And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” –Matthew 27:25
How to introduce a book that asks its readers to rethink the role of Western Christianity? The scope of Blood is massive. On its own terms, it must be, for blood creates the conditions for the possibility of the divisions that it likewise surpasses. Blood is not deterministic, but it has found its way into seemingly every field. Kinship is blood. Modern states argue over land and blood. Money is blood. We assume that blood has always been these things, that it is somehow a natural metonym, but it has not always and everywhere been so. Blood challenges these boundaries and asks why The Christian Question, the questioning of Christian blood, has yet to be raised. But there are other questions, too.
What is the community made of?
Blood examines this question through the emergence of the Christian community of blood. Christianity, in its traumatic history, became a hemophilic cult. “Each and every Christian was transformed into a vessel of Christ’s blood, a blood the devout were given to drink en masse” (90). The mystical body of Christ, through the “eucharistic matrix,” became the visible body of the church, and the difference between bloods, a wholly new partition, was initiated. This body and those other bodies, enemy bodies, contain different bloods.
But we should back up a bit and ask: What is blood? Substance, figure, myth, material, symbol, universal concept? “Blood functions as a mark, a citation, and a repetition. It moves, operates, and circulates to the extent that it is inscribed, co-agitated, repeated” (IX). Blood, Anidjar posits, is the element of Christianity. Blood distinguishes between parts and wholes. It marks, differentiates, permeates, proliferates, and pluralizes. However, more importantly, bloods circulate. Put differently and parodying a familiar turn:
All significant concepts of the history of the modern world are liquidated theological concepts. This is so not only because of their historical development–in which they circulated between theology and the operations of the modern world, whereby, for example, the blood of Christ became the flow of capital–but also because of their systematic fluidity, the recognition of which is necessary for a political consideration of these concepts. (VIII)
Anidjar calls our attention to the dissemination of Christian blood. Much of Blood takes up the particular flows through the triad of nation, state, and capital. The importance and historical development of these three concepts is due to the way that Christian blood has coagulated around them, yet continues to move through them, even, or perhaps especially, as their Christian origins have receded from view. Secularization is the attempt to mask the blood flow.
Blood is also a reading of Benjamin that follows suggestions from Agamben, but radically departs from him in important ways. But is it really possible, as Anidjar provocatively suggests, that Zur Kritik der Gewalt (The Critique of Violence) necessitates a critique of blood, i.e. of Christianity? We have been trained to think of blood as the universal metonym for life and kinship. However, Anidjar argues that Benjamin’s linking of bloße Leben (mere life) to blood in opposition to soul is an intertextual citation to the function of blood, or lack thereof, in the Hebrew scriptures. Blood never referred to “life.” Never, that is, until Christian translations, texts, and theologies. Christianity puts the bloody victim at the center of history, and in so doing establishes the practice of distinguishing between bloods, the victims and the guilty. The book traces Christianity’s history, the violent history of the insistence of blood.
Of what is the Christian community made?
As the marker of Christian difference, blood becomes vulnerable and must be protected. As one of Anidjar’s section headings indicates: one should expect the Spanish Inquisition. Blood purity, and the impact of Christian discourse on blood played an important role in the development of race and racism. The book gives a hematological account of race, one that I expect will be explored by several authors in this blog event.
There is no question that the state feeds on blood (a thirst that we continue to export across the globe). America, as our pop culture shows, is especially obsessed with blood. There will be blood, from the “one-drop rule” to True Blood, to our national anthem’s third verse that is devoted to our enemies: ‘Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.’ A critique of Christianity must also be a critique of the United States, which is not exceptional but is certainly exemplary.
Blood is also a literary text. Like Derrida (of whom he is a translator), Anidjar deftly moves from William Harvey’s medical writings on the discovery of circulation to Shakespeare and Melville, both of whom uncovered Christianity’s secret blood affinities. Blood is also literary in another way: there are twists and turns in the book that make it a fantastic read. At times it feels as though aspects of the text may be reaching too far, only for a revelation to be made that requires one to retrospectively reexamine earlier parts of the text.
The greatest of these unexpected turns in Blood, at least for me, was the stunning reading of Freud that comes in the conclusion to the text. No spoiler alert is needed, because I’m not going to give it away, but Anidjar’s psychoanalytic reading of Freud and Christianity is spectacular. This text will be required reading for those who are interested in the psychoanalytic critique of “religion.”
I can’t recommend the book highly enough, and I hope that my constant reminders have encouraged readers to get a copy of the book. We have a fantastic group of contributors lined up and I look forward to the conversations that will circulate.