack of care for Jewish sensibility:
The approach to Paul taken by the representatives of dialectical theology (one thinks of scholars such as Bornkamm, Fuchs, Conzelmann, Klein and Hübner, as well as Bultmann and Käsemann) should not be lightly dismissed by those who cannot accept it. It represents much the most impressive modern attempt to reach to the heart of Paul's theology, and its theological seriousness compels respect, the more so as it has been engendered in part by the bitter experiences of modern German history. (Watson 1986, 9)
Although I am not familiar with the other theologians that Watson cites, from where I sit and write, the works of Bultmann and Käsemann seem more engendered by the ideology that caused the “bitter experiences of German [!] history” than by those experiences. And I learn from reading Campbell (1992, 193 n. 65) that Markus Barth sought, unsuccessfully, a retraction from Käsemann. To the very great extent that the work of Bultmann and Käsemann is generated by anti-Judaism—which is, by now, in the late twentieth century no longer distinguishable from anti-Semitism—it should not be dismissed lightly but rejected vigorously by all who desire and need to be Christian, for their unconscionable notions could not possibly, I submit, represent the will of God.
Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly: Judaism as the “Paradigm of Sacred Violence”
Neo-Lutherans are not the only source for anti-Semitic appropriations of Paul. Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly's Sacred Violence: Paul's Hermeneutic of the Cross, a “Girardian” reading of Paul, endorses the interpretation of Paul as traducer of Judaism with a vengeance (Hamerton-Kelly 1992). Although this by itself does not constitute an argument against its validity, it should nevertheless be emphasized that if accepted it would set back any possibility for a common language between Jews and Christians by centuries. It does, moreover, endorse this interpretation critically but in full collaboration with such a project. A sequel in pseudo (post)modern terms of the most violent aspects of Christian discourse about Judaism, Hamerton-Kelly's book reads like a medieval Tractatus adversus judaeos, not only in content but in form as well. His explicit intent is to delegitimize Jewish culture—or any culture but Christian—as independent cultural alterities in favor of a Christian exceptionalism by which Paul represents the end to religion and the end to “cultural embeddedness.” The term is his and used by him as a pejorative—see below.
Hamerton-Kelly ostensibly interprets Paul in such a way that his discourse does not constitute a delegitimation of Jews or Judaism:
For Paul the church is not another sect, but the community of the new creation. It is ontologically beyond the world of opposites, and so is not a rival religion to Judaism, but a new and inclusive community. It is possible to construe this claim as just another ploy in the game of sectarian rivalry. Unfortunately, Christians down through the ages have certainly read it as such and used it to justify themselves and delegitimize the Jews. Paul left himself open to such an interpretation, but he did not intend it. He would have been appalled to see the community of the end of time becoming another sect in time, subject to the delusions of sacred violence. (146)
Paul's discourse is on this account a discourse of inclusion, an attempt to break down the hierarchical barriers that exist between people. In the passage discussed above in Chapter 3 in which Paul says “our fathers were all under the cloud,” precisely the import is all of our fathers, that is, the fathers of us both gentile and Jewish. To the extent, however, that the new and inclusive community demands conformity to certain practices that contradict the practices of the historical Jews, even if those practices be only the confession of certain beliefs, then it is inevitably a rival religion and a delegitimization of the Jews, and indeed all non-Christians. Hamerton-Kelly is, however, wholly oblivious to the fundamental contradictions built into the notion of such a community, namely, its presumption that anyone who does not wish to join the new community of faith is under a cloud of quite a different sort. The very claim to be “ontologically beyond” itself constitutes rivalry!
