Is Theory Good for the Jews?
French Thought and the Challenge of the New Antisemitism
Liverpool University Press 2017
New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Critical TheoryNew Books in French StudiesNew Books in Jewish StudiesNew Books in Literary StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books Network June 11, 2018 Daveeda Goldberg
“Is Theory Good for the Jews?” asks author Bruno Chaouat, professor of French at the University of Minnesota, in Is Theory Good for the Jews?: French Thought and the Challenge of the New Antisemitism (Liverpool University Press, 2017) . The title carries a measure of Chaouat’s characteristically ironic, self-deprecatory, yet polemical tone. So, Chaouat wonders, in both winking reference to the anti-Semitic trope of Jewish tribalism and self-involvement, and at the same time in all sincerity, whether “Theory” – in particular the canon of philosophy, literature, and social thought that grew largely out of Heideggerian roots and which continues to find contemporary purchase – is able to use its own tools to deal with today’s resurgent strains of anti-Semitism.
In this episode, Chaouat discusses several recent events in French letters, including the 2010 publication of writer, diplomat and French Resistance fighter Stéphane Hessel’s manifesto Time for Outrage and novelist Salim Bachi’s literary op-ed, “Moi, Mohammed Merah,” a fictionalized account of the 2012 Toulouse attacks, told from the point of view of the murderer. We also talk about earlier influential figures, such as Georges Bataille and Jean Genet, and discuss how the vocabularies they invented, which they used to retool ideas of evil, transgression, and “our common inhumanity,” come to be recoded in service of a new “moralistic turn.”
Daveeda Goldberg is a PhD candidate in the Department of Humanities at York University, in Toronto, Canada.