Is Theory Good for the Jews?

BookIs Theory Good for the Jews?

Is Theory Good for the Jews?

Contemporary French and Francophone Cultures, 43

2016

December 16th, 2016

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Is Theory Good for the Jews? is the first attempt at exploring the cultural, intellectual, literary, and ideological roots of French engagement with the global and local upsurge of antisemitism in the 21st century. It is also the first attempt at analyzing the French responses to this new crisis. Chaouat endeavors to understand phenomena of repression, distortion, perversion, or outright denial, within the specific context of French intellectual and cultural history. By looking back to the 1960s and the emergence of a theoretical discourse on trauma, victims and suffering, the Holocaust and the Jews in literature, philosophy, and literary theory, he offer the first in-depth exploration of the cultural roots of French responses to the new antisemitism. Engaging with the work of major thinkers such as Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-François Lyotard, Is Theory Good for the Jews? is an essential texts for scholars of contemporary French and contemporary Jewish Studies.

For at least fifteen years, any keen observer of European society has been aware that antisemitism is no longer a matter of racial theory, nationalism, or exclusion of the “other.” While in the past antisemites saw Jews as all too modern “rootless cosmopolitans” (to use Stalin’s expression), today’s European antisemitism construes them as obsolete precisely because they are attached to their roots, their land, their community, their origin. The Jews are now perceived as a reactionary force that hinders the progress of humankind toward multiculturalism, understood as the peaceful, infinitely enriching coexistence of ethnicities, races, religions, and cultures within the same territory. The antisemite of yore viewed the Jews as an inferior race; today he views them as racist. By looking back to the emergence of a postwar theoretical discourse on trauma, memory, victims, suffering, the Holocaust and the Jews, Is Theory Good for the Jews? explores how “French thought” is implicated in intellectual, literary and ideological components of the global and local upsurge of antisemitism. The author probes the legacy of Heidegger in France and exposes the shortcomings of radical social critique and postcolonial theory confronted with the challenge of Islamic terrorism and Jew hatred. This book is the first effort to analyze French responses that have regrettably played their part in generating the new antisemitism.

'The reader will be fascinated by the deftness with which Chaouat triangulates such opppositions as Sephardic/Ashkenazi, Israélite/Juif, Jew of the flesh/Jew of the spirit, infinitely expanding Europe/infinitely expanding Jihad. This is a remarkable book. ' Professor Jeffrey Mehlman, Boston University

"In this startlingly lucid book, Bruno Chaouat asks why so many of the important theorists of our time, from Alain Badiou to Judith Butler, have failed to confront the problem of the 'new antisemitism.' A must-read for anyone interested in the intersection of contemporary politics and critical theory." Maurice Samuels, Yale University

It is a final, telling indictment of Theory that Chaouat’s critique of it derives more political and moral insight from his detours into novels by Philip Roth, Boualem Sansal, and Michel Houellebecq than from any theoretical text he cites. One might have wished that Theory were today solely a matter of 1980s trivia, at most an exercise in period nostalgia like the television show Stranger Things, albeit scarier and less entertaining. Alas, as Chaouat’s book shows, it is still very much with us.
Michael Weingrad, Jewish Review of Books

Bruno Chaouat’s Is Theory Good for the Jews? is well-written, well-researched, and deeply felt. Chaouat is an established scholar and Professor at the University of Minnesota whose work is at the intersection of French literature and thought and Holocaust and Jewish Studies.
Brett Ashley Kaplan, University of Illinois, H-France Review

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About The Author

Bruno Chaouat is Professor of French at the University of Minnesota