Paul did not only leave himself open to misinterpretation here; the “misinterpretation” is almost a necessary consequence of such an idea. The obvious fact is that this coercive “new and inclusive community” still excludes (and often violently) those who do not have faith in Christ. Hamerton-Kelly, moreover, reads Paul according to the best possible construal of the “intentions” of his discourse and not even its virtually ineluctable effects (How precisely Hamerton-Kelly claims to know the intention of Paul better than, say, Justin Martyr did is itself fascinating!), while Judaism is read by him according to its alleged “actual” practice of killing dissenters. Thus, Judaism is simply “the impulse to fulfill the Mosaic Law [that] made him [Paul] a persecutor and had killed Christ” (141).
Hamerton-Kelly is willing to grant that Paul's putative experience does “not take the whole range of the religion into account” but not willing, apparently, to consider that the doctrines of Jews that other Jews referred to as “Zealots” or “Knifers” were marginal and vigorously opposed subcultures of Greco-Roman Judaism. For Hamerton-Kelly, despite occasional pro-forma disclaimers, these groups represent the true essence of Judaism. For as he says, “I have endorsed Paul's attack on Judaism ” (183 [emphasis added]). To this should be contrasted Hays's sober and balanced judgments:
Only a narrowly ethnocentric form of Judaism, Paul insists, would claim that God is the God of the Jews only or that Abraham is the progenitor of God's people “according to the flesh,” that is by virtue of natural physical descent. For the purposes of his argument, Paul associates these (evidently false) notions with the (disputed) claim that Gentile Christians must come under the Law. Paul, speaking from within the Jewish tradition, contends that the Torah itself provides the warrant for a more inclusive theology that affirms that the one God is God of Gentiles as well as Jews and that Abraham is the forefather of more than those who happen to be his physical descendants. (1989, 55)
Paul is on this view indeed a Jewish cultural critic, calling Jews to ally themselves with the progressive understandings contained within their own tradition and to reject the practices of certain ethnocentric zealots. In fact, the notion that gentiles are saved without conversion to Judaism is a doctrine held by many within ancient Judaism; indeed, what is new in Paul is rather the idea that all—Jews and gentiles—must be justified in the same way, through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul dreamed of a day in which all human distinctions that led to hierarchy would be erased and not merely one in which there was a place in God's saving plan for all. These are the grounds of his critique of—not “attack on”—Judaism.
Hamerton-Kelly's account of Judaism, as well as his account of Paul, like all interpretation, teaches us a great deal about him and his ideology. For the certainty of faith, we find here substituted a certainty borne of “the preunderstanding we [Hamerton-Kelly] bring to the text,” which is “well founded on the evidence not only of the texts it interprets but also on other evidence from the human sciences” (61). For Hamerton-Kelly it is simply a fact that the Jews killed Christ, that their religion was a religion of Sacred Violence, and that God/ Paul rejected the Jews because of the essential evil of their “way of life”: “The Law had created a way of life founded on sacred violence and the crucifixion of Christ is the logical outcome of such a way of life” (66 and 71)! Hamerton-Kelly does not even present this characterization as Paul's and criticize it but rather produces a discourse supported by “the evidence from the human sciences” [i.e., Girard!] which asserts its authority as a description of Judaism. He interprets Philippians 3:8, in which Paul refers to his former achievement as σκύβαλα (dung), as Paul's characterization of “the Jewish way of life.” Hamerton-Kelly somewhat softens the translation to “refuse” and then asserts that this is “what the Law really is” (68). He thus relies ultimately on both the authority of Paul and that of Girard (science) in support of his own political/theological agenda. When we read the Pauline passage in question, however, we find that Hamerton-Kelly's interpretation of it is far from ineluctable. The passage reads:
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.
ἀλλὰ μενοῦνγε καὶ ἡγοῦμαι πάντα ζημίαν εἶναι διὰ τὸ ὑπερέχον τῆς γνώσεως Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ κυρίου μου δι' ὅν τὰ πάντα ἐζημιώθην, καὶ ἡγοῦμαι σκύβαλα, ἵνα Χριστὸν κερδήσω.
