The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (Religion and Postmodernism)


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He favoured the startling and perplexing works of the high modernist avant-garde. In them he found a demonstration of the limits of our conceptuality, a valuable lesson for anyone too imbued with Enlightenment confidence. He developed these themes in particular by discussing the sublime.

The "sublime" is a term in aesthetics whose fortunes revived under postmodernism after a century or more of neglect. It refers to the experience of pleasurable anxiety that we experience when confronting wild and threatening sights like, for example, a massive craggy mountain, black against the sky, looming terrifyingly in our vision. A sublime is the conjunction of two opposed feelings, which makes it harder for us to see the injustice of it, or a solution to it.

Lyotard found particularly interesting the explanation of the sublime offered by Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Judgment sometimes Critique of the Power of Judgment. In this book, Kant explains this mixture of anxiety and pleasure in the following terms: there are two kinds of 'sublime' experience.

In the 'mathematically' sublime, an object strikes the mind in such a way that we find ourselves unable to take it in as a whole. More precisely, we experience a clash between our reason which tells us that all objects are finite and the imagination the aspect of the mind that organizes what we see, and which sees an object incalculably larger than ourselves, and feels infinite. In the 'dynamically' sublime, the mind recoils at an object so immeasurably more powerful than we, whose weight, force, scale could crush us without the remotest hope of our being able to resist it.

Kant stresses that if we are in actual danger, our feeling of anxiety is very different from that of a sublime feeling. The sublime is an aesthetic experience, not a practical feeling of personal danger. This explains the feeling of anxiety. What is deeply unsettling about the mathematically sublime is that the mental faculties that present visual perceptions to the mind are inadequate to the concept corresponding to it; in other words, what we are able to make ourselves see cannot fully match up to what we know is there.

We know it's a mountain but we cannot take the whole thing into our perception. Our sensibility is incapable of coping with such sights, but our reason can assert the finitude of the presentation.

The body may be dwarfed by its power but our reason need not be. This explains, in both cases, why the sublime is an experience of pleasure as well as pain. Lyotard is fascinated by this admission, from one of the philosophical architects of the Enlightenment, that the mind cannot always organise the world rationally.

Jean-François Lyotard

Some objects are simply incapable of being brought neatly under concepts. For Lyotard, in Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime , but drawing on his argument in The Differend , this is a good thing. Such generalities as 'concepts' fail to pay proper attention to the particularity of things. What happens in the sublime is a crisis where we realise the inadequacy of the imagination and reason to each other. What we are witnessing, says Lyotard, is actually the differend; the straining of the mind at the edges of itself and at the edges of its conceptuality.

Lyotard claims that this is due to libidinal energy. The term "libidinal" coming from the term libido which is used to refer to the psychoanalytical desires of our deeper consciousness. However, there also can be no intensities or desires without structures, because there would be no dream of escaping the repressive structures if they do not exist.

It achieved great success, but was also the last of Lyotard's writings on this particular topic where he really went against the views of Karl Marx. Lyotard was impressed by the importance of childhood in human life, [37] which he saw as providing the opportunity of creativity, as opposed to the settled hubris of maturity.

Subject to their mancipium.

One of them being a biography, Signed, Malraux. Lyotard was interested in the aesthetic views of society that Malraux shared. Lyotard's other book was named The Confession of Augustine and was a study in the phenomenology of time. This work-in-progress was published posthumously in the same year of Lyotard's death. In , while preparing for a conference on postmodernism and media theory , he died unexpectedly from a case of leukemia that had advanced rapidly. There are three major criticisms of Lyotard's work. Each coincides with a school of thought.

A differend depends upon a distinction drawn between groups that itself depends upon the heterogeneity of language games and genres of discourse. Why should these differences be privileged over an endless division and reconstruction of groups? In concentrating on specific differences, Lyotard's thought becomes overly dependent on differences; between categories that are given as fixed and well defined.

Emmanuel Levinas

From the point of view of deconstruction, Lyotard's philosophy gives too much credit to illegitimate categories and groups. Underlying any different there is a multiplicity of further differences; some of these will involve crossing the first divide, others will question the integrity of the groups that were originally separated.


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Manfred Frank has put the Frankfurt School criticism best. It attacks Lyotard's search for division over consensus on the grounds that it involves a philosophical mistake with serious political and social repercussions. Lyotard has failed to notice that an underlying condition for consensus is also a condition for the successful communication of his own thought.

Emmanuel Levinas (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

It is a performative contradiction to give an account that appeals to our reason on behalf of a difference that is supposed to elude it. So, in putting forward a false argument against a rational consensus, Lyotard plays into the hands of the irrational forces that often give rise to injustice and differ ends.

Worse, he is then only in a position to testify to that injustice, rather than put forward a just and rational resolution. From a Nietzschean and Deleuzian point of view James Williams , Lyotard's postmodern philosophy took a turn toward a destructive modern nihilism that his early work avoids. The different and the sublime are negative terms that introduce a severe pessimism at the core of Lyotard's philosophy.

Both terms draw lines that cannot be crossed and yet they mark the threshold of that which is most valuable for the philosophy, that which is to be testified to and its proper concern.

It is not possible repetitively to lend an ear to the sublime without falling into despair due to its fleeting nature. Whenever we try to understand or even memorize: the activity of testimony through the sublime, it can only be as something that has now dissipated and that we cannot capture. Charles J. Even George Van Den Abbeele's excellent translation, complete with a glossary of French terms not available in the original text Paris: Minuit, , does not, indeed cannot, alleviate the often terse prose with which Lyotard develops his reasoning. With this said, I must also observe that this work is of vital importance in a period when revisionism of all stripes attempts to rewrite, and often simply deny, the occurrence of historical and cultural events, i.

I can conclude only by suggesting that this work, despite the formidable difficulties inherent to its carefully articulated arguments, offers readers a rich formulation of precise questions for and about the current period of critical transition and re-opening in philosophy, ethics and aesthetics.

Blanchot and Derrida, in turn, used the figure of the Jew to call into question the very nature of group identification. By chronicling this evolution in thinking, Hammerschlag ultimately reveals how the figural Jew can function as a critical mechanism that exposes the political dangers of mythic allegiance, whether couched in universalizing or particularizing terms. Both an intellectual history and a philosophical argument, The Figural Jew will set the agenda for all further consideration of Jewish identity, modern Jewish thought, and continental philosophy. View basket Checkout.

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The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (Religion and Postmodernism) The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (Religion and Postmodernism)
The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (Religion and Postmodernism) The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (Religion and Postmodernism)
The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (Religion and Postmodernism) The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (Religion and Postmodernism)
The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (Religion and Postmodernism) The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (Religion and Postmodernism)
The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (Religion and Postmodernism) The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (Religion and Postmodernism)
The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (Religion and Postmodernism) The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (Religion and Postmodernism)
The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (Religion and Postmodernism) The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (Religion and Postmodernism)
The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (Religion and Postmodernism) The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (Religion and Postmodernism)

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