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.