I think that a reading of this verse much more likely than Hamerton-Kelly's is that Paul is precisely not referring to what his former life “really is,” but rather emphasizing that even though it was of value, he counts it now as dung in comparison to the excellency of the knowledge of Christ and in order that he may win such knowledge (Sanders 1983, 44–45; Barclay 1991, 243). In fact, the figure works precisely only if that of which he is speaking is not “really dung.” It is not Paul here who is anti-Judaic, unless any disagreement or cultural critique is to be defined as anti-Judaic.
In fact I give Hamerton-Kelly much more credit than he does himself. He claims to have endorsed Paul's attack on Judaism; I think he has created it. For example, Hamerton-Kelly writes:
The agent of my action in this situation is the sin “that dwells in me”; namely “in my flesh” (τοῦτ' ἔστιν ἐν τῇ σαρκί μου) (Rom. 7:18). In the light of my argument this might be paraphrased, “no good thing dwells in me, that is, in my culturally embedded (Jewish) self.” (147)
Even granting the undecidability of texts, the multivariate nature of hermeneutics, and my own personal investments that lead me to read one way and not another, I find it hard to imagine that anyone who is not already inclined toward Hamerton-Kelly's hatred of Judaism will find his paraphrase in Paul's language, and I think it unnecessary even to produce an alternative reading in this case. Hamerton-Kelly's affirmation of this proposition, whether or not it is Paul's, reveals that he still somehow manages to imagine that there is a self that is not culturally embedded. Paul says nothing so nefarious but certainly does hold out the positive hope of a humanity that will not be differentiated by cultural specificities. Paul can be forgiven his na;auiveté. Hamerton-Kelly is, however, intellectually and morally unforgivable for his ignorance of the critique of universalism mounted in recent criticism. (His appropriation of “theory” seems limited to Girard, and Girard alone.) In the wake of the horrors that have been perpetrated in the name of such visions of a humanity “not culturally embedded,” Hamerton-Kelly's remark is simply inexcusable. I want to underscore this point: If for Hamerton-Kelly, “cultural embeddedness” is the sin that dwells in our flesh, then his politics will be a politics of the eradication of cultural embeddedness, which we know, by now, means the assimilation of all, willy-nilly, to the culture that is defined as not specific—that of white Christian European males.
The obvious charge that suggests itself is that Hamerton-Kelly is engaging in sacred violence and scapegoating of his own. He is certainly aware, although contemptuously dismissive, of this accusation. Indeed, he devotes an entire section of his book to “refuting” it:
If the solution to sacred violence is the renunciation of rivalry, and if faith can take different forms, each of them valid as long as they can be classified under the heading of agape, why have I endorsed Paul's attack on Judaism? Have I not been engaged in precisely the rivalrous behavior that I have been criticizing, rivalrously condemning rivalry? (183)
Hamerton-Kelly's answer is that, “Clearly, a religious system that kills innocent people ‘righteously’ has less rational and moral justification than one that cherishes all in love” (183). It follows, therefore, as the night follows the day, that “the sophistic taunt that Paul scapegoats Judaism is, therefore, unworthy of serious consideration” (184). Indeed, such a “taunt” would be inappropriately directed at Paul, because Paul does not mount his critique of Judaism on such false grounds; it can well be directed, however, at Hamerton-Kelly, and it is more than a “sophistic taunt,” a formal contradiction. It is a damning charge which discredits entirely any pretense he has to a hermeneutic which claims to “escape mimetic violence into a new community of agapaic cooperation” (184).
The burden of Hamerton-Kelly's book is that the Jews really are Christ-killers. Now we do not know if “historically” there were any Jews involved in the killing of Christ, nor is there any reason to suppose that even if there were, they represented the whole People or its religion. What we do know, however, is that millions of Jews have been killed in Europe (and in the “Europe” imposed on the rest of the world by Europeans), owing at least partly to this scapegoating slander.
