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Sarah Hammerschlag has written a fascinating account of the construction of the Jew in modern and postmodern thought. Sartre then makes the ambivalence of the Jew a model for rootless existentialism. Levinas is the pivotal figure in this reworking of rootlessness. Hammerschlag is slightly peremptory in her dismissal of the Boyarins, Susan Shapiro, and others who have seen in this allegorical use of the Jew another form of assimilation of the Jew into some universal, and often messianic, truth or other Christianity, the Enlightenment, Nazism, post-humanism , and she never really resolves the tension that they highlight between the figural Jew and real Jews.

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However, the readings of her chosen thinkers are always erudite and scholarly, and the analysis of their works through the prism of the figural Jew is often original and always illuminating. Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.

Forged from a partnership between a university press and a library, Project MUSE is a trusted part of the academic and scholarly community it serves. A sublime is the conjunction of two opposed feelings, which makes it harder for us to see the injustice of it, or a solution to it. Lyotard found particularly interesting the explanation of the sublime offered by Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Judgment sometimes Critique of the Power of Judgment. In this book, Kant explains this mixture of anxiety and pleasure in the following terms: there are two kinds of 'sublime' experience.

In the 'mathematically' sublime, an object strikes the mind in such a way that we find ourselves unable to take it in as a whole. More precisely, we experience a clash between our reason which tells us that all objects are finite and the imagination the aspect of the mind that organizes what we see, and which sees an object incalculably larger than ourselves, and feels infinite.

In the 'dynamically' sublime, the mind recoils at an object so immeasurably more powerful than we, whose weight, force, scale could crush us without the remotest hope of our being able to resist it. Kant stresses that if we are in actual danger, our feeling of anxiety is very different from that of a sublime feeling. The sublime is an aesthetic experience, not a practical feeling of personal danger.

This explains the feeling of anxiety. What is deeply unsettling about the mathematically sublime is that the mental faculties that present visual perceptions to the mind are inadequate to the concept corresponding to it; in other words, what we are able to make ourselves see cannot fully match up to what we know is there. We know it's a mountain but we cannot take the whole thing into our perception.


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Our sensibility is incapable of coping with such sights, but our reason can assert the finitude of the presentation. The body may be dwarfed by its power but our reason need not be. This explains, in both cases, why the sublime is an experience of pleasure as well as pain. Lyotard is fascinated by this admission, from one of the philosophical architects of the Enlightenment, that the mind cannot always organise the world rationally. Some objects are simply incapable of being brought neatly under concepts.

For Lyotard, in Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime , but drawing on his argument in The Differend , this is a good thing. Such generalities as 'concepts' fail to pay proper attention to the particularity of things. What happens in the sublime is a crisis where we realise the inadequacy of the imagination and reason to each other. What we are witnessing, says Lyotard, is actually the differend; the straining of the mind at the edges of itself and at the edges of its conceptuality.

Lyotard claims that this is due to libidinal energy.


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The term "libidinal" coming from the term libido which is used to refer to the psychoanalytical desires of our deeper consciousness. However, there also can be no intensities or desires without structures, because there would be no dream of escaping the repressive structures if they do not exist. It achieved great success, but was also the last of Lyotard's writings on this particular topic where he really went against the views of Karl Marx. Lyotard was impressed by the importance of childhood in human life, [37] which he saw as providing the opportunity of creativity, as opposed to the settled hubris of maturity.

Subject to their mancipium.

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One of them being a biography, Signed, Malraux. Lyotard was interested in the aesthetic views of society that Malraux shared. Lyotard's other book was named The Confession of Augustine and was a study in the phenomenology of time. This work-in-progress was published posthumously in the same year of Lyotard's death.

In , while preparing for a conference on postmodernism and media theory , he died unexpectedly from a case of leukemia that had advanced rapidly. There are three major criticisms of Lyotard's work. Each coincides with a school of thought. A differend depends upon a distinction drawn between groups that itself depends upon the heterogeneity of language games and genres of discourse. Why should these differences be privileged over an endless division and reconstruction of groups? In concentrating on specific differences, Lyotard's thought becomes overly dependent on differences; between categories that are given as fixed and well defined.

From the point of view of deconstruction, Lyotard's philosophy gives too much credit to illegitimate categories and groups.

Underlying any different there is a multiplicity of further differences; some of these will involve crossing the first divide, others will question the integrity of the groups that were originally separated. Manfred Frank has put the Frankfurt School criticism best. It attacks Lyotard's search for division over consensus on the grounds that it involves a philosophical mistake with serious political and social repercussions. Lyotard has failed to notice that an underlying condition for consensus is also a condition for the successful communication of his own thought.

It is a performative contradiction to give an account that appeals to our reason on behalf of a difference that is supposed to elude it. So, in putting forward a false argument against a rational consensus, Lyotard plays into the hands of the irrational forces that often give rise to injustice and differ ends. Worse, he is then only in a position to testify to that injustice, rather than put forward a just and rational resolution. From a Nietzschean and Deleuzian point of view James Williams , Lyotard's postmodern philosophy took a turn toward a destructive modern nihilism that his early work avoids.

The different and the sublime are negative terms that introduce a severe pessimism at the core of Lyotard's philosophy. Both terms draw lines that cannot be crossed and yet they mark the threshold of that which is most valuable for the philosophy, that which is to be testified to and its proper concern. It is not possible repetitively to lend an ear to the sublime without falling into despair due to its fleeting nature.

Whenever we try to understand or even memorize: the activity of testimony through the sublime, it can only be as something that has now dissipated and that we cannot capture. Charles J. Even George Van Den Abbeele's excellent translation, complete with a glossary of French terms not available in the original text Paris: Minuit, , does not, indeed cannot, alleviate the often terse prose with which Lyotard develops his reasoning. With this said, I must also observe that this work is of vital importance in a period when revisionism of all stripes attempts to rewrite, and often simply deny, the occurrence of historical and cultural events, i.

I can conclude only by suggesting that this work, despite the formidable difficulties inherent to its carefully articulated arguments, offers readers a rich formulation of precise questions for and about the current period of critical transition and re-opening in philosophy, ethics and aesthetics. Lyotard's work continues to be important in politics , philosophy , sociology , literature , art , and cultural studies.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Photo by Bracha L. Ettinger , Versailles , France.

The figural Jew : politics and identity in postwar French thought

See more. Is God Happy? Leszek Kolakowski. The late Leszek Kolakowski was one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century. A prominent anticommunist writer, Kolakowski was also a deeply humanistic thinker, and his meditations on society, religion, morality, and culture stand alongside his political writings as commentaries on intellectual—and everyday—life in the twentieth century. Sarah Hammerschlag. The rootless Jew, wandering disconnected from history, homeland, and nature, was often the target of early twentieth-century nationalist rhetoric aimed against modern culture.

But following World War II, a number of prominent French philosophers recast this maligned figure in positive terms, and in so doing transformed postwar conceptions of politics and identity. Christopher Bracken.