Affective Genealogies: Psychoanalysis, Postmodernism, and the "Jewish Question" after Auschwitz

Affective Genealogies: Psychoanalysis, Postmodernism, and the "Jewish Question" after Auschwitz

Affective Genealogies: Psychoanalysis, Postmodernism, and the "Jewish Question" after Auschwitz

Affective Genealogies: Psychoanalysis, Postmodernism, and the "Jewish Question" after Auschwitz

Synopsis

Affective Genealogies is an incisive contribution to the current reassessment of postmodern culture and theory. Elizabeth J. Bellamy examines how the Holocaust and Jews have been represented in a wide range of French poststructuralist works. Central to Bellamy's study is her questioning of whether "the non-essentializing discourse of postmodernism [can] ever enable a genuine 'working through' to an understanding of the horror of the Holocaust." She concludes that much recent French thought "encrypts but does not fully confront the trauma of the Holocaust." Bellamy begins by surveying contemporary writings on Judaism, the Holocaust, and the "crisis of memory." She then closely examines recent French debates about Martin Heidegger's relationship to the Nazis, focusing on Jacques Derrida's controversial defense of Heidegger's works. Another chapter examines the works of Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy, noting the ambiguous ways in which they portray the roles played by Jews in modern intellectual history. The last chapter examines the representation of Judaism in Jean-François Lyotard's writings. Bellamy's book contributes to the recent revaluation of French postmodernism and to current studies on the representation of Jews and the Holocaust in Western literature and thought. As Sander Gilman has noted, "the writers and works that were generated in France from Sartre to Lyotard have had a seminal role in shaping the international philosophical discourse about Jewish identity." Affective Genealogies is an essential guide to that controversial- and influential- philosophical movement.

Excerpt

Postmodernism and the “Crisis” of Memory

The current debate over the radical divide, the epistemological break, between modernism and postmodernism is lengthy and complex, involving thinkers with agendas as diverse as Habermas’s and Lyotard’s, and, to be sure, it is a debate that extends far beyond the scope of this book. Regardless of whether one interprets the virgule that separates the binary “modernism/postmodernism” as implying a chronological continuum between the two epochs or as the mark of an epistemic irruption or coupure, I am interested in exploring the ways in which many of the discursive practices of postmodernism are fashioning themselves (either consciously or unconsciously) “psychoanalytically.” An implicit irony of this study is postmodernism’s dismissal of psychoanalysis as an ever-receding (and increasingly irrelevant) chapter in the story of Western modernity, even as it persists (quite “symptomatically,” we may add) in using psychoanalytic terms to constitute itself. To phrase it broadly, I argue that the much-debated “slash” between modernism and postmodernism demarcates, among other things, an obscure psychic threshold of repression, disavowal, denegation, or foreclosure of an unresolved modernism—all the psychic defenses against the violence of the divide between modernism and postmodernism, for which a melancholic strain within postmodernism has become the most observable aftereffect. I also argue that this unacknowledged melancholia in turn serves as the ironic backdrop for postmodernism’s often contradictory engagement with psychoanalysis as a modernist “grand narrative” that it seeks both to appropriate and to reject.

It was Walter Benjamin’s reactions to Fascism that, as much as anything, first prompted a “psychoanalyzing” of modern experience as inherently melancholic. Benjamin’s oft-cited depiction of his “angel of history,” peering expectantly into the future but with a face turned to . . .

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