“For what and where, Derrida rightly insisted, is the archive?” – Anidjar, Blood (241)
I want to understand what kind of text Blood is—what Blood does—in the light of Anidjar’s claim that it is not a book: “I will merely assert that I did not wish for this to be a book.” What does it mean that this text, that gives us the impression of being a book, that has the heft of a book, that has the citational apparatus of a scholarly tome, that has the right organization into parts and chapters and subheadings, that moves deftly amongst a whole range of thinkers whom the papers and the pundits would puzzle at, what does it mean to claim that this text isn’t a book or that he didn’t want it to be? Do we take Anidjar at his word? Do we trust him? What would it mean for us, us Christians, if we are Christians, and Anidjar suggests that we all are covered by the blood, to trust a man named Gil Anidjar? A polyglot, who moves from familiar European languages like French and German to Greek, the acceptable Mediterranean language as an ancient source of European identity, but who also speaks in Arabic and Hebrew and do we detect something of a North African accent, something that would make the ears of border control agents prick up? Suddenly it becomes a matter of distance and boundaries marked by waters littered with rafts and bodies. Marked, of course, by a history of blood. Or perhaps it would be better, in light of Blood not being a book of history, to say it becomes a matter of a story of blood as it is diluted in the sea. The tinnie taste of blood rich in iron flowing out of a body by way of steel and dissipating into a salty sea. But it also a matter of love, of the salt of love, but also the claws of love. “—I remembered you, when I kissed your man face, slowly, slowly kissed it, and when the time came to kiss your eyes—I remembered that then I had tasked the salt in my mouth, and that the salt of tears in your eyes was my love for you (Lispector, The Passion According to G.H., 86-87).”
But we’ve moved too far already from the respectable and attractive discourses of political economy and history and good philosophy. I mean, really, already with the poetry? So, let’s return to the question, what kind of text is Blood? It’s an index of the text that is blood. Or, more clearly, it is an index of an archive of blood as the archive of Western Christianity (and what is the status of the Greek here? Clearly Chapter Four (“Odysseus’ Blood”) suggests we have inherited—through blood? though of course Anidjar puts a question mark before our Jewgreek/Greekjew filiation without anything like an explanation—our hemophilia from the Greeks, but what of Greek Orthodoxy, which is somehow reprieved of the implied charge running throughout the book? Are philosophical Greeks Western but religious Greeks strangely Eastern?). As I tried to understand this text, which by virtue of not being a book is more difficult to read than suggested by the rousing Preface (“Why I am Such a Good Christian”) and Introduction (“Red Mythology”), but as I essayed to understand the text I suddenly had an image of Anidjar before me. Would you believe it? You won’t, because no one believes today least of all in Christianity, but it’s true, like Christianity. I had an image of Anidjar, whom I have never met but whose image has appeared before me on screens, and there he is picking through the rubble of history. Looking down, with his hands to his beard, the dust of destruction resting in his thick black hair, looking down and evaluating what could and should go in the index. Organizing it like G.H. wanted to do: “I always liked to arrange things. I guess it’s my only real vocation. By putting things in order, I create and understand at the same time (Lispector, 25).” What was this rubble? Well, I suppose my image of Anidjar picking through the rubble was the image of a creature, a human being, who in order to descend to the rubble could not be an angel. I’ve come to understand that most academics rather like angels. Angels transcend a situation, a conjuncture in Althusser’s terms, and they also come bearing messages, bearing explanations. But, by his own admission, Anidjar is no angel. This is why I quite like him, at least the image of him in the midst of rubble, picking through, organizing his archive. He’s not blown back by a great wind from paradise, though the winds blow around him, he’s not transfixed before the immensity of the piles of rubble as catastrophe builds upon itself. And indeed, Benjamin’s angel makes an appearance in Blood and Anidjar I think rightly recognizes that this angel is no innocent (something I’ve written on as well and that continues to captivate me) but “the angel of history may well be a bat nevertheless, a big bat ‘flapping its silent and ghostly way to the west.’ It is a particular kind of bat, though, full of love—and out for blood. A vampire bat (203).”
It’s a strange word that Benjamin has in his piece on the angel of history and that has become normal in European languages: catastrophe. Etymologically it means something like an overturning and so, if only in sense, it is close to revolution. But the catastrophe that the World is, the Globalatinzing World, the Christian World, that World is not an overturning in the sense of turning to something new. It is the continual spading over of the old to re-new itself, Old Christians becoming New Christians by partaking of the blood of “New Christians”. It is the pumping of blood. That’s what Anidjar shows us. That there is a continuity, a blood line, running from the beginning of Jesus’ kin, to the creation of a Christian state, to the blood money circulating in the World and making it move. But where ultimately does that leave us? Rather, I think, melancholy. What is this image I have in my head of Anidjar working through the wreckage of a continuous catastrophe heaping destruction upon destruction? Well, it is too sanitized, too much of it is dust and ashes resting on hair and clothes. The reality of this catastrophe is sticky and wet and hot. The reality of this catastrophe is precisely blood.
But, I can’t bring that image to mind, too many images now days of people drenched in blood, in the blood of a narrative, and it would be impolite—already I have been impolite to share this vision of someone I have not met picking through the rubble and I beg forgiveness—to imagine anyone covered in the blood of this catastrophe, let alone our author. But I have seen them. And so have you. And it makes me melancholy: “Melancholia, Freud [good Christian Freud we come to find out] tells us, behaves ‘like an open wound.’ Melancholia acts, it must act, or work, ‘like a painful wound.’ Melancholia, in other words, marks or draws blood. […] Melancholia was always about blood. Which means it was alway about religion, if we provisionally understand this term in a specific sense, which will have to be borne out in what follows: history and collective psychology, of course, but economy as well, and a generalized hematology too (191).” At least though we can begin to see the blood. Once I heard a scholar in international relations mock a scholar of literature and poetry for talking about political economy, all the while advocating fidelity to the Enlightenment project. But even when the mocking is funny, we can begin to see that these developmental projects (thinking of Barber’s discussions of this theme) are another instance of spreading it around, like when General Garrison in the anti-black and Islamaphobic (both at once!) film Black Hawk Down, tries to wipe up blood in the hospital he only ends up spreading it around. Perhaps the poets are telling us something, except we know too, from Anidjar’s discussion of Odysseus, that they are part of this archive of blood.
