An account of a history that has never been written

In many of Gil Anidjar’s works there seems to be a common thread pertaining to what I might hesitatingly call “method.” His texts often take the form of investigations into the conditions for the possibility of X. Of course, the Kantian sensibility here is obvious, and on it’s own this would not be worth mentioning. However, in what seems to be a form of deconstruction that foregrounds (more so than Derrida, I think) the psychoanalytic aspect, his texts analyze the conditions of possibility of repression/foreclosure of an X which nevertheless structures Y.

Blood examines the various ways that this element, like a purloined letter, has come to create internal divisions and markers within Western Christianity. After (re)creating circulation in kinship, politics, and money, blood has been repressed from the Western scene. Semites explores the repressed history of the Aryan/Semite opposition. The Jew, the Arab interrogates the absence of a theory of the enemy. The Jew and the arab are the enemies that have allowed Christianity to imagine distinct spheres of the religious and the political. A decisive point in this foreclosed history is Jesus’ new law, ‘love your enemies!’ and the generalized ambivalence that it installs. If all enemies are neighbors, all neighbors are enemies.

In the introduction to The Jew, the Arab, he states that the book is “less a history than a preliminary account of why that history has never been written.” Perhaps the most interesting example of this method comes, curiously, at the conclusion of Blood. He asks how it is that we have never noticed how christian Freud is? Lacan already asked “What in fucking God’s name does Moses have to do with Oedipus and the father of the primal horde?” The analyst Anidjar puts Freud himself on the couch and gives his diagnosis: repression!

12 thoughts on “An account of a history that has never been written

  1. I find Anidjar quite helpful on a lot of things, but claims like the one you mention about Freud’s Christianity is where I find him a bit troublesome. Isn’t there something kind of disturbing in calling Freud (the Jew) really a Christian in disguise that ends up reproducing the very violence that Anidjar is claiming Christianity does to all other identities? I haven’t read the end of Blood yet, but on the surface this seems like another version of identity policing, where Jewish identity is being accused of being inauthentic to the extent that it is burdened by something as general and banal as ‘repression’–a theme that I am very hesitant to name as something intrinsically Christian. Also, it might be worth pointing out that Lacan wasn’t Jewish. Once again, Christianity gets to decide what’s authentic and whats not. I could be way off here, but that was my initial though when I read that line.

  2. Part of this is definitely my fault for writing such a reductive summary. However, I don’t think the argument runs along identitarian lines. Anidjar, after all, wrote a preface titled “Why I am such a good Christian.” So, at the very least, he is implicating himself in the generalized hematologia that (western) Christianity has pumped into circulation. The argument about Freud comes through a careful reading of Moses and Monotheism and the Eucharistic reading of Moses in that text. “We have all killed the founder of our religion.” Is not something that one finds in any Jewish interpretation. Moses isn’t even the founder of judaism, much less a murdered Moses. Why, then, this displacement of what is clearly a Christian story into the “Old Testament”?
    Anyways, re-reading my initial post, I can see your hesitation, but it’s worth checking out the text.

  3. Thanks for the clarification, and it does sound like something worth checking out. I do think the circulation trope is a really fascinating and potentially useful way of approaching certain problems of modernity, globalization, religion, etc. And I think Anthony’s essay during the book event on Blood is a really helpful way to read the book that might allay some of my own concerns. At the same time, I’m still uncomfortable with the kind of totalizing rhetoric that Anidjar employs about Christianity, even if it is self implicating, and its ability to subsume what seems to amount to, well, everything in the entire world.

  4. A small addition: indeed there are traditions of claiming that Moses was the founder of Judaism. Both Spinoza and Kant, for instance, make this claim, albeit quite differently from one another. But you’re right, at least with Spinoza and Kant, there is no notion that Moses was murdered. In general, most readings of Judaism as a polity and not as a religion end up claiming Moses as the founder.

  5. I think a lot of this stands or falls on what one’s theory of Christianity is — i.e. if it is, in fact, totalizing or subsuming, then an account of its subsuming power and / or the effects of that power is the only way to combat such Christianity. To hold back on articulating this subsumption would be to aid and abet this subsumption, particularly insofar as Christian subsumption, as i take it, works through its dissimulation, i.e. its willingness to grant recognition to the identity of its others. On this approach, then, the attempt to limit descriptions of how Christianity decides on authentic identities would be to fail to take seriously the fact that it is, in actual fact, making such decisions.

    Of course, if one doesn’t think that Christianity actually enacts such a power, then one is going to have a problem with Anidjar’s account. But just wanted to say that the objection that this is a totalizing account of Christianity is something that is appealing only insofar as one thinks that Christianity is not in fact totalizing. In other words, if this is a totalizing account of Christianity, then this is the case only in virtue of a prior claim that Christianity is, in fact / historical reality, totalizing. So i think that has less to do with the ethics of totalizing theories than it does with the nature of the ojbect, i.e. Christianity, being theorized.

