Badiou, Rosenzweig and the word “Jew”


Mostly a thinking out loud post based on some visceral reactions, really. I have heard the charge of antisemitism directed at both Badiou and Zizek for sometime now, and while I’m not completely unsympathetic to such claims, they do tend to misinterpret and simplify both thinkers, which of course, have the effect of missing the mark completely. Now, in particular, with regards to Badiou and the term “Jew,” this seems to me to be an old problem of particularism vs universalism rather than the typical knee jerk reactions towards the state of Israel (see here and here). In this sense, it’s hard not to think of Isaac Deutscher, who remarked in a speech he gave to the World Jewish Congress in 1958:

Religion? I am an atheist. Jewish nationalism? I am an internationalist. In neither sense am I therefore a Jew. I am, however, a Jew by force of my unconditional solidarity with the persecuted and exterminated. I am a Jew because I feel the pulse of Jewish history; because I should like to do all I can to assure the real, not spurious, security and self-respect of the Jews.

Now because I’m without shame, here’s my original comment pertaining to the above passage. This is a very interesting response, and really, a very Jewish one. This begs a number of questions: Is it ever possible to reconcile ethnic fidelities with a commitment to “universal human emancipation? ” Is the only option to simply choose sides, that is, either a nationalist (particularism) or a “non-Jewish Jew” (universalism/cosmpolitanism)? But here’s the thing, if Judaism is a particular community/ethnicity/religion with a universal aims/goals/ramifications (e.g. a light unto the nations) to begin with then there is no choice to be made, the “Jew” as such would not have to choose either/or, but then again, perhaps I’m just not very dogmatic.

I still have the same response, but I often find myself feeling somewhat uncomfortable when I hear Badiou discussing these issues. In an article I dug up on lacan.com, “The Uses of the Word “Jew,”” Badiou writes this: Continue reading

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Secular “Jewishness:” The Case of Isaac Deutscher


Somehow, all of this recent talk and thought about philosophy and biography, or philosophy as biography, has gotten me thinking about identity.  In his 1954 essay “The Non-Jewish Jew” Isaac Deutscher writes, “The Jewish heretic who transcends Jewry belongs to a Jewish tradition.”  Such heretics for Deutscher are Spinoza, Heine, Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Trotsky and Freud:

All of them had this in common, that the very conditions in which they lived and worked did not allow them to reconcile themselves to ideas which were nationally or religiously limited and induced them to strive for a universal Weltanshauung.

Deutscher’s argument is basically that the Jewish backgrounds of these thinkers was critical to their becoming revolutionaries, but yet, each of these thinkers could not reach their dream of “universal human emancipation” within the borders that mark the Jewish tradition.  Continue reading