How else could we be but melancholy after looking through this index of an archive? An archive of blood but also also a larger archive of Western civiliation that we can now see is covered in blood, as if Anidjar had broken into the draft offices of Western thought (philosophy, religion, economics, politics, and so on) and poured blood over its records. It would be obscene to think there was something like providence at play that we are reading this during such a time of blood. Not obscene because of providence, but to think that there was some recent time of blood. And yet, as I was reading of the way in which blood was used in the West to create an internal division, between human and not, between New Christian and Old Christian, between Jew and Arab, I see that it is at work in the utterly modernist ideology of ISIS where it begins to separate out not just Christian from Muslim, but Shia from Muslim. And spills blood with weapons provided by us, by US, and perhaps even by Israel. And Israel, what has this project ended in (though of course it has not ended)? Israel, as a post-colonial colonizer state of victims become murderers: “One could moreover say that insofar as melancholia was always perceived as ‘melancolia nigra et canina,’ it was always already colonial and postcolonial (195).” If what makes a history the history of the West or of Christianity, then how does that history get made? Through the separation of blood. Is Israel not like the Freud we find in Blood: “Boyarin is right, of course, ‘Freud’s Moses and Monotheism is best read as part of a massive socio-cultural attempt by German-speaking Jews in the nineteenth century to rewrite themselves and particularly their masculine selves [I almost wrote slaves while transcribing] as Aryans, and especially as Teutons’ (243).” Is not Israel best read as part of a massive socio-cultural attempt by a people (one separated by Christian blood and first cast as slaves then as outsiders) to rewrite themselves as White? “The only democracy in the Middle East” has its own version of the 14 words, “we must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children.” And that future is only is only secured through the separation of a people within the borders, within the state, by the destruction of that other people. Between the Islamic State and the Jewish State there is the Christian question and there is the Christian construction of the state. ISIS and Israel are Christian states, though they may be surprised to hear it but happy with what blood can purchase.
What ultimately is this Christianity being indexed by way of its element (blood, to write it again, always recurring as it flows through the fingertips tip tap tapping these words)? Through Anidjar’s stunning reading of Freud we come to see that Christianity is a name for a certain kind Western civilization, modern and universal, that has found a way to be innocent of murder. “It is therefore here, in the real of phantasmic story of Christ the hero, Christ the innocent murderer, that the novelty introduced by Christianity finds its momentous source and its original character. ‘Christianity became a religion of the son,’ Freud continues, which is to say that it turned the cult of the dead father into a worship of the murdering son as innocent. Otherwise phrased, we witness an unprecedented transvaluation of values in the rapport to murder. ‘So what happens,’ asks Talal Asad, ‘if the perpetrator of death dealing dies of his own free will at the very moment of his crime? What, in other words, if crime and punishment are united?’ The answer, in so many words, is ‘life everlasting purchased by cruel death.’ From substitute to substitute, and from murder to murder, there is the future of murder: murder, yes, but without guilt, only innocence. Forever (251).” How many must die for the future while we keep our innocence? Oh god, fuck, does the future really last forever?
Let’s return to the status of Blood as a book. Allow me to quote Anidjar at length on why he did not wish for this to be a book: “we are past sensing the futility of writing a a scholarly book […] especially now, ‘when the history of the world has so terribly and so untidily expanded its endless successiveness.’ The sheer weight of weight of accumulation, fifty shades of clay and mountains of waste (not to mention, horribile dicta, footnotes [he ain’t lying]), among other expansions and past all counts, nonetheless counts for something, that is, for nothing, if only because it accounts for and testifies to the victory of the quantitative—by attrition. Was it otherwise? This may or may not be a reason to stop writing (though I suspect it is). Cunningly Lacan suggests somewhere that praise might be in order when producing a worst-seller (xi).” This brings me comfort, for some reason. Not only because I may indeed have a worst-seller or translated a few, though I would be lying if I said it didn’t have something to do with a kind of appreciation for self-depreciation, but because of the kind of text that Anidjar would like this to be, as I have suggested an index of an archive of blood. Blood would be a part of “a different, older tradition of disputation—in its initial and final stages a reading, a measuring of the adversary, among whom one lives and whom one invariably emulates, however grudgingly (ibid).” In other words, an index of an archive is a weapon for surveying an adversary, a preparation, a way of getting ready to make some space for yourself from the harassment of the world, “Because a world fully alive has the power of a Hell (Lispector, 14, 15).” The point, I do not think, is to build a better world, using the masters tools that we, however grudgingly, use, but to find some way to let it go down, to end (Fanon), and to figure out what exactly that may mean. Either way, Anidjar isn’t looking for readers, thank god and god forbid, he’s totally unconcerned with that to the point of cruelty, instead Anidjar is looking at the rubble and he’s looking at the angel ever more carefully and he’s looking at us and—if you can stomach it, if you can wade through the footnotes—he says to us: “can’t you see that you are all covered in blood?” Is it yours? Is it theirs? Is it ours? Does it bring us together? Does it divide us? Or does it do both so that it can keep spreading, never to be wiped away?
No one is innocent. That is enough. We may begin.