Jewishness and the Human Dimension

Jewishness and the Human Dimension

Jonathan Boyarin
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 180
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    Jewishness and the Human Dimension
    Book Description:

    Jewishness and the Human Dimension is a leading scholar's progress report on an effort to bring Jewishness broadly construed into dialogue with a wide range of thought in contemporary criticism, while linking those themes in turn to the question of planetary crisis.Each chapter emerges from and addresses the circumstances of its composition; a talk to New Jersey undergraduates inviting them to contemplate their lifespans vis--vis the life history of the species; a meeting to contemplate Jewish memory outside Europe and after 1945; an inaugural address as the author sought to make sense of leaving his home on the Lower East Side and making a new one in Kansas. Two chapters on research and teaching in Jewish cultural studies as academic practice develop the notion of Jewish studies as a human science and examine how Jewish historiography, once a deeply conservative discipline, has integrated insights from anthropology and literary cultural studies. Boyarin also shares a dialogue withthe Jerusalem-based physicist Martin Land on physical and cultural ideas of futurity and redemption. The book ends with a stark challenge to those who work in the contemporary humanities and social sciences: in order to be able to contribute to the possibility of sustained human life on Earth, we need to interrogate rigorously now the status of human differences. Neither ethnography (though it relishes the particular), memoir (though a personal voice is readily audible), nor criticism (though the work and figures of Jacques Derrida and especially Walter Benjamin are indispensable to its project), this book attempts to put in place words of the late Moishe Fogel, vice president of the Eighth Street Shul, that have long stood as a watchword for the author's writing: Everything what you know you gotta use!

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4805-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Introduction: The Human Dimension and the Life / Study System
    (pp. 1-7)

    What are the two terms in the title of this book? “Jewishness,” though perhaps unfamiliar, presents no problems; roughly, I mean by it all associations that gather around the substantive “Jew” or “Jews” and around the modifier “Jewish.” But what do I mean by linking that to something as potentially grandiose or mystifying as “the human dimension?” First of all, I mean to indicate a view of Jewishness as first and foremost one of the strategies (or sets of strategies) for sustaining the life ofHomo sapiens, that is, for integrating creaturely mortality with symbolic consciousness.

    “Mortality,” here, implies in...

  4. 1 A Jewish Introduction to the Human Sciences
    (pp. 8-24)

    Some years ago—at a time when I was not yet a professor and did not know whether I ever would become one—I was nevertheless invited to participate as an outside consultant in the end-of-year deliberations of the Jewish studies committee at a certain fine liberal-arts college in the Northeast. Along with the other visitors, I was asked, among other things, to spend one session sharing and discussing with the committee a sample Jewish studies course syllabus of mine. Just before the session, I sat down and drafted an outline for a course with the same title as tonight’s...

  5. 2 Responsive Thinking: Cultural Studies and Jewish Historiography
    (pp. 25-44)

    This is a short story about the troubled romance between the master discipline of Jewish history (perhaps more subaltern than it has seemed from my particular perspective) and the wayward, unpredictable, “undisciplined” hybrid known as cultural studies. Two caveats before I begin the tale. The first is that the works (mostly quite recent) of Jewish historiography cited, held up as models of reflexive awareness and interdisciplinary liveliness, and once or twice taken to task here have all come to my attention in the course of my own recent reading and research; nothing should be inferred about any textsnotdiscussed...

  6. 3 Seasons and Lifetimes
    (pp. 45-59)

    For the next half-hour or so, I will be speaking of things that matter to all of us but, ultimately, that none of us really understands very well. My theme throughout these few reflections is this: at every stage, everyone’s career is embedded, try as we might to forget it or to escape it, within the web of relations to ancestors and descendants, biological as well as rhetorical.

    Let that brief statement, that topic sentence, bind together these “reflections,” a term that, if you don’t know it already, serves primarily to dignify what are otherwise random thoughts and vignettes, each...

  7. 4 Toward an Anthropology of the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 60-73)

    When Leslie Morris so generously invited me to speak at this conference, I almost instantaneously provided her with the tentative title “Toward an Anthropology of the Twentieth Century.” Of course, the twentieth century remains an awkward designation. It is split, from one perspective, between “before” and “after” the defining cataclysm of World War II and its attendant genocide. Moreover, it is not clear, yet, that it is best understood as an epoch ending with the fall of the Soviet Union. Even less clear is that the attack on the Twin Towers, whose seductive proximity to the new millennium exerts a...

  8. 5 Tropes of Home
    (pp. 74-88)

    I am writing on an airplane, somewhere over the Rockies.

    I am speaking to you at the Kansas Union, not so high on the top of Mount Oread.

    For more than a quarter-century, until just a couple of months ago, I was privileged to call “home,” with a comforting lack of self-consciousness and an equally comforting sense of free choice, that place in America that, for its Jews at least, counts more than any other as a mythic place of origin. Now, suddenly, bracingly, confusingly, I no longer quite know where “home” is, and I suspect moreover that this is...

  9. 6 A Moment of Danger, a Taste of Death
    (pp. 89-114)

    Meir Katz kindly asked me to write an article for a special issue of theCardozo Law Reviewdevoted to Walter Benjamin and the law. I decided to take the opportunity to resume my attempt, fruitless so far, to articulate the difficulty we have of imagining the future with composure and with any sense of competent responsibility. The difficulty for me of such thinking has long been linked to Benjamin’s image of the Angel of History resolutely turned against the future: I keep wishing to shout, in a street voice, “Yo, Angel! Turn around!” But I do not find that...

  10. 7 Extinction and Difference
    (pp. 115-133)

    I want to begin by explaining why I have chosen to take on here such a large and seemingly nebulous theme as “Extinction and Difference.” You might hear in the title echoes of Derrida’s famous title,Writing and Difference, and indeed it is quite possible that some such echo lies behind my choice. Yet the title is the germ of my remarks, in fact and not merely in name; yet it is not obvious (at least to me) what pertinence Derrida’s classic text might have here.

    There are, rather, two reasons that I know why I speak of extinction at...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 134-136)

    On my bookshelf, as yet unopened, lies a volume by James Howard Kunstler,The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century. On my list of books to read, not yet ordered, is Giorgio Agamben’sState of Exception. I know without seeing Agamben’s book that his title is an allusion to Walter Benjamin’s famous saying, in reference to the suspension of civil rights, that “the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.”¹

    Kunstler’s and Agamben’s titles point respectively to our species’ critical failures to...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 137-144)