The “True Jew”: Romans 2:28–29 and Post-Structuralist “jews”
Bultmann's, Käsemann's, and Hamerton-Kelly's allegories of the Jews represent the continuation of a kind of Christian discourse that can be held partly responsible for Nazi genocide. However, paradoxically, there is a European practice of allegorization of the signifier “Jew” that is a reaction against the Nazis but nevertheless, I argue, also deprives “real” Jews of existence. I mean, of course, the “true Jew.” There is accordingly an enormous difference between the two tropes. The “secret Jew” owes its very existence as a trope to the Reformation and its reading of Paul; the “true Jew” is explicitly inscribed in the Pauline text. In the early parts of Romans 2, “O Jew” is indeed a trope, but it is not metaphor or allegory. The Jew whom Paul addresses is a synecdoche, a representative member of and corporate part of the “real” historical people Israel, who call themselves “Jews.” The Lutheran interpretative tradition turned the synecdoche into a metaphor. On the other hand, Paul, by addressing the Jew as “You who call yourself a Jew,” is already preparing the way for a different usage of “Jew” as metaphor; for a split between the material literal signifier of a body which belongs to historical Israel and its spiritual, allegorical referent, “the true Jew” in the end of the chapter.
This other allegorical appropriation of “Jew” owes its origins to the final verses of Romans 2, where Paul explicitly coins and uses the term. In Chapter 4 above, I have read these verses closely, and there is no need to do so again. What is important to reemphasize is that in this passage Paul claims that being a “true Jew” is not at all a matter of genealogy, history, and practice but a matter of an inner disposition. “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal.” Anyone at all can be Jewish, and those who “call themselves Jews” are not necessarily Jewish at all. This utterance of Paul's has had fateful consequences for the Jews in the Christian West. Once Paul succeeded, “real Jews” ended up being only a trope and have remained such for European discourse even until today and even in the writings of leftists whose work is positioned as being opposed to anti-Semitism—and even in the writings of Jews. Similarly, it seems, for some poststructuralist writers being a woman is not a matter of having a certain body and the experiences that go with it but of an inner disposition, and therefore anyone at all can be a woman by merely choosing to do so (Culler 1983). It is not surprising, given all that I have been saying about Paul and “the Jews,” that this allegorization of Jew is much less offensive than the Lutheran's “secret Jew,” or Jew as religious man, since the “true Jew” is at least a positively marked trope. Although well intentioned, any such allegorization of “Jew” and indeed of “woman” is problematic in the extreme for the way that it deprives those who have historically grounded identities in those material signifiers of the power to speak for themselves and remain different. In this sense the “progressive” idealization of “Jew” and “woman,” or more usually, “jew” and “Woman,” ultimately deprives difference of the right to be different.
“jews”: Lyotard's diacritique of Jewishness
The critical text which has gone furthest in employing “the jew” as an allegorical trope for otherness is Lyotard's recent Heidegger and “the jews” (Lyotard 1990). I am going to propose in this section that Lyotard's essay on “the jews” continues in highly significant fashion the Pauline dualist allegory of the Jews. The title tells the story: Heidegger gets a capital “H,” but “the jews” are in lower case. This is done, as the back cover copy explains, “to represent the outsiders, the nonconformists: the artists, anarchists, blacks, homeless, Arabs, etc.—and the Jews.” The Jews are doubtless chosen as exemplary both because the voices of some Jews are so prominent in European modernism and because of the enormous challenge of Nazi genocide to Enlightenment thought. But the name as used here is essentially a generic term standing for the other. And indeed Lyotard's book is all about the danger of forgetting that one (“one” in a position of relative power, that is) has always already forgotten the Other.