    Also, in this sense, the full theorization of Christianity’s totalizing power / nature seems to me to be central to, and an essential condition for, antagonism toward Christian power. So it then strikes me that an attempt to resist this theorization in the name of a generalized critique of theoretical totalization is actually a means (directly or indirectly) of producing a space for Christianity to redeem itself, i.e. for Christianity to escape such a critique.

  6. and, just to add, that one could very well argue that “producing a space for Christianity to redeem itself from critique of the actual enactment of Christian power” is the very definition of Christian power.

  7. Dan, I certainly affirm most of what you write, and am in deep sympathy with Anidjar’s theoretical motivation. It’s just that his understanding of totalization seems to drown out any counter-narrative/perspective/forms of resistance/etc. that offer what in my thinking offer hugely diverse accounts of the ways in which Christianity has been a point of political/economic/social relationality in many different ways across many different contexts. I’m not convinced, however, that antagonism towards Christian power necessarily has to involve an account of Christianity as actually totalizing to the degree that Anidjar claims. Of course, I think his theory of Christianity is pretty much right in terms of its European, orthodox, western imperialist discourse, but to reduce it both to discourse and to a singular and one way history of complete subsumption just doesn’t seem very helpful in terms of an analytical frame that can do justice to its full and diverse history. I don’t think Anidjar is naive about this, but it really frustrates me when I read him and find a complete lack of acknowledgement of differing Christianities and differing power relations (with and in isolation from the west) and discourses emerging from them. And I don’t refer to differing Christianities as better or worse than the western one, as if to point to some kind of possibly redeeming version of it. (I think you are totally correct in your own work about pointing to any kind of “redemptive” form of Christianity in contrast to the actually existing one.) But rather just to point out that there are forms of Christianity that have/do exist that I don’t think can be placed under Anidjar’s description. I think I already mentioned this around the book event, but I was part of a reading group with some Middle east historians that read Anidjar, and their critique was that his account of Christianity was so singular and abstract that it couldn’t possibly be reconciled with any kind of precise historical analysis, specifically regarding the history of the middle east and Arab-Christian relations over a very long historical period. And because of this, they also thought that this singularity ended up producing the Arab “other” simply as a prop to affirm Anidjar’s own version of xtianity, thus ignoring or completely abstracting the very complex history of Arab relations with the west and xtianity. Of course the tension between history and theory isn’t new, but I think that when looking at such a wide and complex historical field that covers the history of multiple and complex discourses attributed to “Christianity”, then it becomes more difficult to understand it through the kind of singularity that Anidjar does.

  8. David, thanks for the further elaboration. I suppose, for me, it then becomes a matter of what, specifically, is being left out of / excluded from Anidjar’s account? Not that you need to supply this specificity! I’m just saying that in this case, given the opposition between total / singular and complex / multiple, the claim on behalf of the latter, against Andijar’s account, would seem to depend on (or at least benefit from) the specific articulation what it is, exactly, that is left out of this complexity / multiplicity. (i.e. the call for the historical, or for resistance, being abstract on its own)

    Also, on a related note, I tend to see Anidjar’s account of Christianity as something like Christianity-in-the-last-instance … in other words, i read it not as saying that every specific, localized instance of Christianity immediately corresponds to his theory (let’s call this theory “anti-semitic+bloody”), but rather that there is no Christianity that has escaped its ultimate (in-the-last-instance) framing as anti-semitic+bloody. Put otherwise, Christianity is not a theory claiming to “represent” all specific Christianities, but rather something like an apparatus, episteme, etc.

    Anyway, just some hopefully not too tangential thoughts.

  9. David and Dan’s exchange reminds me of the periodic debates we’d have about transcendence — there was always an anxiety about whether there’s still “room” for transcendence, whether a different, less evil or totalizing type of transcendence could work, etc.

  10. Surely there is a distinction between the argument for making room for versions of transcendence and the argument for making room for historical counter-examples. The former could never be verified because it’s a theological/philosophical concept while the latter has to do with concrete historical examples that could actually be proven/disproven. “Making room” for historical counter-examples seems to me to be fundamentally different than arguing for transcendence against immanence.

  11. I think it’s also the case that the force of the Christianity in the last instance analysis depends on the hegemonic status of Christianity, and there’s nothing wrong with this. In other words, Christianity in the last instance is the relevant form of Christianity because we are in the age of Christianity in the last instance. It’s irrelevant that South American shamanism might have become a world-spanning, totalizing system of thought, because it didn’t.

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