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  • The Discipline of Philosophy and the Invention of Modern Jewish Thought by Willi Goetschel
  • Jay Geller
The Discipline of Philosophy and the Invention of Modern Jewish Thought. By Willi Goetschel. New York: Fordham University Press, 2013. Pp. x + 270. Hardcover $65.00, isbn 978-0-8232-4496-6.

What can readers who come to this journal for “articles and essays that illuminate the distinctive characteristics of philosophical traditions in Asia and their relationship to Western thought” expect to find in a scholarly monograph examining works of Jewish-identified Germanophones (such as Moses Mendelssohn, Heinrich Heine, Hermann Cohen, Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, Margarete Susman, and Hermann Levin Goldschmidt) and of the Dutch Marrano Baruch Spinoza. The Discipline of Philosophy and the Invention of Modern Jewish Thought, Willi Goetschel’s peripatetic interrogation of his opening question “Jewish philosophy?” (p. vii), never sets foot in Asia; not even Buber’s 1919 Chinese Tales are mentioned. Moreover, Goetschel’s intricate pursuit not only includes writers who, geography aside, are generally considered marginal to the master discipline of “Western thought,” philosophy; it also addresses a subject, “Jewish philosophy,” that is conventionally viewed as ancillary to philosophy proper—as either a moment in its history or a particular object of its universal gaze—if not oxymoronic (if Jewish, i.e., particularistic, it’s not philosophy, i.e., universal; if philosophy, it’s not Jewish). Further, it puts in question any essentialized notion of “Western thought,” that is, of philosophy. Yet, paradoxically, these apparent absences, marginalizations, and incommensurabilities that attend Goetschel’s examination of the relationship between “Jewish philosophy” and “philosophy” make this work pertinent to a readership that challenges the triumphalism of “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.”

Goetschel would redeem philosophy’s project of affecting universal reasoning under changing frames of reference and in continuous interrogation of its own claims and possibilities as well as of what it would forget, suppress, or eliminate (p. 56). He insinuates, as always already at play, a non-teleological logic of the supplement—both [End Page 976] within and without as well as both conceptually and historically—in its ongoing formation. Rather than have philosophy constitute itself by relations of exclusion, by its designating what is not-philosophy, he would open philosophy to its differential relations with its necessary supplement, “not-philosophy,” in order to affect the ongoing co-determination of both. Goetschel neither explains away nor erases such binary distinctions; rather he points to how they came into prominence as well as how they always already contaminated one another. Toward these ends, Goetschel’s monograph is a performative tour de force in which the subversion of supposedly essentialized oppositions (and the hierarchies they sustain) by their necessary co-implication is ever recursively reproduced.

That logic is already “suggested” by his title’s conjunction of a locative “philosophy” with a historicized “Jewish thought.” The invention of the latter is tied to the formation of the former as a discipline within the German university. Academic philosophy identified itself as philosophy proper: its claims for universality built upon the exclusion of particularity both within (i.e., subordinated within conceptual and historical hierarchies) and without (e.g., excluding from university curricula a Jewish philosophical tradition understood as a particular concern with particulars as well as excluding Jews from university professorships, save the prominent exception of Hermann Cohen). The formation of the German university and its disciplines recursively reproduced the formation of the nation: German homogeneity built upon the exclusion of (ethnic) difference—also within and without. As such, German academic philosophy identified itself as philosophy proper.

Conversely, Jewish philosophy, identified as “Jewish thought,” came to characterize what was both institutionally (e.g., Frankfurt’s Jewish House of Learning and Jüdisches Lehrhaus Zurich) and content-wise outside of philosophy. Rather than characterizing “Jewish thought” in terms of a thinker’s descent or a particular content (religious texts [Tanakh, Talmud, etc.], religious notions [G-d, chosenness, etc.], and halakhah [Jewish law]), however, Goetschel situates it differentially, both internally (normative and non-normative) and externally: whether as the Jewish in relation to the Christian (that is, to the German) or as the Hebrew (Jerusalem) in...


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