Erasing Jews (Badiou & Zizek) (Response to Sarah Hammerschlag)


(Gerhard Richter, Abstract Painting (Grey) (880-3), 2002

In her essay “Bad Jews, Authentic Jews, Figural Jews” for the volume Judaism, Liberalism, and Political Theology, Sarah Hammerschlag quotes Slavoj Zizek who writes about “the Jews.” If Jews, according to Zizek, are not to be “privileged as an empirical group,” (i.e. “inaccessible to other” and “ultimately of no relevance to them”), then they are to be conceived as a contingent bearer of a universal structure, which for Zizek implies the “dangerous conclusion” that isolate and assert this formal universal structure that one has to “eliminate, erase, the ‘empirical’ Jews” (cited on p.227).

Sarah claims that Zizek along with Badiou “misses” the point that the universal and the particular are more stubbornly imbricated. But I don’t think that’s true. They don’t “miss” the point. They reject it. Viewed one way, there should, in fact, be no inherent reason why one cannot suppress or erase a figure. If that’s an aesthetic choice, then it’s not really a political point of view anymore, no matter if it pretends to be one. What’s one left with then? Without any bright color, the “remainder” that’s left is a dull grey.

This seems like a bad choice for Jews and Judaism, either remote privilege and human irrelevance or elimination. Micro-antisemitic and micro-Nazi, the logic is totalitarian, not democratic. As an aesthetic and political choice, the bourgeois form of “representation” will have had more to offer Jews, Judaism, and democratic culture than does the final-solution alternative offered by Zizek.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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3 Responses to Erasing Jews (Badiou & Zizek) (Response to Sarah Hammerschlag)

  1. Gail says:

    I can’t quite follow this, especially the first paragraph, and I am no fan of Zizek (whose Christian (!) name is Slavoj and not Slavoy), as you well know, but his hefty tome on Hegel has been praised by folks I respect and a good Hegelian would by definition understand the imbrication of the universal and the particular and (yes) have good political (not just aesthetic) reasons for aiming at a sublation of particularity. But sublation is not erasure; it’s at dusk that all the cows are grey, and the owl of Minerva takes flight, yes? That’s not erasure but ignorance.

    • zjb says:

      thanks for calling me out on this. as a Hegelian, yes, Zizek sublation belongs modally to “necessity,” not “possibility,” namely that the good reason for sublating (a putative) particularity for (a putative) universal is dialectical and dialectically forced. But if the dialectic breaks down, then it belongs, perhaps, for Zizek to a moment of decision. I’m not sure if that’s where I would push this, but for now that’s what I’m thinking. As for “erasure” and “elimination,” those are Zizek’s words, not mine or Sarah’s. The quote is from “The Neighbor: Three Inquiries in Political Theology” pp.154-5.

  2. dmf says:

    one of the interesting tensions for me is that in some real sense the Nazi’s were defining themselves against “cosmopolitanism”, against the universal/modern, and so many who are working against fascism are than pulled in a different way to work against the particular/local and for the communal/uniform:

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