Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Author’s Note

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pp. ix-x

Some of the material in this book has been published in earlier versions. Wherever it was necessary, the author has obtained permission to use this material. Parts of chapter 1 were published in Jewish Culture in Early Modern Europe. Essays in Honor of David B. Ruderman, ed. Richard I. Cohen, Natalie B. Dohrmann, Adam Shear and Elchanan Reiner (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014), 344–55. An earlier version of chapter 2 appeared in Secularism in Question: Jews and Judaism in Modern Times, ed. Ari Joskowicz and Ethan B. Katz (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiv

One of the joys of finishing this book is the realization that so many precious moments shared with others in discussion and debate are now safely ensconced within its pages. The book cover features a painting by the US artist Rebecca H. Quaytman that evokes Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus and, with it, the ultimate icon of German-Jewish thought, Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History. The background of Klee’s Angelus is still recognizable in Quaytman’s painting, but the angel has vanished. The painting jolts our visual memory into projecting the angelic figure onto the voided surface and invites us to imagine...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-8

“The Emperor—so it is said—has sent a message to you, the one individual, his puny subject, a tiny shadow who has fled from the imperial sun into the most distant of distances, to you alone, the emperor has sent a message from his deathbed.” 1 Thus begins Franz Kafka’s short text, “An Imperial Message” [Eine kaiserliche Botschaft], published in 1917 in the Prague Jewish periodical Selbstwehr. Although the story never reveals the contents of the imperial message, we may assume that it conveys the dying emperor’s final testament. Surely, the emperor would not have placed such emphasis on conveying the message...

I: Tradition and Transmission

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1 Early Jewish Modernity and Arendt’s Rahel

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pp. 11-16

The beginnings of German-Jewish thought, generally associated with Moses Mendelssohn (1729–86), date back to the last decades of the eighteenth century. Although critics traditionally pointed to the Enlightenment as the starting point of German-Jewish thought, its source may lie in Early Modernity, a term in scholarly use since the 1970s. This term has become a battleground for historians of Jewish modernization. On one side are scholars who consider the period a mere—and insubstantial—precursor of a genuine, enlightened modernity, a “halfway house of the modern spirit”;1 opposing them are those...

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2 Tradition and the Hidden: Arendt Reading Scholem

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pp. 17-25

Hannah Arendt’s portrayal of Rahel Varnhagen, in which she simultaneously praises her heroine for preserving and honoring traces of the Jewish tradition and denigrates the world in which this tradition is still alive as a “dark stage set of poverty, misery and ignorance”1 points to the duality inherent not only in Rahel’s but also in Arendt’s own thinking. Her dual allegiance to the Jewish tradition on the one hand and to European modernity on the other becomes strikingly evident in her reflections on the Kabbalah in her review of Gershom Scholem’s Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism.2...

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3 Transmitting the Gap in Time: Arendt and Agamben

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pp. 26-38

“Our inheritance was left to us by no testament.”1 Hannah Arendt’s opening words in Between Past and Future—a quotation from the poet and resistance fighter René Char—introduce her reflections on the fate of tradition in modernity. Arendt, too, did not provide a testament authorizing her legacy; we thus can evaluate its afterlife by assessing the contentions of those who allude to her in their work. This applies particularly to those who, like Giorgio Agamben, touch upon Arendt’s legacy precisely at the point where she herself—like Kafka in “An Imperial Message”—reflects on the implications...

II: Law and Narration

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4 “As if Not”: Agamben as Reader of Kafka

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pp. 41-53

If it became apparent that the circus rider in Kafka’s “Up in the Gallery”1 was really an ailing artist teetering on a horse before an insatiable audience, that she was driven mercilessly in a circle by a cruel director, and that this performance would continue interminably into the grayest of futures; if the world were to show itself in its total and absolute despondency, then the young spectator up in the gallery would unhesitatingly rush down into the ring and shout, “Stop!” He would not call merely for a respite or request a pause, but he would demand the definitive halt that would end the ongoing torment...

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5 Kafka, Narrative, and the Law

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pp. 54-63

“Before the law stands a doorkeeper. To this doorkeeper comes a man.”3 These first words of Franz Kafka’s most famous parable, “Before the Law” [Vor dem Gesetz], evoke an archetypal narrative situation: The juxtaposition of the verb “stands” with the verb “comes” sets up a confrontation between something static and stable with the onset of an event, a potential encounter. This narrative situation occurs in the context of the law, which is generally regarded as in conflict with narrative. Commentators question, however, whether this encounter between law and man ever takes place in Kafka’s parable. This question...

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6 Kafka’s Other Job: From Susman to Žižek

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pp. 64-84

Although Kafka never mentions Job by name, critics often read Kafka’s works in the light of this biblical figure who challenges the claim of divine justice in the face of human suffering. In recent decades, scholars have noted fairly convincing, specific, and detailed similarities between Kafka’s work and the Book of Job. Most notably, Northrop Frye, in The Great Code (1982), regarded the writings of Kafka “as a series of commentaries on the Book of Job” and termed Kafka’s most famous novel, The Trial, “a kind of Midrash” on the biblical book.1 Other critics consider Kafka’s novel “a conscious parallel of the Book of Job,”2 if...

