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Engraved on the Unconscious: French Historian Élisabeth Roudinesco on Antisemitism

By Benjamin Ivry

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On a subject where hysteria often seems to reign, a brilliant, well thought-out and balanced new book like “Return to the Jewish Question” (Retour sur la question juive) by the French historian and psychoanalyst Élisabeth Roudinesco is a treasure which urgently deserves translation into English.

Now 65, Roudinesco, niece of the noted French Jewish feminist Louise Weiss, is best known to English readers for such reflective works as “For What Tomorrow… : A Dialogue with Jacques Derrida,” (Stanford University Press); “Philosophy in Turbulent Times” (Columbia University Press) and “Our Dark Side, a History of Perversion” (Wiley). Convinced, as Roudinesco explains in a recent radio interview that antisemitism is “absolute foolishness,” re-fomented by the current crises in the Middle East, she now offers an “historical, critical, dispassionate return, in the spirit of the Age of Light.”

Evoking historical phases of French antisemitism, she prints a revealing, previously unpublished 1952 letter by her friend and colleague Jacques Derrida who notes that paradoxically in France, “as soon as an Antisemite is intelligent, he does not believe in his own antisemitism.” A strongly autobiographic chapter describes how as a temporary teacher of French literature in Algeria at the time of Israel’s Six Day War, Roudinesco found her school’s walls defaced with swastikas by students who knew nothing of Jewish history or the Shoah, proving to her that “antisemitism was engraved on their unconscious.”

Cited with devastatingly restrained scorn are Noam Chomsky’s approving preface to a book by Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson, and the French author Renaud Camus who made headlines in 2002 by fretting that there were too many Jews on French radio. Also dealt with is French media darling Marc-Édouard Nabe Marc-Édouard Nabe who claims that because of Freud, Marx, and Einstein, whom Nabe calls the “Marx Brothers of depression,” Jews have “destroyed humanity.”

Roudinesco also points out when writers manage to find antisemitism where none exists, such American literary critic Jeffrey Mehlman, translator of one of her previous books, who went overboard in claiming that André Gide, who never wrote anything against the Jews, was nevertheless antisemitic, a notion Roudinesco persuasively rejects.

Watch Roudinesco in a November 26 appearance, with simultaneous English translation.

Watch Roudinesco in an October 2009 French TV appearance (no subtitles unfortunately).


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Élisabeth Roudinesco, Psychoanalysis, Nabe, Gide, Derrida

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Comments
ROBERT MICHAEL Sun. Jan 31, 2010

DEAR PROFESSOR ROUDINESCO,

ACADEMIA JUST NOTIFIED ME THAT YOU WERE INTERESTED IN MY WORK-ASSUMABLY ON THE HISTORY OF ANTISEMITISM.

IN THE FIRST WEEK OF JUNE THIS YEAR, MY FAMILY IS RENDEZVOUSING IN PARIS (THERE WILL BE 5 ADULTS AND 2 OF THE GRANDCHILDREN). SUSAN AND I WERE THERE FOR A WEEK IN SEPTEMBER 2009.

WE STAY AT HOTEL L'ACADEMIE ON RUE DES SAINTS PERES. ALTHOUGH THE JUNE 2010 TRIP IS ORCHESTRATED IN A MANNER SO THAT MY ADULT CHILDREN AND THEIR CHILDREN WILL BE WITH US, MY WIFE AND I WOULD LOVE TO MEET WITH YOU FOR COFFEE OR SOME SUCH AT A CAFE ON BLVD. ST. GERMAIN. WE HAVE BEEN IN SOME ALONE-TIME AND MY WIFE AND I WULD LOVE TO MEET YOU AND DISCUSS, WELL, WHATEVER WE DISCUSS.

SUSAN AND I DO SPEAK A LITTLE FRENCH BUT MUCH BETTER ENGLISH. I DO HAVE LOTS OF STORIES TO SHARE ABOUT MY PREVIOUS EXPERIENCES IN PARIS, SINCE I FIRST VISITD THE CITY IN 1960, WHEN I WAS AN AMERICAN SOLDIER STATIONED IN BITBURG, GERMANY. SO I MADE SEVERAL SHORT TRIPS TO PARIS IN 1960 AND 1961; WAS CAUGHT UP IN THE RIOTS FOLLOWING THE PUTSCH IN ALGERIE. THEN IN 1970 I LIVED FOR 6 MONTHS IN THE 16TH AT THE BIBLIOTHEQUE NATIONALE, WHILE I DID MY RECHERCHES DANS LE PARTI RADICAL-SOCIALISTE PENDANT LES ANNEES TRENTES--AVEC HITLER E TOUS LES NAZIS SALOPARDS. IN 1984 I SPENT ANOTHER FEW WEEKS DURING MY SABBATICAL--AT THE PARIS JEWISH RESEARCH CENTER. THEN IN 1995 I SPENT A MONTH IN A FRIEND'S APARTMENT NEAR RUE DE BUCI--RUE CHATEAU LE BOURBON. THEN IN 2009 WE RETURNED FOR A SECOND HONEYMOON TO L'ACADEMIE.

I HAVE MANY GREAT PARIS STORIES TO SHARE--MY FIRST WIFE WAS ATTACKED BY THE RAT MAN IN 1970; ALSO I CAME INTO CONTACT WITH DEGAULLE'S S.A.C. AND NEARLY LOST MY LIFE; IN 1984 I WAS CHASED BY SECURITY OUT THE OF THE ECOLE DE GUERRE--AND MORE.

READING YOUR C.V., YOU SOUND LIKE A FASCINATING PERSON AND I KNOW WE'VE GOT LOTS IN COMMON. MY WIFE HAS TAUGHT FOR 35 YEARS IN GRAMMAR SCHOOL AND AT UNIVERSITY. SHE AND I TAUGHT A CLASS IN "EDITING YOUR FICTION AND POETRY" IN NEW BEDFORD AND WE WERE TRAINED FOR 5 YEARS AT THE FINE ARTS WORK CENTER IN PROVINCETOWN, MASSACHUSETTS. WE'VE FOUNDED WRITERS' GROUPS IN DARTMOUTH, MA, SARASOTA, FL, MURFREESBORO, TN.

WELL, ALL FOR NOW.

LOOKING FORWARD TO MEETING YOU. PERHAPS YOU COULD SEND ME YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS? MINE IS: LEAHCIMROBERT@GMAIL.COM

BLESSINGS,

BOB MICHAEL




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