Magdalena Zolkos Seminar 2012

Jean Amery and the Jewish Tradition of Conscious Pariahdom


The figure of the Jewish pariah—as Sarah Hammerschlag puts it, an outlawed subject "disconnected from [her/his] homeland and history"—has permeated Western cultural imagination, as demonstrated, for example, by the continuance of the medieval myth of Ahasverus, the Wandering Jew. In Western European states of the modern period the figure (and fantasy) of the Jewish pariah helped to consolidate national identity at the cost of the exclusion and violence against Europe's others. This paper focuses, first, on the cultural and political genealogy of the tradition of the "conscious pariah," which emerged in Jewish thought in 19th century, as a formation of the subject who asserts, rather than rejects or evades, her/his status of an outcast. Second, this paper situates vis-à-vis the Jewish tradition of conscious pariahdom the essay "On the Necessity and Impossibility of Being a Jew" by Jean Améry, which appeared in his collection At The Mind's Limits, and which has been conventionally interpreted as advocacy of Améry's victim-oriented politics of memory. In contrast, I interpret this essay as a philosophical gesture beyond the lachrymose readings of Jewish history (that is, the history of suffering and martyrdom of the Jewish people), as an attempt to inscribe ethical content into the experience of deracination and estrangement.

Madalena Zolkos presenting her seminar

Bio: Magdalena Zolkos is  Senior Research Fellow in Political Theory in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at the University of Western Sydney. Her research interests are trauma theory, philosophic approaches to violence and contemporary democratic theory. She is the author of Reconciling Community and Subjective Life: Trauma Narrative as Political Theorizing (Continuum 2010), and editor of On Jean Amery: Philosophy of Catastrophe (Lexington 2011). She is working on a research project on philosophy of violence in contemporary European cinema.

Audio: Listen to Magdalena's seminar presentation (right click and "save link as" to download).

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