But why does Lyotard feel free to appropriate the name “the jews”? What does it mean for David Carroll, the author of the introduction to the American edition of Lyotard's book, to write, in reference to Lyotard's citation of “Freud, Benjamin, Adorno, Arendt, Celan,” that “these are ultimately ‘the jews’ we all have to read and even in some sense to become, ‘the jews’ we always already are but have forgotten we are, ‘the jews’ that Heidegger forgets at great cost for his thinking and writing” (xxiv)? What Lyotard refuses to forget, remembering the negative example of Heidegger, is not so much upper or lower-case Jews as Christian European crimes against humanity. In other words, Lyotard takes history seriously as an implication of philosophy, doubtless a vital exercise. This sketch of a critique, therefore, is not intended as an exposé of Lyotard but as a further implication of the universalizing, allegorizing traditions of Hellenistic philosophy as absorbed into Christian culture.
Lyotard basically repeats Sartre's thesis about the production of the Jew by the anti-Semite: “What is most real about real Jews is that Europe, in any case, does not know what to do with them: Christians demand their conversion; monarchs expel them; republics assimilate them; Nazis exterminate them. ‘The jews’ are the object of a dismissal with which Jews, in particular, are afflicted in reality” (3). Let us stop a second on the first words here, and try a paraphrase: how would it work if a man or a woman said, “What is most real about real women is that men continually try to dominate them.” The condescension of Lyotard's statement immediately becomes evident.
It would have been quite different if Lyotard had written rather, “What matters most to me here about those usually called ‘Jews’ is that Europe does not know what to do with them.” For there is no gainsaying the power of his insight: Europe indeed does not know what to do with “real Jews.” But what of European philosophy? Is Lyotard not Europe here? Might we not fairly say, “Europe does not know what to do with them; philosophers allegorize them,” et cetera? To which one might comment that in doing so, they continue another particularly Christian practice with regard to upper-case Jews, one which begins with Paul.
And here we can see more analytically what is wrong with Carroll's rhetoric about us all becoming once again “the jews we always already are but have forgotten we are.” We must resist the seduction of these sentiments, for they deny, they spiritualize history. For some contemporary critics—indeed, those most profoundly concerned with the lessons of the encounter between Jewish identity and European self-adequation—it seems that the real Jew is the non-Jewish jew. What does this say about the “reality” of those Jews—most of those who call themselves Jews, of course, are the untheorized, unphilosophical, unspiritualized Jews—who would think the phrase “non-Jewish Jew” to be nonsense? Is it politically correct to “forget” them and to fashion an imaginary dialogue with the Other who is, in fact, the already-sactioned, official model of the “non-Jewish Jew,” the Kafkas and Benjamins? For as we know, the vast majority of the Nazis' Jewish victims were unredeemed “real” Jews.
Against this incipient critique stands precisely the force implicit in Lyotard's act of allegorizing the name “jew.” Radiating out from the sun of philosophy, remembering the other by writing the “jew,” Lyotard challenges all those who would fetishize their particular difference, insisting that we learn how to imagine ourselves as blacks, as Arabs, as homeless, as Indians. This is a political challenge, but Lyotard does not suggest how those who are themselves “real Jews” could respond to it. Indeed, he explains that one reason for his avoidance of the proper noun, of the upper-case “Jews,” is to make clear that he is not discussing a particularly Jewish political subject, which he identifies as Zionism (3). I want to insist in response to Lyotard that there is a loss and a danger either in allegorizing away real, upper-case Jews or in regarding them primarily as a problem for Europe. My claim entails in turn a responsibility to help articulate a Jewish political subject “other” than Zionism, which in fundamental ways merely reproduces the exclusivist syndromes of European nationalism. Zionism itself is predicated on a myth of autochthony. I will be suggesting in the next chapter that a Jewish subject position founded on memories of genealogy, not genealogy tout court but that which has since antiquity been called “race,” provides for a critical Jewish identity.