III: Messianic Language

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7 Pure Languages: Benjamin and Blanchot on Translation

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pp. 87-100

Walter Benjamin and Maurice Blanchot are considered two of the most important and idiosyncratic theorists and literary critics of the twentieth century. Although their writings address many similar topics and concerns, their affinity is far from obvious and has remained largely unexamined. On the one hand, there is Benjamin, the German-Jewish thinker, who was persecuted by the Nazis and committed suicide in 1940; his work, first marked by Jewish theology, then by an idiosyncratic Marxism, is considered the main inspiration for the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School. On the other...

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8 Ideas of Prose: Benjamin and Agamben

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pp. 101-111

Whoever has once—in a dream or daydream—dwelled in the redeemed world and whoever, like a figure in a fragment by Franz Kafka, has had a near-death experience from which he returns, certainly has rich stories to tell. One can learn many a thing from him, contends Kafka, but what really occurs after death or—in our case—after the end of history—and whether this is a realm where stories are still being told, that he cannot tell.3 Anyone who considers messianic redemption itself as nothing but a story that has lost its relevance would consider it futile to speculate on the nature, the language, the very...

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9 Reading Scholem and Benjamin on the Demonic

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pp. 112-122

The ambiguity of the term “demonic” between, on the one hand, the Greek idea of a powerful, mostly benevolent spirit or force, and, on the other, the incarnation of evil as imagined in monotheistic religions, still plays a role in contemporary controversies where fundamental worldviews are at stake. An association with the indistinct and the elusive, the irrational and the uncontrollable, and, ultimately, with ambiguity itself reinforces this role. The demonic is almost by necessity invoked in ways that only partially encompass its multifarious significance. The issue becomes especially complex when...

IV: Exile, Remembrance, Exemplarity

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10 Paradoxes of Exemplarity: From Celan to Derrida

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pp. 125-134

“One can become a Jew, just as one can become a human being; one can Judaize....I consider this commendable.”1 This sentence in Paul Celan’s preliminary notes for his “Meridian” speech, delivered in 1961 on the occasion of receiving the Büchner Prize, the highest literary distinction in Germany, paradoxically describes a universal human capacity in terms of a particular culture, tradition, or ethnic group. Instead of resolving this paradox, Celan reinforces it in the subsequent elaborations on this odd verb “verjuden”: “Verjuden: es ist Anderswerden”—“Judaizing: that is, becoming other.” Beyond...

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11 Two Kinds of Strangers: Celan and Bachmann

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pp. 135-142

The publication of the correspondence between Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann in 2008 represented a major event in the world of German letters. The Jewish poet whose parents were murdered in the Holocaust and the Austrian daughter of a National Socialist met and fell in love in Vienna in 1948. They began exchanging letters and sent each other poetry until Celan’s suicide in 1970. The fascination exerted by their epistolary exchanges undoubtedly derives from what one of the editors of their correspondence describes as the “exemplary ways in which their speaking and writing address the problem...

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12 Exile as Experience and Metaphor: From Celan to Badiou

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pp. 143-153

“The Lord shall bring thee, and thy king which thou shalt set over thee, unto a nation which neither thou nor thy fathers have known” (Deut. 28:36; KJV). This verse—one of the most succinct of the numerous diverse and variously interpretable accounts of collective exile in the Hebrew Bible—is part of the list of curses (which are really threats) pronounced on the people of Israel near the end of Deuteronomy. The tirade, which begins with the words “But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God...” (Deut. 28:15; KJV), follows a list of promised blessings if the people...

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13 Winged Words and Wounded Voices: Geoffrey Hartman on Midrash and Testimony

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pp. 154-162

Elements of the Jewish tradition continue to inspire late-twentieth-century visions of modernity in the writings of Geoffrey Hartman, an American scholar and literary theorist of German-Jewish origin. They also points to the role literature can play in upholding the tension between Judaism and other forms of Western thought.

In his seminal essay “Midrash as Law and Literature,” from which the above lines are drawn, Geoffrey Hartman positions himself between the Romantic vision of a cosmic unity resting on poetry and nature and the discontinuity and fragmentation constituting the common ground...

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Epilogue: New Angels

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pp. 163-168

His wings ready for flight, Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus looks as though he wants to return to the precarious stance lent to him in Walter Benjamin’s “Angel of History,” an allegory3 that turned him into the most prized emblem of German-Jewish thought.4 But the fame that blows in his wings from countless theoretical, literary, and visual reproductions blocks his path of return and drives him inexorably forward. In Benjamin’s allegory, the angel’s horrified gaze and his silence expressing unspeakable outrage bear witness to the victims of history and all that its victors have destroyed and forgotten. In the...

Notes

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pp. 169-188

Bibliography

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pp. 189-198

Index

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pp. 199-202

About the Author

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p. 203