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The Closure of Auschwitz but Not Its End Alterity, Testimony, and (Post)Modernity Adam Katz Postmodern as post-auschwitz "Auschwitz" has become one of the canonical signs deployed by contemporary critical theory in order to mark the "break" between modernity and postmodernity. The genocide of the Jews is invoked for this purpose within various contexts: to signify the end ofEnlightenment progress and Hegelian supersession (Lyotard), the loss of faith in technology and technological rationality in particular, and the end ofthe dominant "national aestheticist" (Lacoue-Labarthe) model ofrepresentational politics. The complicity ofdominant, humanist modes ofsubjectivity and knowledge with the possibility ofthe Holocaust is the assumption underlying the "linking" of (post)modern to post-"Auschwitz." This often entails a call to an "ethics of alterity" which presupposes the resistance to logocentric discourses, or the "philosophy of the subject" as a precondition for an openness to one's obligation to the other. The most prominent example here is, of course, Emmanuel Lévinas, who registers the implications ofAuschwitz through his contention that the free subject bequeathed by modern thought and Western philosophy is not merely ahistorical, narrowly self-interested or mystified, but "murderous."1 Jean-François Lyotard, meanwhile, develops his notion of the différend through an investigation of the Nazi genocide as a supreme 59 Adam Katz model of the différend: an injury wherein the victim is further deprived of the opportunity of advancing a claim. This, he argues, signals the aporia in liberal notions oflegitimacy, which presuppose the universality of "answerable" speech acts, a "we" conjoined by "legitimation" and "obligation."2 For Lyotard, the proliferation of différends, where "arbitration" would simply be a continuation of the injury through the suppression of the language within which the injured can state her case, requires new "unkings" wherein actors "discover" pragmatically the rules regulating those Unkings. To cite one more prominent example of the indebtedness ofpostmodern thought to a certain mode ofresponsiveness to Auschwitz, Jacques Derrida, in foregrounding the political dimension of deconstruction in his "Force of Law," situates the imperative to "decide" (without reducing the aporetic undecidability constitutive of any decision) in relation to the connections between "decision," "totalitarianism," and extermination with which, for example, Carl Schmitt's ultramodern theory ofthe political was ultimately complicit.3 Derrida asserts that "[n]othing seems to me less outdated than the classic emancipatory ideal," while also arguing that the pursuit of this ideal involves an advance in politicization which "obliges one to reconsider, and so to reinterpret the very foundations oflaw such as they had not been previously calculated or delimited."4 He thus insists that "we must calculate" within the framework ofthe law. What separates the (post)liberal theory of Lyotard and Derrida from the antiliberalism of Carl Schmitt or Martin Heidegger, both ofwhom would foreground the irreducible element of politicization or "polemos" within the law, then, is first of all the former's commitment to "work though" the law in order to foreground a "justice" which exceeds it. At the same time, though, this caution about the possibility of a "leap" to some position outside the law results in their relocation of such a working through from a "grand geo-political scale" to what "at first can seem like secondary or marginal areas."5 In this case, while a "violence, indeed a terrorism and other forms ofhostage-taking are at work," the "ultimate" totalitarian violence of suppressing the undecidability between law and justice is resisted. I begin by discussing Lyotard's and Derrida's articulation ofa postAuschwitz "model" ofethico-political thought because their focus on the question of legitimacy—of the liberal subject, liberal norms, and more 60 The Closure of Auschwitz but Not Its End broadly, "modernity"—seems to me the most productive site to examine the articulation of postmodern as post-Auschwitz. The assumption that the Nazi genocide of the Jews represents a kind of "limit case" for available ethical, theoretical and political positions is consequently, I believe, the most useful vantage point from which to assess the claim, now routinely advanced within historiographie, sociological, psychological and philosophical discussions addressed primarily to the Holocaust, that the Holocaust has "shattered" all existing frameworks for making sense of our social relations...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1994
Print ISSN
0935-560X
Pages
pp. 59-98
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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