Jean-Luc Nancy and the Jews
Sometimes the reference to the allegorized Jew is implicit or made in passing; in other recent works it is an explicit and central trope. An example of the former is contained in Jean-Luc Nancy's recent The Inoperative Community. As Jonathan Boyarin has recently shown, Lyotard's allegorizing move on the signifier “Jew” is repeated at other moments as well in post-Nazi, post-structuralist appropriations of the signifier Jew (Boyarin and Boyarin 1993). Nancy's central problem in that work is to formulate a notion of community which will not violate the standard of non-coercion. That standard holds that community is “the com-pearance [comparution] of singular beings.” For Nancy, such singularity and the simultaneity which is a condition of it appear to imply an evacuation of history and memory. So many brutalities, so many violations of any notion of humanly responsible community have been carried out in the name of solidary collectives supposed to have obtained in the past, that Nancy seems to have renounced any possible recourse to memory in his attempt to think through the possibility of there ever being community without coercion. Of there ever being: the only community which does not betray the hope invested in that word, Nancy argues, is one that resists any kind of stable existence (Nancy 1991, 58).
The problem is that Nancy has in fact attempted a generalized model of community as non-being. Hence any already existing “community” is out of consideration by its very existence, relegated through philosophical necessity to a world we have lost or which never existed. Following Nancy's rhetoric, the only possible residues of that lost world are false community appearing as either a serial, undifferentiated collective in the same analytic category as the Fascist mass or, alternatively, an assemblage of unrelated individuals. The individual in turn “is merely the residue of the experience of the dissolution of community” (3), and furthermore, “the true consciousness of the loss of community is Christian” (10).
Although Nancy is silent on the relations among history, memory, and community, he considers at some length the apparently tortured relation between “myth” and community. For Nancy myth—that necessary fiction which grounds the insistent specialness of the existent communal group—is an irreducible component of community and at the same time necessarily pernicious in its effects. Therefore Nancy asserts a search, not for the eradication of myth but rather for its “interruption”: “interruption of myth is therefore also, necessarily, the interruption of community” (57). In a footnote Nancy elaborates on an earlier comment by Maurice Blanchot:
Blanchot…writes: “The Jews incarnate…the refusal of myths, the abandonment of idols, the recognition of an ethical order that manifests itself in respect for the law. What Hitler wants to annihilate in the Jew, in the ‘myth of the Jew,’ is precisely man freed from myth.” This is another way of showing where and when myth was definitively interrupted. I would add this: “man freed from myth” belongs henceforth to a community that it is incumbent upon us to let come, to let write itself. (Nancy, 162 n. 40, citing Blanchot, “Les Intellectuels en Question,” Le Débat, May 1984)
I want to press, in a sense by literalizing, the opening offered here. The quote from Blanchot seems ambiguous if not contradictory: Do the Jews literally “incarnate…the refusal of myths,” or is that one of Hitler's myths? Let me first pursue the first reading, which is both the more flattering and the more dangerous. This reading would tell us that community without myth was once the special possession of the Jews. Nancy's “addition” would then explore the consequences of the release of that secret to “us,” as a result of the genocide. What else, after all, can “henceforth” mean? Now I deeply respect that this and other work of Nancy's is explicitly motivated by the desire to understand and unwork the complicity between philosophy and twentieth-century violence (Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy 1990). Nancy would doubtless be horrified at the suggestion that his rhetoric is complicit in perpetuating the annihilation of the Jew, yet it seems clear that this is one potential accomplishment of his further allegorization of Blanchot. That which the Jew represented before “he” was annihilated is that which “we” must let come, must let write itself. The word “henceforth” indeed implies that the secret of freedom from myth has passed from the Jews to a community which does not exist, which is only imaginable in and by theory. The secret becomes potentially available to all who await a second coming of this sacrificed Jew. I insist: This plausible yet “uncharitable” reading cannot be stretched to an accusation of anti-Judaism. On the contrary, it is clear that Nancy and thinkers like him are committed to a sympathetic philosophical comprehension of the existence and annihilation of the Jews. My claim is rather that within the thought of philosophers such as Nancy lies a blindness to the particularity of Jewish difference which is itself part of a relentless penchant for allegorizing all “difference” into a monovocal discourse.