‘One can become a Jew, like one can become a human being; one can Jewify, and, I would like to add, from experience: today most of all in German… Becoming Jewish: that is becoming other.’ This sentence in Paul Celan’s preliminary notes for his ‘Meridian’ speech performs the paradoxical gesture of naming a universal human capacity in terms of a particular culture, tradition or ethnic group. The complexity arising from Celan’s lines pertains to what Jacques Derrida, in his ‘Philosophical Nationality’ seminars calls the ‘paradox of exemplarity’. For Derrida, such statements present a welcome tertium datur that would resolve both the ego-centric chauvinism of particularism and the disregard of cultural differences characteristic of universalist discourses. Derrida sees in what he calls ‘the German-Jewish phenomenon’ an especially powerful expression of this dynamic. Based on texts by Derrida, Celan, Freud, and others, this lecture explored the German-Jewish situation in terms of the question of exemplarity and, more generally, the specific potential of literature to confound the dichotomy between the universal and the particular.
Vivian Liska is full professor of German Literature and director of the Institute of Jewish Studies at the University of Antwerp, Belgium. Her research focuses on German and comparative modernist literature, German-Jewish literature and thought, and literary theory. Recent book publications: As editor or co-editor: Modernism (2007), The Power of the Sirens (2007), Contemporary Jewish Writing in Europe (2007); What does the Veil Know? (2009). As author: Giorgio Agambens leerer Messianismus (2008); When Kafka says We: Uncommon Communities in German-Jewish Literature (2009), and Fremde Gemeinschaft. Deutsch-jüdische Literatur der Moderne (2011).
The lecture is part of the ICI Lecture Series Constituting Wholes. After the disenchantments of the postmodern post-cold-war period and in the face of global crises – be they financial, economic, political, or ecological – the critical need to include a holistic perspective is felt with renewed urgency, as is the concern that the situatedness of any such perspective and the multiple, incommensurable ways of constituting wholes may be forgotten.
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